Bee-friendly garden

How to Create a Bee-Friendly Garden

Nancy Mann Jackson

Why is a bee-friendly garden so important? Every time you eat an apple, orange, or a handful of almonds, you can thank a bee or other pollinator. In fact, more than 150 crops grown in the United States need pollinators for successful growth. Bees, birds, butterflies or other pollinators aid in the fertilization process, moving pollen from flower to flower.

Without healthy pollinators, many of our favorite foods and drinks could become unavailable, and our food supply could suffer.

Of much concern is that many pollinators, such as bees, have begun to disappear in recent years. In the past decade, the number of bee colonies in the country has dropped by more than 50 percent due to disease, loss of habitat, and exposure to pesticides, according to the Pollinator Partnership.

Some scientists, nonprofit organizations and government agencies are working to find solutions for declining pollinator populations. As a home gardener, you too can make a difference by planting a garden that will serve as a welcome habitat for bees and other pollinators. By growing bee- and butterfly-friendly plants, you can boost the health of our pollinators and your own garden, and do your part to protect our food supply, one backyard garden at a time.

Planting for Pollinators

Bees and other pollinators need flowering plants to stay healthy. If the flowers or vegetables you normally plant bloom only at certain times of the year, consider planting several varieties to encourage year-round blooming.

“There are several types of plants that will keep a honeybee happy throughout the year,” says Angela England, founder of the Untrained Housewife blog and author of Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less).

“The season often starts with the first fruit trees blooming, plum, pear, and apple. Later, blackberries, sage, and the earlier lavender plants. As you head into summer, flowers like Iris, Echinacea, elderberry, and sunflowers become important. The toughest season on the bees is the fall, when choices are more limited. Consider plants such as goldenrod, asters, and milkweed, which can be important additions to the bee garden,” explains England.

The best plants to attract and welcome bees in one region are not necessarily the best ones for other regions. The North American Pollinator Protection Campaign developed 32 guides, one for each eco-region of the United States, that detail the best plants for pollinators in each area.

Here’s an interesting tidbit that may help in your plant selection. Scientists have found that bees have favorite colors, and for good reason. Bumblebees, for instance, tend to favor violet or blue, and flowers of these hues tend to be rich in nectar. Yellow is another favorite, too.

Bee-Friendly Flowers

If you really want to make bees happy, consider cultivating flowering plants of various colors. Here are a few suggestions to add to your bee garden:

Bee-friendly garden flower

Violet or Purple: Violet, ​Foxglove, Catmint

Bee-friendly garden plants

Blue: Rosemary, Forget-Me-Not, Delphinium

Bee and butterfly friendly garden

Yellow: Sunflower, Marigold, Buttercup, Black-Eyed Susan

Bee-friendly garden ideas

White: White Clover, Elderberry Blossom, Daisy, Camellia, Apple Blossom

Bee-Friendly Maintenance

Planting and maintaining a garden with bees in mind can be different from planting flowers or vegetables for your own pleasure. Here are some tips to help maintain your garden in such a way that fosters a healthy bee community.

Avoid using harsh chemical and fertilizers:

Although you might normally use chemicals to keep your flowers blooming and your garden free from weeds, using harsh chemicals and fertilizers is not a good idea if you want to create a bee-friendly garden. That’s because bees and other pollinators can be highly sensitive to pesticides and toxic chemicals.

Rather than relying on pesticides and fungicides, familiarize yourself with older methods for protecting plants. For instance, you can use a dormant oil spray on fruit trees during the early spring, while the trees are still—you guessed it—dormant (and the bees aren’t yet buzzing around). These oil sprays, made of cottonseed oil or refined from petroleum oil, will kill exposed insects and mites, including eggs, without harming birds, humans, or other mammals.

And instead of using chemical fertilizers, consider fertilizing your soil with rich, natural compost, which can be made from grass clippings, fall leaves, wood ashes and some types of food scraps.

Bee hotel

Welcome bees by building or purchasing a bee hotel.

You can create a salt lick for butterflies:

  • create a damp area with a drip irrigation line
  • bird bath placed in the soil, and mixing a bit of sea salt with the mud.

Engineering a garden to be an inviting place for pollinators, will not only cultivate backyard beauty that buzzes with life, but you will also be doing your part to help protect our food supply.

Share in the comments below:

What is your favorite flower that attracts pollinators? Do you have any

bee-friendly tips not listed here?

7 Responses to "How to Create a Bee-Friendly Garden"
  • Chloe S | April 27, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    Sounds great! Thank you for the comment, Jerry!

  • SHIRLEY NAGEL | April 26, 2020 at 1:57 am

    Great ideas, this helps a lot. I usually have a lot of butterflies and bees, always plant flowers of vibrant colors. I love to see the butterflies they remind me of my childhood when things were so wonderful.

  • Liz Neumann | April 25, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    We love bees and would encourage them into a yard with various plants.............my son has a huge bee hive in his yard. He has a couple of bird houses and the bees have taken them over for about two years.......it is amazing, they live in a big city and have a condo, so the housing is pretty close together, but somehow they found these bird houses and having taken up residence. My son just leaves them alone and lets them do their thing, which I think is so cool!! We wish we could see inside, probably loaded with hone!

  • Thelma Logan | April 25, 2020 at 5:45 pm

    I loved this article. I have a butterfly garden and bird feeders. I have lots of bees, but have never heard of a bee hotel. I have really enjoyed all the beauty of nature. My fire bush hedge is a great place for bird nest. Thank you for this beautiful article and thank you for your insurance--I have home and automobile with the Buck.

  • Jerry Jacobson (colonycollapsedisorder.org) | April 25, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    Excellent information: also, Globe thistle (purple) loads up with all pollinators (you can view on my website) along with many of the other type plants you mention. I will seed several thousand Globe thistle quite soon. Best regards, Jerry

  • Jane | April 25, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Be careful when planting flowers. Many seeds are coated in pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. Many flower bedding plants are started from such seeds as well. When a seed sprouts and grows, the chemicals spread through the whole plant. So insects, such as aphids, that try to eat the plant also get a dose of the poison, But beneficial insects, such as bees, are subjected to these poisons as well. To save bees, be sure to use organic seeds and bedding plants. See https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/neonicotinoid-pesticides-slowly-killing-bees

  • Broderick Matthew | April 25, 2020 at 2:30 pm

    Please plant more native wildflowers seed sourced & grown from as close to your region of the country as possible. Called local eco-types. Most states have native plant organizations & growers. Please support them.

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