There’s no better sound than a garden alive with the industrious buzz of bees. Gardeners owe a lot to these hard-working pollinators – without them we wouldn’t be able to grow many of the fruits and vegetables we take for granted, so it’s worth including a few simple but highly effective elements in your garden to attract these essential insects.
Why Bees Need Our Help
In many parts of the world bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, are in decline. The reasons are complex but include modern agricultural techniques, the spread of towns and cities, and the loss of natural habitat such as wildflower meadows.
Bees provide a vital service by pollinating the plants that produce much of the food we eat. They also pollinate the wild flowers that feed the insects that fuel the food chain. By helping bees we’re helping wildlife – and ourselves.
How Gardeners Can Help Bees
Combined, our gardens make up a vast area of green space. In towns and cities they provide corridors of plant life that are vital for urban wildlife. By creating bee-friendly spaces within our gardens, we can help to support vulnerable populations while enjoying better harvests.
Tip 1: Choose bee-friendly flowers
Bee-friendly flowers draw in pollinators, putting your garden firmly on their map. Plan for a succession of flowers, so as one finishes another starts off. By providing a constant supply of pollen and nectar for bees to feed on, you’ll keep bees on site year round.
There are no hard and fast rules about what to plant, but opt for flowers rich in pollen and nectar. This usually means choosing single flowers over double flowers. Providing a wide range of flowers in your garden, including many trees and shrubs, will provide a bigger banquet for your bees.
Plants that bloom early in the year offer food for bees emerging from hibernation. Suitable plants include willows, hawthorn, the blossom of fruit trees such as apples, cherries and plums, and plants such as crocus and aubretia.
Excellent summer bloomers include clover, calendula, borage, and the appropriately named poached egg plant. Towards the end of the year make sure there are late-season flowers available, such as aster, echinacea and common ivy. These are just some of the many bee-friendly flowers available.
Tip 2: Plant flowers strategically
Most bee-friendly flowers prefer a sunny, sheltered location. Grow plants in blocks or swathes to maximize their useful impact for bees.
Our Garden Planner includes a selection of flowers proven to attract beneficial insects to your plot. Simply click on ‘flowers’ or ‘herbs’ in the selection bar drop-down filter to list some popular options. Clicking on the information button reveals the plant’s description, including its suitability for attracting pollinators.
Include flowers within your fruit and vegetable plot – either at the margins, at the ends of beds or among crops as companion plants. Remember that flowering vegetables such as beans will also attract bees. Use the Garden Planner to select, drop and then drag rows and blocks of flowers to size in your plan, making them an integral part of your cropping plan.
Tip 3: Go wild!
Allowing some corners of your garden to go a little wild will provide valuable habitat for bees. For example, in winter leave grass to grow longer and the hollow stems of perennials uncut to offer additional shelter. Many wild plants, such as dandelions and thistles are a rich source of nectar and pollen, while the likes of nettles and brambles provide food for the larvae of pollinating butterflies.
Cutting lawns less frequently also enables low-growing lawn flowers such as clover and daisies to flower for longer, which means more foraging opportunities for bees. Apply this hands-off approach to your entire lawn or to specific areas.
Tip 4: Provide bee habitat
Wild bees nest in a range of locations, including small holes left by other animals, in sheltered nooks and crannies such as within a compost heap, or among thick tufts of grass. Stay vigilant and avoid disturbing nests or hibernation sites.
Buy or build your own bee hotels to provide further habitat for many types of bumble and solitary bees. Make your own by gathering bundles of hollow stems, canes and twigs and packing them into a watertight outer casing, or drill different-sized holes into a block of untreated wood – between 2mm and 10mm, or one-tenth to half an inch across. Position bee hotels in sheltered locations, away from the worst of the winter weather.
Tip 5: Avoid chemicals in the garden
Gardeners in tune with nature really shouldn’t have to use chemical pesticides or weed killers. These unnatural controls both directly and indirectly impact beneficial wildlife, disrupting the food chain, depleting populations of pollinators and pest predators as well as pests, and thereby locking the gardener into a dependency on further chemicals. Instead, opt for natural pest controls, including netting, garden fleece or mesh barriers and companion plants, and natural weed controls such as regular hoeing and mulching.
Bees are the gardener’s hard-working allies, and without them we’d face very disappointing harvests. How do you attract bees into your garden? Tell us by dropping us a comment below.