Updated: Mar 31, 2022
It’s that time of year when I start to look at the garden and think about what needs weeding, planting and updating. Our new garden is much bigger than our last, so we have lots of decisions to make.
These decisions are usually based on what will help the wildlife in the garden, just as much as what will look good and will put food on our plates. Naturally for us, encouraging bees to the garden and ensuring we keep the garden as bee friendly as possible is a top priority.
So here are our top 8 tips for making a garden bee friendly.
1. Neonic – free plants. Neonicotinoids are a type of pesticide which although were banned in the UK in 2018 for use outside, can still be used by commercial growers in greenhouses. If a bee feeds on the nectar or collects pollen from a plant with even trace residues of these chemicals, it causes disorientation, affecting their ability to fly and return to their hive and they eventually perish which is contributing to the decline of the bee population.
When you buy plants from a garden centre you will often see a label saying ‘bee friendly’. This means it is a plant which will attract bees to your garden. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that it has been grown without the use of toxic pesticides. So, look for labels that state ‘neonic free’ or ask the garden centre about how their plants were grown. Buying organic seeds and plants is another way to ensure your plants will be bee safe. We either collect our seeds from plants in our garden to grow again or buy them from New Leaf Nurseries.
2. Grow trees, shrubs and plants which flower at different times of the year. Early flowering plants such as spring bulbs and hellebore mean that bees coming out of hibernation have something to feed on. Equally, growing plants which flower in June help bees in the period known as the June Gap. This is when the early spring blossoms have finished but the summer blooms have yet to appear. This can be a crucial time for bees so growing June flowering plants such as hebe, pyracantha and perennial cornflower can help. Late flowering bloomers like dahlias and asters will feed bees towards the end of the season.
Read our next blog for our top ten bee friendly plants.
3. Grow flowers for short tongued bees! Different bees have different length tongues meaning that they prefer different shaped flowers! Those with long tongues can easily access nectar in tubular shaped blossoms like honeysuckle. Whereas those with short tongues will prefer daises and asters.
If you spot holes at the top of tubular blossoms like in this daffodil photo, its where a short tongued, or lazy bee has bored a hole to get to the nectar rather than flying into the flower!
4. Be colour conscious. Bees are drawn to blue, purple, white and yellow flowers.
5. Think native. Growing plants native to your region makes sense for many reasons. Firstly, the wildlife is more likely to be attracted to it, but secondly, it is more likely to thrive than a non native plant. A good way to decide what to grow is to look around where you live and see what is already growing well naturally in the hedgerows and meadows. Up here in Wales we see lots of foxgloves, bluebells and Welsh yellow poppies along the lanes.
6. Water supply. Like the rest of us, bees need to drink, but they like to keep their feet dry! So having a bird bath or small pond or even muddy puddle with sloping sides is a great idea. Or, pop some pebbles in the pond or bird bath which are just above the water level so they can stand on them to drink.
7. Provide nesting sites. 70% of our native bees are ground nesting. So, leaving some expose soil in a warm spot will give them a perfect place to burrow and nest. A south facing, well drained slope is ideal. Last autumn when I was weeding around the bottom of our blackcurrant bushes I sat and watched a huge bumble bee burrow down into the soil. I stopped my weeding and left them to it so I didn’t disturb their nest. The other, non honey bee species like the leaf cutter bee will nest in holes in trees, branches and hollow plant stems. If you can avoid digging the garden and doing the spring clean up until after the bees have emerged from their nests you’ll be helping our population of bees. Making an area of the garden into a wildlife patch which is never disturbed or making a bee or bug hotel is a great option. You can read more about how to make one of these here or here.
8. Avoid pesticides. There are many things you can do to keep pests at bay and avoid the toxic chemicals that have a detrimental effect on bees. You can read more about them in our upcoming blog.
9. Join the No Mow May campaign. Simply leave your mower in the back of the shed and let the wild flowers grow for a month. This helps to create habitats and forage for early season pollinators. Find out more about the campaign here.
10. Accept dandelions and clover! Dandelions are a great early source of food for bees and they will really appreciate it if you left them to grow! If you don’t want them to spread just make sure you clear them before the seed heads scatter in the wind! Clover is another great flower for bees as it starts to flower in June when the June Gap is a potential issue. If you have clover in your lawn, see if you can resist the urge to kill it off and maybe mow a little bit higher than normal to keep the flowers for the bees.