Are you wondering how to attract bees to your garden? Read on to discover the best flowers for bees and ways to create a bee friendly garden.
Why are bees important?
As well as making yummy honey, bees are vital to our eco-system and keep the circle of life turning. As perfectly adapted pollinators, they transfer pollen between flowering plants, helping them to breed, grow and produce food. Lots of plants need bees to help increase the quality and quantity of produce, including many fruit and vegetables, even crops grown to feed dairy cows rely on pollination by bees. So, with their numbers in dramatic decline, you may be wondering how to attract bees to your garden and keep our furry friends thriving.
Plant flowers for bees
The most obvious and important thing you can do to attract bees is to fill your garden with lovely colourful flowers. Ideally having a range of plants that provide a continous flowering period (from March to September). This will also have the added bonus of making your garden look beautiful too of course!
Planting Spring-flowering bulbs in Autumn is a great way to ensure you have plenty of pollen and nectar for hungry bees emerging from hibernation. Crocuses, alliums and English bluebells are all good examples, loved by bees. Early flowering hellebores, native primroses and lungwort are also perfect for bees throughout the Spring.
Apparently bees can see the colour purple most clearly so planting lavender will mean they can enjoy the flowers in late Spring and Summer. Another great plant for bees is the evergreen Skimmia (shown in the image above), it has beautiful pink or white flowers throughout the Summer months. It’s also perfect for birds too as it’s covered in red berries in the Winter! Honeysuckle and Verbena provide flowers in Autumn, fantastic for hardworking bees collecting nectar to maintain the colony throughout the Winter.
Grow a Wildflower Meadow
Starting a wildflower meadow is a relatively inexpensive way to attract bees, as well as butterflies, insects and birds. Native wildlife thrive on native wildflower so they make fantastic additions to your garden.
There is some preparation needed for your wildflower meadow but once the seeds are sown it is relatively low maintenance. You need to chose a flat area which is open to the sunshine and start working the soil. Meadows grow best on unproductive soil so if you’ve used lots of fertiliser over the years, you may need to remove the top three to six inches of topsoil. Dig the soil to remove weeds and cover the area in black plastic so any remaining seeds die. Then, the fun part, start sowing your seeds in either Autumn or Spring depending on your seed mix. Simply follow the instructions on your packet and watch your flowers grow! It can look effective to mow a path through, or around, your meadow so it looks intentional rather than an unkempt patch.
Install a Bee Hotel
Not all bees live in hives like honeybees. Solitary and mason bees make nests on their own, laying eggs in small holes in dead wood or hard soil. A great way to mimic these habitats and make life a little easier for our bee friends is to buy, or make, a ‘bee hotel’.
A bee hotel is essentially a series of hollow tubes of varying sizes to accommodate different species of bees. These can be purchased pretty inexpensively or you could make your own. This tutorial from Mummy Snowy Owl uses recycled and natural materials to create homes for bugs and bees. A DIY bee hotel is a lovely weekend project and the perfect way to get children interested in wildlife. Potential residents are searching for their new home in Spring so it’s the ideal time to set up your bee hotel, just make sure you place it in a sunny position and 1-4 feet off the ground.
Create a nest for Queen Bees
Bumblebee queens look for places to hibernate during Autumn and early Winter. So why not give them a helping hand by providing them with a warm and dry nesting space?! All you need is a terracotta pot and organic material such as moss or hay. Here is a great tutorial from Gardeners World but a quick search online brings up lots of projects using various materials.
Some final tips to keep bees happy in your garden
Ease up on the weeding. Being a little untidy in the garden will encourage wildlife and give you a break too! Lawn clovers and dandelions provide pollen and nectar for bees and help support wildlife. If you don’t like the idea of relaxing the weeding, you could just leave a designated area undisturbed and let nature run its course.
Provide a source of water. A shallow dish full of water with some stones or sticks for bees to land on will provide a source of water for thirsty bees.
Use natural fertilisers. To provide the safest environment for bees and other wildlife, aim to use natural fertilisers, pesticides and weed control. Insects already living in your garden are great for controlling pests. Ladybirds, ants and spiders take care of aphids whilst ground beetles deal with slugs and caterpillars. Encouraging these beneficial varieties will control pests whilst supporting insects and bees. Removing weeds by hand or filling your garden with plants will starve out the weeds without using chemicals. Making your own compost and natural plant feed is a great way to avoid using harsh fertilisers whilst reducing waste too!
Help tired bees. Finally, if you do come across a tired bee, it’s not hard to give them a helping hand. Mix sugar or honey with some warm water and place in a saucer close to the bees head. This will provide a much needed energy boost and soon perk the bee up!