10 Easy Ways Your Garden Can Help to Support Bees
It’s hard to grow fruit and veg without these tiny, hardworking insects, so what can we do to help them in return?
Home gardeners are not planting as many flowering plants, and wildflowers are not as prolific as they once were. Without bees, a large percentage (some say 90%) of the fruit and vegetables we consume in the world would not be pollinated. But we don’t have to sit back and just let this happen. There are many steps we can take in our own gardens to provide food, water and refuge for bees and other pollinators.
Try to make sure there are plenty of nectar-rich flowers in the garden for as long as possible throughout the year, not just in spring and summer. These asters will flower in autumn and even early winter in some areas, as will dahlias, Verbena bonariensis and Salvia ‘Amistad’.
Winter-flowering nectar-producing plants include hellebores, crocuses, snowdrops, aconites, mahonias and winter-flowering clematis.
Some flowers have evolved to be pollinated by bees, particularly many herbs such as sage, thyme, nepeta and lavender. Blooms with open petals in a single row and upright stamens, such as sunflowers, dahlias, daisies and cosmos, make access easy for foraging bees.
Bees are also attracted to certain colours, yellow being one of their favourites, along with blue, purple, violet and white.
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Grow large clumps of pollen-rich Salvia in your garden and you’ll be amazed at how many bees will visit the flowers. Rather than ‘dotting’ flowers around the garden, plant them in large sweeps to make the blooms easily identifiable to bees. It also looks much more interesting.
There isn’t one shape that fits all when it comes to bees. There are actually many different species, all varying in size and tongue length. It’s best, therefore, to provide variation in food sources (ie, flower shapes) to cater for a range of different bee species.
If you have the space, create a patch of wildflowers. Perhaps you might even think about replacing the lawn with a wildflower meadow, or keep the grass long in places, so pollen-producing weeds such as dandelions and clover can flower and provide vital food for foraging bees. At the very least, mow your lawn less often to give those bee-friendly lawn weeds a chance to flower.
Telling gardeners not to remove weeds, particularly those in flower, would once have been considered heresy. But with nectar-producing flowers in such short supply, weeds have become an important food source for foraging bees.
If the bees are regularly visiting weeds growing in your garden, try to resist getting the spade out. This cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is considered a weed in many places, but is a great bee attractant and often planted in orchards.
To make foraging more efficient for bees, it makes sense to have a large number of flowers in one place. Trees and large shrubs are therefore an important food source for hungry bees. Try to plant species that flower in late winter and early spring, when there’s not a lot of other food around.
Fruit trees are rich in nectar, particularly many pip fruit trees such as plums and pears. But not all fruit tree cultivars are alike in the bee world. If you’re planning to grow fruit trees in your garden, make sure you choose those that are most attractive to honeybees – heritage varieties for instance and those with single, not double, flowers.
Despite our perceptions of bees being sociable creatures, mainly living in hives, the reality is that a large percentage of the bee population are very much the opposite. These are called solitary bees and they mainly nest in holes or tunnels in the ground or hollow branches.
To attract these bees to your garden, consider making them a hotel like this one, or invest in a ready-made model.
Most pesticides are designed to kill insects – any insect, including beneficial ones like bees. If you must use them, only spray when bees are not active. And check the label – some pesticides are way more harmful to bees than others.
In an ideal bee world, gardeners would buy organic, pesticide-free plants, seeds and bulbs, and grow them without using insecticides.
Bees usually collect water in the form of dew from leaves, but sometimes, in dry periods, they’ll look for it elsewhere in the garden. Creating a shallow pond where bees can land on the edges to collect water is a good idea. Or install a water feature that has a shallow area. If you have a water bowl, fill it with glass beads, pebbles or marbles so bees can drink without drowning.
Have you found this advice helpful? Share your thoughts in the Comments.