There are many species of bees in our area and we all need to do our part in attracting them to our garden. Over the last few years, we have been concerned with the diminishing numbers of these wonderful creatures and the overall threat to our food supply. What can we do? Plant a garden to attract bees and other beneficial wildlife.
Whether you have a large garden or are restricted to a small space and container gardening, there are many plants that you can grow. You want to encourage various bees to visit your garden throughout the year, so try to grow plants that have different flowering times: Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Bees are attracted to blue, purple, white and yellow. They cannot see the color red, for them it blends in with the tones of green. Different bees are attracted to different flowers (i.e.: different tongue lengths of the bees need different shaped flowers), so have a variety of choices for them. If you have limited space in the garden, you might want to choose plants with a longer blooming time. I have listed some of the longer blooming perennials and annuals that bees love.
Borage (Star Flower) is a wonderful annual herb native to the Mediterranean region. This beautiful periwinkle-blue flower blooms from June to September. You can harvest the flowers and add them to salads, drinks or desserts. This is an awesome flower to put in the vegetable garden as it is a good companion plant for tomatoes, squash and strawberries and is pest and problem free.
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ (Hyssop) grows 30” and forms wands of blue flowers that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. It is an easy care fragrant plant that is good for the compact border. Both the flowers and leaves are edible, but the deer and rabbit leave it alone. It is great as a cut flower and will grow in full sun to part shade in average soil.
Another easy to grow, bee loving flower is the Centaurea montana (Blue Cornflower). It grows 12-23” in bushy clumps of grey-green leaves with deep blue fringed flowers which can be dead-head for repeat blooming throughout the summer. It will tolerate most soil types and can be pruned for shape. It is deer and rabbit resistant, drought- tolerant and both the bees and butterflies love it. This is the perennial version but the annual form Centaurea cynus (bachelor buttons) also attracts bumblebees and carder bees. The centaurea have lots of pollen to offer their guests.
The Echinacea ‘Magnus’ (Coneflower) is a familiar easy care, long blooming plant that attracts many beneficial creatures to your garden: bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and song birds. You can also use it as a cut flower. This drought tolerant plant is deer resistant and will flower into the fall. There are many varieties of Echinacea but go for the ones that have the exposed cone heads that allow the bees to access the pollen. Leave the seed heads on during the fall and winter for the birds.
All the Lavenders seem to attract bees and butterflies; whether it is the English angustifolia ‘Munstead’ or the lovely large headed Spanish Lavender. They are deer resistant and can be used in a variety of ways for cooking and baking or potpourri.
For the late fall into winter, plant Asters. Aster (Michaelmas Daisy) novi-belgii ‘Professor Kippenburg’ looks like the wild Aster but this is a compact, well behaved variety and the bees love it.
Don’t overlook the annuals when selecting bee attractors. They are inexpensive and bloom all summer.
No stranger to the garden, Alyssum ‘Snow Crystal’ (3-6”) flowers from June to October. They produce masses of dainty fragrant little white flowers - definitely a cheerful accent to any garden or container. Alyssum tolerates many types of soil and prefers it well drained and moderately moist. Plant in full sun to part shade, and by cutting them back they can be encouraged to re-bloom.
The award winning Cleome ’Helen Campbell’ (Spider Flower) is a beautiful, pure white flower about 36” tall that is making a comeback. This annual is lightly scented and blooms from summer to the first frost. It is good as a cut flower and grows quickly. Great along a fence or as a backdrop to a flower bed and makes an excellent temporary shrub. Even though it is tall, no staking is required, but protect it from strong winds. Plant in mass and watch the bees and hummingbirds flock to it.
Another easy to grow annual is Cosmos. They come in a variety of colors and look lovely billowing along a fence line and bloom all summer with very little care.
Plant of the year in 1999, Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan) ‘Goldsturm’ (24”-30”) is an amazing perennial that is a must in any garden. This native selection loves full sun to part shade and forms a bushy upright clump of green leaves showcasing lovely cheery yellow daisy like flowers. It blooms mid-summer to fall and then the seed heads add winter interest - a good choice for mass planting and great with ornamental grasses. It attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and many species of bees, yet is both rabbit and deer resistant. It is easy to grow and makes a lovely cut flower.
One of the best bee flowers for the late summer and fall is the perennial Solidago (Goldenrod) and goldenrod honey is considered a delicacy with a distinctive bite. Solidago ‘Golden Baby’ is 23-27”, easy to grow and has large heads of golden yellow flowers. It is well behaved and does not need staking. It used to be given a bad rap for causing allergies but it was later found out that the ragweed which flowers at the same time was the cause not the golden rod. It is very useful in the garden adding good texture and form and makes a great cut flower. It attracts hummingbirds, butterflies but is deer resistant.
One of the best loved flowers, Helianthus (Sunflower) is a fantastic flower for attracting bees. It is such a cheery flower and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from - from the dwarf varieties such as ‘Sunny smile’ or tall Russian classic, you can find a place for them anywhere from a container to a fence line. There is also a perennial version as well.
It is difficult to list all the plants that attract bees. I have provided a short list to get you started.
Tips for the Bee garden
Some plants like Heather have many buds and can accommodate a lot of bees at one time. Heathers also come in a variety of bloom times.
Having an Herb garden will also attract a lot of bees - their favorite plants being: borage, chives, thyme, oregano and Lavender. When we are harvesting the herbs, leave some of the flowers on the plant for the bees. We can all share.
Leave the Clover in your grass and let the Herb garden go to seed.
Bees need a water source and love to take baths. Make sure, if you have a bird bath that you put stones in the water as landing pads for the bees.
The blossoms of all the Prunus family of trees (e.g.: Plums, Cherry, Peach) whether they are edible or ornamental produce nectar - so if you do not have space in your garden, one ornamental cherry will help. By providing blossoms for the bees in your yard, you are helping to pollinate your neighbours’ garden.
Try not to use pesticides in your garden. In attempts to kill one insect, you might well be killing off many beneficial creatures, and sadly, the irony is that you kill its natural predator in the process. Often nature takes care of itself.
90% of plants rely on pollination from beneficial insects. The more you attract these wonderful creatures, the more abundant your yield of fruits and vegetables. By choosing a few of these flowers, you will be feeding the bees all summer long. Happy Gardening!
Note: Master Beekeeper, John Barrett will be giving information on bees, this Saturday from 10-11:00am at the Nursery.