Gardening for Honey Bees
Incorporating a variety of flowering plants, shrubs and trees in your community can help increase the diversity of bees, even in relatively urban environments. By providing nectar and pollen and creating natural shelters in your garden, you can create a habitat that is supportive of bees. Here are some straight-forward ideas for designing and maintaining bee-friendly landscaping and gardens.
Focus on Bee-Friendly Plants
Plant flowers of differing shape, size and color, but put large swaths of the same flowers together in order to increase a bee’s foraging efficiency.
Good choices for bee-friendly perennials:
- Purple coneflower
Good choices for bee-friendly annuals:
Good choices for bee-friendly herbs:
Good choices for bee-friendly shrubs:
- Pussy willow
Trees such as the tulip poplar, redbud, crabapple, linden and serviceberry can be an important source of pollen and nectar for bees because they often flower early and have large quantity of both. Maple trees are also a good choice to plant as honey bees can drink their sugary sap from the bark after woodpeckers release it.
Select Native and Old-fashioned Plants
Whenever possible, select native plants as they are ideal for feeding bees and optimized to grow in your region. For suggestions visit the websites of regional botanic gardens and plant nurseries for more info on bee-friendly plants. Native plants also have the added advantage of attracting other pollinators such as butterflies and other insects, hummingbirds and bats. And though many may consider these plants weeds, dandelions, milkweed, goldenrod and clover are excellent sources of nectar and pollen.
Stick to simpler flowers like daisies and marigolds and be judicious about planting the showy, double-headed flowers like double impatiens, which make very little nectar and are harder for bees to pollinate. Additionally, avoid highly hybridized plants that have been engineered not to seed and don’t produce very little pollen for bees.
Plan for Blooms in the Spring, Summer & Fall
By planting for the entire growing season, bees will have access to nectar and pollen in times they need it the most: right after they emerge from their winter isolation in the early spring and in the fall when they are securing stores to last them through the winter.
- Wild lilac
- Bee balm
- Witch hazel
Don’t Forget the Water
Offer bees and other creatures a clean and regularly replenished water source, especially during summer’s heat. A water feature such as a stream or pond, shallow bowl or birdbath can provide sufficient water. Place a few stones or floating sticks in stationary water so that bees and other insects can land on them to drink without risk of drowning.
Develop a Healthier Garden
Use mulch and top-dress your soil with compost or natural fertilizer to encourage strong, vigorous plants that resist insect damage. Avoid the use of herbicides and pesticides and embrace natural means of pest control. Ladybugs, spiders and praying mantises can help to keep pest populations in check. Pull out any weak plants and dispose of them away from the garden area as they might attract predators. Avoid wet foliage by watering early in the day to minimize insect and fungal infections.
Not only will these tips provide a haven and food for honey bees, they will help make your garden a beautiful space for all to enjoy.