5 Tips for a More Bee-Friendly Flower Garden
Many years ago, I had a neighbor who was a hobby beekeeper. When I would drop by to purchase honey, I’d tease him about deserving a discount, since I knew his bees spent most of their time in my flower garden. I didn’t realize how true that was until he and his bees moved away.
Recently, another neighbor began keeping bees. Once again I have a source for hyper-local honey and my garden is positively buzzing with bees. From the first snowdrops in March to the last asters in November, if there’s a flower in bloom, there’s usually a bee nearby.
Now that the bees are back, I have doubled down on making my flower garden as bee-friendly as possible. For suggestions, I look to the Pollinator Partnership, the world’s largest pollinator protection organization. Based on their suggestions (and some of my own experience) here are five ways home gardeners can help keep bees happy and healthy.
Add More Single, Daisy-like Flowers to Your Garden
Flowers with open, easily accessible centers offer bees more nectar and pollen than double flowers that obscure their centers with many layers of petals. So I am always looking for opportunities to add more Shasta daisies, rudbeckia, echinacea and mums. I also plant single and double dahlias such as H.S. Date, H.S. Flame and Fascination. You’ll find many other bee-friendly flower recommendations in this article: Best Flowers for Bees.
Plant in Clumps for Better Visibility
Bees see differently than we do. Big blocks of flowers (2 to 3 feet across) are easier for them to see than individual flowers. This is one of the reasons that a large bed of poppies or alliums is always covered with bees. If you are growing flowers in containers, grouping them together can create the same effect.
Plan for a Succession of Flowers from Early Spring Through Fall
If you grow snowdrops or crocus, you know that bees are just as eager to see these early spring flowers as we are. Flower gardeners are always striving for a continuous parade of blooms from early spring through late fall. This is exactly what bees, want, too.
It takes some planning to ensure your garden is a go-to feeding ground for pollinators. Start by keeping a bloom time journal to track what’s flowering each week. Notice a gap? Find some plants that can fill it. This bloom time chart for spring and summer bulbs is a handy tool for inspiration.
Strive for Diversity
Honeybees and bumblebees are generalists that feed on a wide range of different types of plants. They are also social creatures that live in hives or shared nests and it’s these traits that make them particularly vulnerable to environmental stresses.
Native bees, on the other hand, tend to be solitary and more specialized in the types of plants they will feed on. To attract and support the widest range of pollinators, plant as many different types of flowers as you can. Aim for many different colors, heights and shapes.
Use Pesticides as a Last Option and Always with Great Care
Most insecticides are as deadly for bees as they are for other insects. This is true for organic versions as well. When foraging honeybees and bumblebees pick up contaminated pollen and nectar, they bring it back to the hive where it can accumulate and harm others. Pesticides (which also target diseases) can be just as dangerous.
As a general rule, avoid applying any type of dust or spray when flowers are in bloom. If that’s not possible, apply it only in the very early morning or at dusk, when there is no wind and bees are not active. Also, take care to target the spray so you avoid contaminating flowers.
There are so many good reasons to create a more bee-friendly garden. When you welcome bees, you also welcome butterflies, dragonflies, songbirds, toads, frogs and other creatures who are looking for a safe haven.