Plant a Bee Attracting Garden


Urban Gardeners Can Help Provide Habitat for Bees

      
by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
July 16, 2013
A mason bee on a pear blossom

An orchard mason bee on a pear blossom.

By planting native flowers, plants and herbs, you can create habitat in your garden and help rebuild threatened bee populations. Most of us are familiar with honey bees. In addition, Canada has 800 species of native bees, ranging from tiny black foragers to blue orchard bees and yellow-striped bumblebees. The survival of these important pollinators is essential to the reproduction of approximately three-quarters of the fruit, nuts, vegetables and herbs we eat.

What Bees Need

As natural bee habitats become less abundant, gardeners can provide sanctuaries for bees. Studies have shown that urban gardeners can have a great effect on bee diversity by planting a variety of flowers that attract and nurture different species of native bees.

Bees will thrive and reproduce in places that provide for three basic needs:

• Food – Flowering plants provide the nectar (sugar) and pollen (proteins and fats) bees need for energy and to feed their young.

• Fresh Water – Puddles, muddy areas, or shallow water in between rocks provide accessible water sources for bees.

bee nest hole

Nest hole of a solitary bee.

• Shelter – Bees need areas protected from cold, wind and flooding. Sunny, bare areas of earth in out-of-the way places in the garden are attractive to native bees for nesting. Some native bees also nest in rotting logs or hollow stems. About 90 percent of native bees are solitary nesters, digging a single nest hole in which to care for their own offspring. Because they do not have a large colony to defend, solitary bees are generally not aggressive.

What Bees Don’t Need

Certain components of modern gardens are not helpful to bees:

• Hybrid plants with large, showy flowers often have less (or no) pollen than native plants. Flowers bred for size, colour, and disease resistance, are sometimes sterile and therefore of no use to pollinators. Avoid double hollyhocks and double sunflowers. Tulips and pansies are also of limited value to bees.

• Pesticides – Avoid pesticides, especially broad spectrum insecticides which kill beneficial insects such as bees along with pests. Read labels and avoid plant care products with active ingredients such as imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid. Neonicotinoids are implicated in the decline of bee populations and have now been banned in Europe.

What to Plant in Your Bee Garden

Most flowers and vegetables need pollination to reproduce. The more bees you attract, the more your garden can thrive.

• Native plants (wildflowers) and heirloom plants (not hybrids) are best for attracting and helping bees. On average, native flowers attract four times as many pollinators as non-natives. Use as many native plants as possible.

• Many flowers that we regard as weeds, such as dandelions and buttercups, are early and important sources of food for bees.

crocuses

Crocuses in early spring

• Plant several colours of flowers. Blue, violet, white and yellow flowers are most attractive to bees.

• Plant many varieties of flowers to attract a diverse range of bees.

• Provide a range of plants that bloom in succession throughout the season. Bee season is from March to October. Look for plants that bloom successively, starting with crocus and heather in early spring, and ending with lavender and calendula in late fall.

• Cluster flowers together in patches, so that bees can feed in one area rather than flying between scattered individual flowers.

• Plant flowers of various shapes. Different species of bees have different tongue lengths suited for deep or shallow shapes. Small, shallow flowers such as daisies, marigolds, buttercups and yarrow will often attract small bees. Blooms such as delphinium, columbine, lavender, sage, and mint attract larger bees.

• Plant in sunny areas with some protection from wind. Bees favour these areas over shade or windy open spots.

Plants That Attract Bees

Below is a list of bee-attracting flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables. When selecting flowers, choose natives and non-hybrid varieties. The bees will thank you, and you’ll reap the benefits of a colourful, well-pollinated, vibrant garden!

bumblebee on clover

A bumblebee works on a clover flower.

bee on sunflower

A honey bee on a sunflower.

Flowers

Aster
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Bleeding Heart
Clover
Columbine
Cosmos
Cornflower (weedy)
Crocus
Goldenrod
Heather
Hollyhock (not doubled)
Lupine (wild)
Marigold
Penstemon
Poppy
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
Salvia (blue or violet)
Sedum
Scented Geranium
Sunflower (Helianthus – not doubled)
Tansy
Verbena (not red)
Veronica
Wild Rose (and Rugosa Rose)
Yarrow
Zinnia

Bee balm

Bee balm

Herbs

Basil
Bee Balm (Bergamot)
Borage
Catnip
Cilantro
Chives
Comfrey
Fennel
Hyssop
Lavender
Mints
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage
Thyme

apple blossoms

Apple blossoms

Fruits

Apple tree
Blackberries
Blueberries
Cherry tree
Cranberries
Currants
Elderberries
Hazelnut tree
Huckleberries
Pear tree
Plum tree
Quince tree
Raspberries
Strawberries

zucchini flowers

Zucchini flowers about to bloom

Vegetables

Eggplant
Peppers
Pumpkins
Squash
Tomatoes
Watermelons

Also, when left to flower:

Broccoli
Carrots
Garlic
Kale
Leeks
Onions
Parsnips

Related Slideshow:
Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects

Related Article:
Where Have All the Bees Gone?

Resources:
Here are some informative websites about bees.

Hutchings Bee Service
Feed the Bees
Urban Bee Network
Hives for Humanity

4 Responses leave one →
  1. 2017 May 25
    Alanah Nasadyk permalink

    This is such a helpful article.

  2. 2016 July 23
    Lorelei Diamond permalink

    Thank you for this information. I want to plant Proven Winner Lo and Behold butterfly bushes which are sterile.
    Will they provide nutrients for pollinators?

    • 2016 July 23
      BC Farms & Food permalink

      Sterile plants do not produce pollen and are not good choices for feeding bees and other pollinators. Although you’re referring to a miniature variety of Butterfly Bush, be aware that Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii, is considered an invasive weed by the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia.

  3. 2014 January 25
    Robin round permalink

    This is a great article.

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