My Top Tips For Attracting Bees To Your Garden
I don't know about you, but time permitting, I can literally watch bees for hours, entranced by my favourite little
insect helpers. There is a lot of information on this site, and I hope
you'll enjoy taking a look at the resources.
Here are my suggestions to help you to encourage bees to visit and thrive in your garden.
Plant The Right Plants!
It’s obvious: bees need nectar and pollen from a range of flowers and plants.
Do take into account that different bees may be attracted to some flowers, and not others. For example, honey bees will not visit some species of plant that are favoured by long tongued bumblebee species, simply because honey bees have short tongues.
Flower structures, in terms of the arrangement and shapes of petals and flower heads are therefore a consideration, but one that is easy to miss. To find out more, see this feature about flower borders for bees.
The good thing is, that whatever your growing conditions, whether you have the ideal soil and weather patterns, or drought and shade, there are plants you can include that will help encourage a visit from bees and other pollinators.
I seriously believe we need to re-think our views of wildflowers - often referred to as 'weeds'. So many plants we fill our gardens with these days, are so highly cultivated, they have practically lost their value to wildlife, including bees and other pollinators. A garden without the buzz, scurry, flutter, or song of wildlife, is in my view, seriously incomplete. Many wildflowers are great for attracting bees and other wildlife, are beautiful in their own right, and certainly worthy of a space in our gardens. They also greatly extend our choices for filling difficult spaces with plants that are often very cost effective to buy - or even free!
For several comprehensive lists of plants, flowers, shrubs, fruit & veg, wildflowers, trees, lawns and plants for problem places, visit my link about Bee Plants. (opens new window).
Even if you only have concrete or a balcony, consider pots and hanging baskets, and even window boxes. These can be filled with a range of trailing plants, herbs, bedding flowers and so on. Imagine if the residents of a high rise apartment block featured hanging baskets filled with nectar and pollen rich plants!
Provide A Place to Nest
It is easy to provide a home for many of the solitary bee species around, simply by tying a bundle of hollow garden canes together between 20 – 30 cm long, and hanging them in a sheltered spot. I have experimented with different lengths of canes as well as shop-bought bug houses - and all have been successful!
Bumblebees can be more fussy. There is further information on my page about
and more in my
Bee Nests Q&A.
Shop-bought bumblebee nest boxes have provided mixed results, with some being successful, whilst others have not, despite the expense. However, you could experiment with an upturned plant pot beneath the garden shed (supply some dried, chemical-free grass or hamster bedding), or even an old tea pot. You may also have success with a traditional bird nest box - if it is not inhabited by birds, of course!
Please note, if you wish to create a home for bumblebees, I recommend you do not 'kidnap' a bumblebee and try to force it to remain in the nest. For one thing, if it is a queen, it may have begun a colony elsewhere, secondly - do you know for sure it is a queen, and not a worker or male - or even a cuckoo bumblebee, which must have the assistance of a host bumblebee species in order to thrive?
I do not recommend that you buy boxes of bumblebees for your garden,
even if they are native, simply because they may transmit diseases to wild bees.
Instead, I recommend you allow nature to take it's course. It may take a year or two for the nest to be inhabited - or if the site is not suitable, it might be that no bees nest in your bumblebee house. If this seems to be the case, there may be a chance of attracting bees to the nest box by moving it to an alternative spot, and increasing the number of pollen and nectar rich plants in your garden.
Remember that one good sign is actually to discover a rodent nest in your nest box! This will increase the chances of a bumblebee taking up residence in the box the following year, since some species of bumblebee like to establish colonies in abandoned mouse and vole holes.
Attracting Honey Bees
These days, whether or not you are visited by honey bees depends mostly on whether there are
beekeepers nearby. Wild honey bee colonies are relatively rare, but it
is possible you could attract a swarm. Honey bees naturally nest in
the hollows of trunks or in caves, and generally, where a swarm of honey
bees has taken up residence, in my experience it is in these kinds of
circumstances, or perhaps within an unsused chimney or large crevice in a
Think Twice About Using Pesticides
If you are serious about attracting bees, think twice about using pesticides. It's always worth asking yourself:
'If they are killing 'pests', what else are they killing?'
Doesn't it seem a bit odd and unrealistic to believe that pesticdes conveniently kill 'nasty' insects whilst leaving 'good insects' alone? You can read more about this on my page about insecticides and non-target insects.
I NEVER use pesticides, yet I grow a variety of vegetables and have recently begun growing fruits. I also understand that most insect species are beneficial.
I have found I can get rid of aphids and many other so called-pests by using a blast of water.
I encourage birds into the garden too, and have a small wild-life pond full of frogs. Also, I ignore wasps (yellow jackets), which I know eat many aphids that might otherwise gobble up my veg.
Note that some bees will nest in lawns (causing no damage to the lawn itself), so why not decide to be relaxed about your lawn, and avoid using chemicals. Take a look at my page about lawns for bees, where there is lots of advice about how to make your lawn more bee-friendly.
Water is helpful not just to bees, but also a range of wildlife. A small wildlife pond with a shallow area would be ideal, but failing that, a simple bird bath or tray of water with a few stones (to create shallow zones) can help.
So you see, attracting bees into your garden need not be difficult, and there are possibilities even in problem zones and limited spaces. We simply need to make more of an effort to consider the bees and other wildlife, as we plan our gardens.
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