Thursday, June 1, 2017

Saving bumblebees (and protecting dogs) with smart plant choices

Liam the pug and his ceanothus plant

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier consider my backyard their exclusive playground. They race around the perimeter every night before dinner, and they cruise around the middle in the morning before breakfast. To them, it's a perfect dog paradise. But this yard isn't theirs alone. They share it with several other species, including some that need our help.

Consider the lowly bumblebee.

At one point, Oregon was simply crawling with bumbles. Those hard workers pollinated crops that are important to Oregon, including apples and cherries and raspberries. But Oregon's most common bumble was hit by a disease in the 1990s, and the colonies were almost entirely wiped out. (More on that research here.)

Without these bumbles, crops can fail. Entire species of plants can die off. And Oregon can be a much less lovely place.

Plants like this one help.

Bee on Ceanothus

This is a Ceanothus plant (also known as a California lilac). These plants are special favorites of all sorts of bumbles, although they're not big attractants for honey bees.

And that's what makes them lovely for dog gardens.

Those of us with dogs who are allergic to bee stings can be leery of planting any variety of growing thing that can attract honey bees. We're worried about all the stings these flying creatures can bring.

Bumbles, on the other hand, are much less likely to sting than a honey bee. Only females can sting, and they only do so when they feel cornered. Most of the time, these bumbles just do their work and leave any intruders alone.

Liam the pug and California lilac

My plant is only about 2 years old, and as you can see, it's gigantic. It provides a great deal of shade when the sun starts to go down, and from dawn to dusk, it's simply humming with bumbles.

These plants are also extremely drought tolerant, so they can survive and thrive even when the cost of water is high. And they're cold resistant, so they can handle tough winters too.

I don't think Liam and Sinead mind sharing their yard with a few hundred bumbles. And I certainly don't mind having something so beautiful and functional in the yard.

Want to learn more about these plants? Check out this OSU Extension Office piece. But leave me a note before you go. Love to know what you think of these pretty plants.


  1. Great article. I'm going to see if I can plant one! :)

  2. I hope more people think about pollinators when they plant their gardens--so important!

  3. Thank you for caring for the bumblebees! We need to do our best to live beside them. They do important work for us. And, look what a beautiful plant you have as a reward!

  4. Very nice plants. We don't see many bumblebees around us either in Massachusetts.