One of the key things to remember when creating a bee-friendly garden is to make sure that you have a good range of flowering plants in bloom all year round. You should aim to have a constant source of food for bees visiting your garden, right through the snows of winter, the rains and spring, the warm summer and the fruitful autumn. For all gardeners, trying to attract bees should be a priority.
There are a wide range of flowers that will attract bees to your garden. These flowers are usually divided into two main groups. The first of these groups is annual flowers. Annual flowers will live only for a single year, blooming during a specific period, and then sown again from seed or as plug plants the following year. The second group is perennial plants. Perennial plants will flower not only for a single season but will return year after year.
Garden Organically To Help Save Out Bees
Most gardeners are surely aware in this day and age of the importance of bees, and the vital role they play in pollination in our gardens and on our farms. Bees are sadly endangered in our modern world and it is really important that we all do our bit to care for these special creatures (and lobby others, insisting that communities, businesses and politicians to do the same). The good news is that it is very easy to create a bee-friendly garden.
Before we examine top ten lists of flowering plants to attract bees to your garden, first off, it is important that if you are not already an organic gardener, you make the switch away from harmful, bee-killing herbicides and pesticides immediately. Using these harsh chemicals is harming the environment and local wildlife in a wide range of different ways. Moving to organic methods of gardening is the number one way that you can stop the decline in our bees.
Top Ten Annual Flowers to Attract Bees to Your Garden
By choosing the right annual flowers, you can make sure that you have flowers in bloom right through from early spring to late autumn. This list only offers a small number of plants that are excellent at attracting bees. The long (and diverse) blooming seasons of these plants mean that they are ideal for attracting bees throughout as long a period as possible:
- Borago officinalis (borage)
- Calendula officinalis
- Monarda didyma (bee balm)
- Antirrhinum (snap dragons)
- Centaurea cyanus (cornflower)
- Nicotiana alata (flowering tobacco)
- Nigella damascena (love-in-a-mist)
- Digitalis purpurea (foxgloves)
Generally speaking, bees are most attracted to single blooms, and white and blue/ purple flowers. Different bees will appreciate a range of different flower shapes. When choosing annual plants, it is best to aim for as much biodiversity as possible.
Top Ten Perennial Plants to Attract Bees to Your Garden
If you want to consider sustainability and think about the long term, then it is best to not only stick to annual flowers which can be sown or transplanted into your garden each year, but also perennial plants that will attract bees to your garden for years to come.
If you want your garden to be bee friendly sooner rather than later, you should consider buying and planting some bare root or pot grown perennial plants. Trees and shrubs are generally best planted during the dormant season, late in winter or in very early spring. Bedding plants and pot grown herbaceous plants, however, can be planted throughout the season. You can also sow a range of perennial plants from seed in the spring.
Remember, flowering plants come in all shapes and sizes. Trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials can all have important roles to play in attracting bees and other pollinators to your garden. Here are ten of the best bee-friendly perennials to plant in your garden:
- Blossoming fruit trees (such as Crab apple, apple, cherry & plum) – five blossoming trees could provide the same amount of pollen and nectar as an acre of meadow!
- Ribes sanguineum (flowering currant)
- Geranium (cranebill)
- Primula vulgaris (primrose)
There are, of course, a wide range of other perennial plants that will attract bees to your garden. However, the above will give good coverage throughout the main season when bees are active in the UK (between March and September).
Top Ten Weeds To Attract Bees to Your Garden
If you have a lawn, consider re-wilding that monoculture – clovers, dandelions and other ‘weeds’ are actually very beneficial for our bees. You may even like to consider getting rid of an area of lawn and creating a wildflower meadow in its place to create a bee paradise and improve your garden’s biodiversity, making a more resilient ecosystem. Over zealous weeding can do a lot of harm. Sometimes, it is what we don’t do in our gardens that can make the most difference for bees and other wildlife.
Excellent bee-friendly weeds include:
- White clovers (preferred by honey bees)
- Red clovers (preferred by longer tongued bumblebees)
- Cow parsley
- Greater knapweed
- Creeping Primrose
- Germander speedwell
- Common chickweed
- Dead nettles
- Rosebay willowherb
Many of the plants that we consider weeds are also excellent bee-attracting plants. It is a good idea to consider finding a place for such plants in your garden, in addition to your cultivated plants.
Top Ten Flowering Plants To Help Bees Through Winter
While bees are mostly active between March and September, some bees will also be active through the winter months. To help make sure that bees make it through the coldest months in our gardens, we can help them by making sure that we have plants in flower even through the harshest part of the year. It is even more important in winter that bees get the help they need from gardeners, since so few wild plants bloom during the winter months, and nectar and pollen are in far shorter supply. Here are ten plants that you can consider planting in your garden to help bees over the winter months and through into early spring:
- Winter aconite ((Eranthis hyemalis)
- Evergreen clematis
- Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
- Mahonia (Oregon grape)
- Primula vulgaris (primrose)
- Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree)
- Ivy (various late-blooming varieties)
- Winter flowering heather
- Lonicera fragrantissima (winter flowering honeysuckle)
- Snowdrops, crocus (and other early bulbs)
Other Ways To Help and Attract Bees in Your Garden
Creating Habitats for Bees:
You can further help bees in the winter months by leaving soil and compost heaps undisturbed, by creating twig and brush piles. Another thing that gardeners can and should do to encourage bees to their gardens is to provide a ‘bee hotel’ – a place for solitary bees and other insects to live. You can buy many models ready made, though you can also simply make your own. Hollow sections of bamboo cane in a waterproof roofed box are a great alternative for those not able to keep their own hives.
Saving Bees That Cannot Find a Nectar Source:
You can also help by feeding queens with sugar solution if you see one in trouble and no nectar source is nearby. This will give queens the energy they need to go on and create a hive nearby.
Providing Water for Bees:
Bees also need water to drink and to evaporate to cool their hives, but can drown when trying to drink from water bowls. A small bowl filled with pebbles to the surface will help them drink safely. Alternatively, a garden pond with pebbles or shingle on a very gently sloping bank at one side will enable bees to get their water without danger.
Biodiversity, in planting and approach, can help safeguard bees and attract them to your garden. By planting bee-friendly flowers, and taking other measures to provide bees with what they need to survive, you will help them and help yourself – by making sure that these pollinators can do their job and help your garden grow.
How do you attract bees to your garden? Which flowers have you planted for bees, and which bees to you see on them? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.