How to Create a Bee-Friendly Garden
It's a saddening reality: Bee populations are declining and under attack due to a loss of habitat, lack of foraging opportunities as the result of monocultures, climate change, the nasty varroa mite, and the use of bee-killing agrochemicals (a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids is particularly problematic).
There are about 25,000 different bee species worldwide, but only seven of those are honeybees. In fact, it is the solitary, stingless ground-nesting bee that is disappearing at an alarming rate. It seems that part of the problem rests in the fact that there are too many gardens sporting green lawns, pollen-less flowers, and non-flowering grasses, leaving fewer and fewer places for a bee to create a home or find a meal.
The reality is that a healthy and vigorous garden relies on bee visitors; large portions of the plants bees pollinate provide food for animals, birds, insects, and us. In fact, it's estimated that a third of everything we eat depends on honeybee pollination. For our planet's present and future health, it is critical that we think of what bees need to thrive when designing and planting a garden. Ultimately, it's important that all of us do our part in enticing and supporting our fuzzy, buzzy friends.
With simple solutions, smart actions, and the right flower choices, all types of gardens from traditional cottage gardens to the clean lines of a modern design can become bee-friendly. Keep reading to learn eight tips on how you can create an attractive garden with a serious buzz.
Variety is the Spice of Llife
To keep bees happy and encourage them to be return customers, grow a variety of plants for them to forage. Focus on cultivating those plants that produce nectar and pollen that bees need for food.
The Long Haul
Plan for something to always be blooming in your garden for as many months out of the year as possible, as this is an easy way to provide nutrients for the entire life cycle of bees and other pollinators. Bees, especially, forage during the entire growing season so plan to incorporate plants that bloom in early spring, summer, and into late fall. During spring you can't go wrong with crocus and bleeding heart. In the summer, we like cosmos and lavender. For fall, try planting aster and agastache.
Get a Little Wild
Provide shelter by leaving some areas not weeded, let a hedge grow untrimmed, make a pile of grass cuttings in a sunny place, and leave some soil bare for ground-nesting bees to make a habitat.
Home Sweet Home
Give bees a place to shelter from rain and cold temperatures. Create a homemade bee house from recycled garden materials like canes, bamboo, and old bricks, or be ambitious and tend to a hive.
Plant lots of one flowering plant. Aim for at least a 3 x 3 foot block of each plant species. Tip: the same flower can be planted next to each other, or in other areas of the garden, just as long as they are garden roommates.
Give Them a Drink
Bees get thirsty, too, so remember to provide a shallow fresh water source. A birdbath will even work if a few flat stones are added to give them landing pads.
Avoid chemical use (both synthetic and organic) and work with organic compost and mulch to build healthy soil to create healthy plants. Also, rely on beneficial and predatory insects—like ladybugs!—to control pesky bugs naturally.
Queens of the Garden
Top bee-friendly plants include rosemary, lavender, thyme, allium, bee balm, borage (some say bees favor blue-flowing plants) echinacea, and crocus. Plant these pretty blooms for a garden that you can feel good about.