By Michael Jenkins
Spring is so close, and as the weather gets warmer and our plants start to bloom we’ll all be seeing other signs of life in our gardens, including insects. For those of us who are lucky enough to have them, this means seeing more bees around the garden. While some people are afraid of bees, there’s no reason for alarm; bees are generally safe and helpful around the garden. As pollinators, they help spread pollen from plant to plant and thus ensure that our gardens thrive. Bees are vital for growing fruits and vegetables—without them both commercial and at-home agriculture would suffer. Growing a bee-friendly garden is easy, and is better for your garden, for you, and for the world as a whole. Let’s take a look at how you can ensure that your garden is a healthy place for bees to thrive!
As we mentioned above, bees are looking for pollen. They have other needs however, so we’re going to offer a list here of traits that a bee-friendly garden should have in order to offer the best possible environment for bees.
- Pollen-rich plants are a must—bees leave the hive in search of food, which for them is the pollen found in flowering plants. The good news is that many beautiful flowers and popular garden veggies are good sources of pollen as well and will benefit from the cross-pollination bees offer.
- A chemical-free environmentis best for bees. Large-scale bee die-offs have been a problem in recent years in part due to the overuse of pesticides and herbicides. There are bee-friendly solutions to both unwanted garden pests and weeds, and we’ve written about them here and here.
- Wateris a must for bees as it is for most life forms. A simple bird-bath can suffice to give bees the water they need and attract them to your garden. Just make sure to keep it full!
- Wild plants and unmowed/untrimmed areascan be very inviting for bees, offering them shelter, native plants for pollen, and quiet spaces to thrive. If you have a large garden, consider leaving a natural corner for bees and other wildlife. The local environment will thank you and you’ll help keep nature thriving in your neighborhood.
So what plants attract bees? Whether you’re a decorative gardener or a vegetable grower, you probably already have some been friendly plants in your space. Many common and desirable garden plants are also great for bees, so here’s a partial list to get you started!
Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs for Bees:
- Tomatoes of all varietals
- Squashes, pumpkins, and cucumbers (including zucchini)
- Beans and peas
- Raspberries and blackberries
Flowers and Shrubs for Bees:
- Daisies of all varietals
- Lavender (a favorite of many bees!)
There are a few plants to be careful of. Some varieties of sunflowers are bred to not produce pollen. While this makes them better for florists, it’s not great for bees. Check the label on seed packets to make sure you’re getting a pollen-producing variety.
Bees are fascinating and helpful additions to any garden, and in planting a bee-friendly garden space you’ll be supporting them and all the good they do for the natural world. If you’d like to know more about bees, or find out which bee-friendly plants grow best in your area, we suggest contacting the American Beekeeping Federation. They have a directory of local chapters in both the US and Canada, so you can get help from folks in your area about bees, bee-friendly gardening, and—if you’re interested—keeping bees yourself!