The GroundUncover

Gardening Gone Wild has invited us to a Gardener's Design Workshop, and this month's topic is Covering the Ground. When I heard the topic, I was ready to blog about low-growing annuals and succulents and, of course, mulch. And it's true, mulch such as bark or gravel helps tremendously in a dry climate because it keeps in the moisture. So, three cheers for mulch, which one should I get?

Well, not so fast. How about some groundUncover as well? There are 1600 species of native bees in California, and 70% of them need bare dirt to live in, and raise the baby bees. The Berkeley Bee Garden, a research garden that was open for the Bringing Back the Natives tour, is a great example for groundcover and groundUncover. Colorful annuals, perennials, and a few shrubs such as Ceanothus are interwoven with a few mulched paths and surrounded by quite a lot of bare dirt.

The photo below shows the beautiful gilia, poppies, and penstemon, most not higher than 2-3 feet, making an excellent groundcover, while groudUncover is close by, both a freshly plowed field and a vegetable garden.

And, when you plant it and add some groundUncover, they will come. The staff at the garden handed us a list of plants that provide nectar and pollen year round and attract and support different types of bees at different times. You can also find the list at their website. The Berkeley researchers emphasize natives and include a lot of annuals. They encourage a mix for the summer and fall, and it really works, everyone saw bees. Lots of them. Below a picture from Country Mouse, with a beautiful green bee.

I also asked whether bare dirt in sun or shade is more suitable, and was told sun is preferred. That's good news because my drought-tolerant chaparral plants can probably muddle through if remove some of the bark mulch as time goes by, while the redwood habitat plants really do need a good layer of mulch to keep the moisture in.

I'm seriously thinking about making some bare dirt paths around my ceanothus, which are attracting several different kinds of bees. And I'm wondering whether removing the bark mulch where the Phacelia is growing this year will bring me a small field of those plants next year. I saw such a field at the research garden, and it was quite stunning.

Let's face it, most annuals grow best if you sow them on bare dirt, not on mulch (poppies and clarkies are an exception). Of course I love my Penstemon heterophyllus (a perennial) as a groundcover.

But wouldn't it be fun to have a patch of Gilia right next to it, with a little groundUncover, and the bees happily enjoying the nectar and pollen?

And what about the other 30% of native bees? They live in holes in trees or other cavities, and might appreciate a bee house. The researcher said those houses can work out very well, or not so well, and they've only started experimenting with them. There's actually a lot of good information in German about bee houses, just google Wildbienen. Even if you can't read the text, the pictures tell the story.

P.S. For other most excellent posts about the bee garden, do look at this post by Rooted in California, and this post by How's Robb?, with a cool picture of many different native bees on pins.


Thanks for the link! I haven't seen a green bee in quite some time.
Chandramouli S said…
That's a lovely post! I learnt quite a lot about bees from the post. The only bee that I have ever seen visiting my garden is the blue banded bee and the carpenter bees only hover above my plants but I've never seen them settle down on one.
A very stunning green bee! I have a slightly leaky garden hose at the moment, with a small hole in one side. It makes a very fine spray across one of our dirt roads, and the other day it was remarkable to see the number of bees and butterflies that were attracted to that patch of damp soil, and it was in full sun. Our nesting Mason Bees certainly seem to appreciate it, so I'm really in a much of a hurry to repair it :P
Bare dirt R us--good to know we are helping our apian friends. Thanks for this informative post!
I often think we get so obsessed with keeping weeds at bay with mulches that we forget that in nature this doesnt always happen and that we are actually making things hard for wildlife. I have lots of bare soil between my plants and lots of bees and other insects
Brad said…
Thanks for the mention. I've been awaiting your bee post. And that pic of the green bee is great. I was so busy learning, looking and asking questions that I didn't even think to take pictures even though I had my camera with me. And I'm glad you talked about not mulching. They are quite adamant about that at the bee garden.
I'll have to admit that I spent part of today adding mulch to one of my beds after going crazy pulling weeds this moist winter and spring. My apologies to the bees--I'll accept the demerits. At least the vast majority of my garden is plain dirt--when not covered in weeds.
Christine said…
I wonder if leaving a suitable area free of mulch around the bases of the perennials would help mitigate the extra weeding, but still allow the bees some real estate. Darn, I feel like I asked them so many questions at the Bee Garden, but still have so many more. Great post!
Nan Ondra said…
I am thrilled that you shared this post for the Design Workshop, Town Mouse. I learned so much! You inspired me to do some research and find out more about the ground-nesting bees we have here in Pennsylvania. Now I won't feel quite so determined to cover every bit of bare soil in my garden.