Bees contribute so very much to our world and unfortunately, we often neglect to recognize that. Oh, we know in our heads that over 150 fruits and vegetables need pollination to make it to market – and most of that pollination comes from bees. We know that we love the taste of fresh honey on biscuits or in tea. We know that we love the smell of beeswax candles or our favorite beeswax lip balm. But we often overlook the fact that the number of bees (and other pollinators) are declining. By planting flowers that attract bees we help the bees survive.
It’s not just the beekeeper who is responsible for helping the bees survive, it’s everyone’s responsibility. Maybe not everyone can keep bees but everyone can plant a few plants that attract bees.
Tips for Planting Flowers that Attract Bees
Carefully consider what flowers you plant. Bees have a hard time getting nectar from double bloom flowers so when you pick flowers to plant, the less showy, single bloom flowers are best. Also, sticking with native flowers is better than bringing in flowers from all over the place. Native plants and native pollinators have been getting along just fine for hundreds of years, why mess with a good thing? I’m always amazed at how many bees hang out around our salvia and Mexican heather. They love those plants – more so than the super showy double bloom hibiscus I planted before I knew better.
Instead of planting single flowers, plant flowers in clumps. Bees are attracted to lots of the same colored flowers. So instead of planting a salvia, a Mexican heather and a Queen Anne’s lace all in a small area, try planting an area with several similarly colored salvias, then maybe put a ring of Mexican heather around a tree and finally line a long flower bed with Queen Anne’s lace. This will help the bees find the flowers.
Plant a variety of flowers that bloom at different times so as to give bees something to forage all season long. On our property, the first blooms are the citrus trees and dandelions. As those blooms start waning, the elderberry and Indian blankets start flowering. Soon after that our vegetable garden and milkweed (http://countrysidenetwork.com/daily/gardening/herb-garden/milkweed-plant-a-truly-remarkable-wild-vegetable/) is blooming and will continue blooming until the fall. We also have some flowers, like the salvia and Mexican heather that bloom pretty much year round here.
Let your herbs and greens go to seed. If you’re anything like me you try really hard to keep your herb and greens from going to seed because they get bitter. However, bees love those flowers. So, when it’s the end of the season or I’ve harvested all I need I make sure that we let all the plants we can go to seed.
Don’t neglect edible plants when you are planting flowers that attract bees. Growing blackberries and other berries along fence lines will give the bees a little something extra to visit without taking up much space in your yard. Having fruit trees will not only help feed your family with minimal time commitment from you, but they will also help feed the bees.
Have water available especially during dry seasons. Bees, like all animals, need water to survive. If you have a birdbath you can add some large pebbles to make little islands for the bees to stand on so they don’t drown. If you don’t have a birdbath, shallow containers like plastic lids turned upside down can work great as a bee watering hole. You’ll want to change out the water regularly to keep mosquitoes from taking over.
Be careful with pesticides. I know no one wants bugs and worms munching on their flowers, fruits, and vegetables but we, as a society, need to rethink our desire to have “perfect” flowers and produce. One of the more deadly classes of pesticides are neonicotinoids which includes acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid, and thiamethoxam. Part of what makes these especially dangerous for bees and other pollinators is that the pesticide can persist in the soil for months or even years after application. Any plant that is grown in that soil will then be exposed to the pesticide and residue will often be found in the pollen and nectar of that plant. Often times, the bees will take this tainted pollen or nectar back to the hive and now the whole hive is exposed to these chemicals.
Organic pesticides are really not that much better. Any pesticide that can kill bugs can, and will, kill bees. Our family has chosen to be okay with a few holes in leaves, flowers or produce if it means that we don’t put our bees at risk. For most pest control we practice what we like to call “hand to hand combat” which basically involves squishing any bugs we find on our plants that are not beneficial bugs. We know we’ll never get rid of all the pests this way but that is just fine for our family. If you feel like you absolutely have to use a pesticide try to use one that is limited and not broad spectrum. Also, be sure to spray it only on the leaves and not the flowers.
List of common herbs and flowers that attract bees
Ornamental sages (salvia)
Are you planting flowers that attract bees? What are your favorite bee-friendly plants?