Everyone knows that bees pollinate the flowers that yield our fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. Our pollinators are crucial parts of the eco-system, and make possible a full one-third of our food supply. We should provide them the best chance possible to thrive, and one of the ways in which we can do that is by creating a bee friendly garden.
It’s common knowledge that wild bees have been under stress for a long time. Their populations are in decline. There are any number of reasons – pesticides, destruction of habitats, introduced predators and diseases, even climate change.
Helping the bees isn’t quite as simple as plopping down a hive or two next to the calendulas. We must assist the wild bee species as well as honeybees – although we surely wouldn’t turn up our noses at those lovely honeybees! There are about two dozen types of nice bee that might visit your garden, and seven of the most common bees include the honeybee plus a half dozen bumblebees. Having an assortment of pollinators is ideal, lest something happens to one kind. Hopefully, the others will be ready to step in and do their part.
Listed here are the basics of attracting bees to your garden. Not only do bees do the pollination so you needn’t, but their busy hum can be quite soothing and cheerful.
1. Plant Flowers with Nectar & Pollen
What a concept! We all know that bees need to drink nectar and eat pollen, but not just any flowers will do. Plant a good number of single flower forms, in a seasonal succession of blooming, to keep your bee visitors well fed and happy. And keep in mind that various bee species prefer different flowers – both wild and cultivated. Some kinds even depend on specific blossoms.
We recommend single flower forms because they have minimal obstructions to bee access to nectar and pollen. The newer hybrid flowers may be beautiful, but many times the blooms are double or ruffled so much that only the hardiest bee can wiggle its way to the nectar. Those flowers are a lot of work for a bee!
Allow early weeds to flower. The first Dandelion in Spring or the last Henbit of Winter may be the only food a hungry honeybee can find. A bonus: Both plants are edible and interesting additions to your salad. Henbit has a pleasing, slightly peppery taste.
Some common Spring flowers that bees like: • Allium • Bugle • Crocus • Heather • Grape Hyacinth • Daffodil (these have many varieties, to carry into the summer) • Primroses • Rhododendron • Viburnum • Wallflowers
Let flowering summer weeds grow, such as Daisy and Wild Carrot. Any Clover is a tasty treat as well. Plant native dog roses, which have a single flower form and are easy for bees to access.
Suggestions for tasty Summer flowers for bees: Aquilegia (Columbine) • Monarda (Bergamot, also called Bee Balm for good reason) • Buddleja (Butterfly Bush) • Echinacea (Coneflower, many kinds) • Foxglove • Lavender • Poppy (both annual and oriental) • Sunflowers of all types • Thyme • Verbena
Weeds that flower in Autumn include Goldenrod, Wild Asters, Buttercup, Bellflowers, Morning Glory and Thistle. Let them grow for a bit, because the bees that frequent them may actually depend upon them. For example, the tiny Harebell Bee (Britain’s smallest) must have Campanula spp. to survive.
Autumn flowers known to be delicious to bees: Asters (any and all) • Borage • Single-flowered Dahlias • Salvias • Sedum • Verbena • Anemones
Did you know there are Winter bees? It’s true, I tell you! Cooler Autumn weather brings the rearing of sturdier, stronger Winter bees, whose purpose is to see that the colony survives the cold until Spring. Most bees only live several weeks, but Winter bees have a lifespan of 4 to 6 months. During the Winter, those bees keep the queen warm and also feed the larvae using the low fat, high protein nourishment stored in their own bodies.
So, even though flowering weeds die back beginning with the first frost, the occasional Winter bee will greatly appreciate some cold weather plantings: Pansies • Hellebores • Mahonia • Snowdrops • Winter Aconite • Winter Heathers • Winter Honeysuckle
2. Grow Woolly Plants
A handy supply of soft, hairy, woolly plants suitable for bee nests will be useful and appreciated. Wild bees don’t live in hives, but they may nest in the ground, or in an old mouse hole, or in the knot of a tree. Wool carder bees are among the largest bumblebees in Britain. Their name derives from their habit of collecting hairs and fuzz from plant vegetation, with which to build the cells inside their nests.
Woolly plants to grow: Stachys (Lambs’ Ears)• Verbascum (Mullein species)
3. Build a Bee Hotel
Can you see yourself constructing a tiny faerie house for bees? With sweet little shutters, a tiny door, and a wee chimney? Too fussy? Well, building a bee hotel is far easier, and just as cute. All you need are some sticks of various diameters from 2mm to 10mm, and different textures, enclosed within a simple frame. Make sure you include hollow sticks for the wild bees to lay their eggs in protected spaces. Bamboo, hollow sunflower stalks, or teasel will attract solitary female bees like leafcutter bees and red mason bees.
Build your miniature hotel in the early spring to make it available to the wild bees until Autumn. It could be considered a summer resort for pollinators. Set your bee hotel in full sun, especially morning sunshine. On the edge of your flower bed would be an ideal site.
There are many fine examples of bee friendly gardens in the UK, and the very best are presented by the National Trust. Browse the web page, and you can click on a link for each one that opens to a new page featuring the garden more extensively. This is a nice reference to bookmark and return during gloomy weather to lift your spirits.