How to Grow a Bee-friendly Garden
The scenario has played out countless times: you take your lunch break or host a backyard BBQ outdoors, where you can enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Except, instead of appreciating the warm sun on your back and the cool breeze blowing through your hair, you start to notice a buzzing sound instead. Bzzzzzzzzzzzz. No matter how many times you swat at the bee, it keeps coming back, leaving you frustrated and annoyed. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to deal with those pesky insects at all? Not exactly. While bees can be a nuisance when you’re trying to enjoy a relaxed meal outdoors, they are essential to gardeners, along with anyone who eats fruits, veggies and nuts (so, basically everyone). Let’s take a little time to learn more about these so-called “pesky” creatures, how they benefit your garden, why they’re in decline and what you can do to attract bees to your backyard.
Why Bees are Beneficial to Everyone Who Eats
Along with butterflies and hummingbirds, bees are classified as “pollinators”, because they move pollen from one flower to another flower of the same species, helping these flowers grow fruit or seeds. More than 100 agricultural crops in the U.S. are pollinated by bees, ranging from watermelon to broccoli, and as a gardener, you’ll have a hard time growing a healthy and plentiful bounty without these hardworking insects.
Unfortunately, the bee population is declining, due in large part to industrial agriculture practices that destroy bee-friendly habitats and use pesticides that are harmful to bees. While there is little you can do to change these agricultural processes that are used all over the country, you can make an impact - even a small one - by offering bees food in your backyard and providing them with shelter.
Which Plants Attract Bees
Plants survive off two foods: nectar and pollen. Nectar, which is primarily sugar, provides bees with energy. Pollen is a source of protein and fat. Therefore, it’s important to plant flowers that provide these two ingredients. Here’s a list of plants you can begin growing in your garden to:
- Bee Balm
Keep in mind that the best flowers to plant in your garden might depend on where you live, as it’s easier to attract native bees with native flowers. As a bonus, native flowers are low maintenance and require less water than non-native species.
Just like you, bees need food year-round to survive. Remember to plant a variety of annuals, perennials and shrubs so that nectar and pollen is available every season of the year. This will also ensure your yard is colorful and beautiful regardless of the season.
Do you live in the city? No problem! Even urban gardeners can attract bees as long as they provide enough food and a protective habitat. Take advantage of the space you’re given to grow flowers the bees will love.
How to Create a Bee Habitat
Along with planting flowers with pollen and nectar, you can provide a safe environment for bees with these simple tips.
- Make a bee bath: It’s called a bee bath, but it’s actually used for drinking water. Even if you have a bird bath already, you’ll still want to provide a separate spot for the bees to get access to clean, fresh water. A shallow bowl or plate that holds a limited amount of water is best to prevent the bees from drowning. Just be sure to check the bowl every day, in case the water has evaporated, and refill when necessary.
- Set up spaces for bees to nest: All creatures need shelter, even bees. A place to hide is important, because it allows bees to escape prey, stay protected in unfavorable weather conditions and raise their young. Unfortunately, building homes for bees can be a little tricky, as different types of bees are attracted to different nesting materials. Some bees like to burrow themselves into the soil, while others prefer to find a home in piles of branches and hollow reeds. When getting to know the bees in your backyard, set up a few different nesting spaces so you can learn which home your bees like best.
- Go organic: As previously mentioned, harmful pesticides can kill bees, which ultimately affects your plant yield each year. The best way to prevent harmful pesticides from reducing the amount of bees in your garden is to stop using them altogether. Instead, become familiar with organic gardening and how to reduce fungus, weeds and other pest populations in your backyard the natural way. While it can take more effort, organic gardening provides many health benefits that gardeners find worth the extra work. One brand that is easy to use and compliant with organic gardening is Safer. Try the Safer Brand 3-in-1 Garden Spray to support both your plants and bees.
- Avoid mowing native violets and clovers: When mowing the lawn, use the high blade setting to prevent tearing up violets and clovers, which can also help attract bees. This strategy also lends a more natural look to your lawn.
One more important note: while you might think that building a home and providing food will cause bees to become a greater nuisance, they’ll actually become less of a pest. With plentiful pollen and nectar, the bees are more likely to stay in the garden area, rather than hover around your plate of food.