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Skaggs: Respect the bees in your garden
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Bee Conservation in the Southeast: Learn more about bees from The University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Cooperative Extension Service.

As someone who is highly allergic to bee stings, I'm always concerned when I see any kind of bee-like insect buzzing around my yard.

But despite concerns of folks like me, bees are a good thing. Fruit trees, crops and almost all native plants depend on bees, our best pollinators, to reproduce.

Dozens of true bee species are found in Georgia. Most are small and rarely sting. Or if they do, their stings are mild.

Most insect stings, though, aren't from bumblebees or even honeybees; the No. 1 culprit is the yellow jacket. (As a longtime Georgia fan, I'm not a bit surprised! Some may claim it, but I am truly allergic to yellow jackets.)

These ground-dwelling wasps are fairly aggressive scavengers. They're attracted to anything sweet or rotting. You can be in a 100-acre lawn with no flowers and still be stung by yellow jackets. Even then, these insects are only reacting to perceived threats to their nests when they sting.

Honeybees and bumblebees definitely have better things to do than search you out. Following a few common-sense rules will keep your chances of being stung in the garden tiny.

In the garden, keep three things in mind:

1. Move slowly, especially near flowers bees are feeding on.

2. Watch your hands. If you brush a bee off a flower, it may instinctively cling to you. If you do nothing, it will almost always fly off. This may require a minute or so of bravery.

If it stays on your shirt or skin, a slow brushing-off will usually do the trick. Never try to hit, swat or pick off the bee.

3. Never go into a garden or lawn with bare feet. Stepping on a honeybee in the clover is a common way to get stung.

Watch for insect nests, too. Bumblebees and yellow jackets rear their young in shallow underground nests.

Bumblebees prefer grassy areas at the edge of woods or near large rocks.

Yellow jackets seem to like soft soil in the sun but protected by grass or other small plants.

Look for insects flying back and forth in the same direction near the ground. That's almost always a sign that a colony is nearby.

Many of our ornamental plants attract bees, wasps and yellow jackets. Good examples are abelia, chaste tree, butterfly bush, hybrid azalea, Mexican sunflower, salvia, snapdragon, sedum and phlox.

Plants that don't readily attract bees are less common. They include cultivars of dianthus, geranium, chrysanthemum, marigold, some zinnias and many roses.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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