Plant Oregano For Bees (Marjoram)

Bombus terrestis (buff-tailed bumble bee) foraging on marjoram Oreganum RosenkuppelBuff-tailed bumble bee ( - Bombus terrestis) foraging on marjoram - Oreganum Rosenkuppel.

Bees love oregano.   Otherwise known as ‘Marjoram’, oregano or Oreganum, this fragrant herb is irresistible for bees.

At a visit to a beautiful historic garden recently, it was interesting to observe which flowers the bees and butterflies were mostly foraging upon. 

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Of course, this has much to do with the stage of the flower (whether it is in the phase of offering maximum reward to potential pollinators) – and this in turn can be affected by other variables such as the time of day, location of the sun, and the plant’s health. 

It also depends on the types of bees and other pollinator species abundant locally, and the other flower types in the vicinity.

That said, to see so many bees, butterflies and other pollinators around one plant species when so much else is on offer, really is positive confirmation of its attractiveness, at least for part of its flowering phase.

Honey bees (- Apis mellifera) appreciate marjoram too!Honey bees (Apis mellifera) appreciate marjoram too!


Which varieties of oregano are most attractive for bees?

Bombus pascuorum on Oreganum vulgare - wild oregano / wild marjoramCommon carder bumble bee (Bombus pascuorum) on Oreganum vulgare - wild oregano / wild marjoram

There are plenty of varieties attractive to bees.  My favourites are Oreganum vulgare (above) – wild marjoram, and Oreganum Rosenkuppel.

It's the latter that was planted in abundance at the garden, but wild marjoram is definitely a tremendous favourite with bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

In short, both are herbaceous, woody perennials and are beneficial to pollinators.

Painted lady butterfly - Vanessa carduion on oregano (marjoram).Painted lady butterfly - (Vanessa carduion) on oregano (marjoram).
The small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) was also enjoying the oregano!The small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) was also enjoying the oregano!

Why do bees like oregano?  Why do so many bees visit oregano flowers?

Lots and lots of bees were foraging on the oregano - marjoram!  There are 3 bumble bees on this image aboveLots and lots of bees were foraging on the oregano - marjoram! There are 3 bumble bees on this small image above.

There are two reasons.  Quite simply, oregano provides lots of nectar. 

Furthermore, it is generally in flower during the height of summer, when colonies are fully in development, meaning there are more hungry bees to feed: mature bees feeding themselves and also foraging to take food back to the young at the nest or hive. 

Therefore, bees will be more visible around this plant because it not only offers plenty of reward in the form of nectar, but also because bee populations are at their peak when oregano is at its most attractive to bees. 

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How to plant oregano for bees

Plant oregano / marjoram in a sunny spot.  One of the great things about oregano is that it is fairly tolerant of poor quality, dry soils.  It can tolerate a certain amount of drought.

You can sow oregano from seed, take cuttings or potentially divide plants in autumn to increase the size of your patch.  I like to offer at least 2 patches in different locations, of popular plants if I can.  

Cut back old flower stems in autumn. 

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How to divide oregano plants

To divide the plant:

  • First cut back old flower stems. 
  • Prepare a place for the new plants to go – remove weeds, dig a space and water well. 
  • Dig up the whole of the oregano plant, and use couple of forks to divide the plant in two down the centre. 
  • Replant the sections of plant, ensuring the roots are well covered and the plant is firmly in the soil. 
  • Once you divide the plant, it may ‘sulk’ for a while, but should eventually recover.


Top tip!

Remember, as a double bonus, you can still clip a few of the fragrant leaves to add to your cooking – (oh, and this ‘pizza herb’ not only offers flavor, it has anti-oxidant properties too(1)).  Better still, dry the leaves and store them for use later. 

Pick the leaves before the flower buds open.

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Ref:

(1) H. Khanum, K. Ramalakshmi, P. Srinivas and B. Borse, "Synergistic Antioxidant Action of Oregano, Ajowan and Borage Extracts," Food and Nutrition Sciences, Vol. 2 No. 5, 2011, pp. 387-392. doi: 10.4236/fns.2011.25054.





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