Create A Bee Garden - Quick Tips

Here are my top tips for creating a bee garden. There are links to further information within this page such as lists of great bee plants, trees for bees, the role of native garden plants and wildflowers (please note, clicking these links opens a new window in each case). Read on!

Provide Year-round Pollen & Nectar Rich Plants

Above:  Beach Aster is a visited by a range of bee species, and is a useful plant even in dry soils.  It thrives in a sunny spot.

Good bee plants provide excellent sources of nectar or pollen – and even better if they provide both.

For this reason, some highly cultivated ornamental plants are not necessarily very useful for bees, primarily because they contain little of these important bee foods.  Nectar provides energy, and  pollen is an important source of protein.

Impatiens (Bizzy Lizzie), very garish, highly cultivated petunias and begonias, and even hydrangea (apart from a few exceptions, such as  hydrangea paniculata) offer little value.

Instead of these highly cultivated, ornamental bedding plants, go for traditional and cottage style, such as campanulas, aubretia, bluebells, primroses and crocuses, beach aster, lavenders, and shrubs such as ceanothus, berberis, viburnum opulus, pyrocantha and so on.

Ensure you have plants flowering late into the season as well as early flowering varieties loved by bees and other wildlife.  Check out this calendarised list of plants for bees, and my general introduction page about bee plants.

In a Bee Garden, Ideally You Should Plant in Groups

Ideally, when you are creating a bee garden, you should position your bee plants in groups. Swathes of butterfly and bee attracting plants are easier for our little pollinators to locate.  Importantly, it also conserves vital energy stores, meaning more nectar and pollen can be returned to the colony.

Include Wildflowers
A bee garden should ideally include at least a few wildflowers in the border. Here is a list of wildflowers for bees. Or if you have space, then why not.....

Create a Wildflower Area

You may be able to create this as a small patch, or you may have more space.  Further information here.

How About a Flowering Lawn?

If you cannot create a meadow from scratch in your garden, including taller meadow flowers, a good compromise is to allow clover to flourish, and smaller wild flowers to pop up here and there, such as bird’s foot trefoil, self heal and vetches in patches.  These plants are so pretty, and are excellent plants for bees.   Red Clover is preferred by bees it seems, as it offers more nectar, but fialing that, white clover is also good (white clover grows naturally in my lawn).

Clover is excellent on lawns too, because remains green even during very dry periods.   It is also good for the soil, and later in the year, when mown, makes a good addition to the compost. 

An alternative way of creating a flowering lawn is to fill it with a ground covering herb, such as thyme, which is an excellent bee plant.  See lawns for bees for more ideas.

Plant a Wildlife Hedgerow

A hedgerow is an excellent addition to any bee garden.  A flowering hedgerow especially, is a boon to all types of bees (honey bees, solitary bees, bumblebees), pollinators and other wildlife.  Birds may nest in them, bees, butterflies and other insects may enjoy the nectar from the flowers, whilst birds and small mammals may benefit from berries.  Ideally, a bumblebee may find an abandoned rodent hole at the base of the fence – this is a favourite nest site for many types of bumblebees.

Take a look at my list of trees, shrubs and hedgerow plants to attract bees.

Create Sites for Nests in your Bee Garden

Whether or not you are keeping bees, even so, you can create nesting sites for wild bee species.   Bee nests are welcomed by gardeners who know they now have some of nature’s little helpers to pollinate the plants. 

Creating a bumblebee nest box that attracts bumblebees can be difficult, although it is possible to do.  Try an upturned teapot or plant pot beneath the garden shed. Often the best course of action is simply to provide ideal surroundings and areas in which they might possibly create a nest. 

It is significantly easier to create a solitary bee house, and this can be achieved at a very small cost with a few hollow canes.  Alternatively, you can purchase a pre-made one (and they make great gifts), but don't sacrifice sturdy build that is appropriate for bees, for the sake of aesthetics.

A flimsy bee house will not last, and there is a risk of damage to the bee cocoons inside.  If the bee house has holes which are too large, tunnels too short, and open at both ends, these features are less ideal for solitary bees.

Water and Mud!
Bees need water for drinking whilst some bees, such as mason bees, use mud for constructing their nests.

Create a Cottage Garden
A cottage garden is usually a good bee garden.   Cottage garden plants never go out of fashion.  Humans love them, and bees love them too, and better still, a typical cottage garden border is full of great plants that attract butterflies and bees.  In fact, many of the best plants for bees can be found in traditional cottage garden borders, and it’s possible to place a few taller wild flower specimens in the border too, such as cornflower, knapweed (actually a beautiful plant), teasels and foxgloves.

Some flowers are also excellent for cutting, such helichrysum (below - it's also good for drying too), and if you have plenty of flowers for bees in your border, there's no reason why you shouldn't have some for yourself too!  Here is an inspiring example of a lady who grows many, many beautiful flowers which are great for pollinators, and also for cutting - this lady is a British cut flower grower, who supplies cottage garden flowers to her customers.  The flowers are really stunning, and it's just amazing what can be achieved!

Above: Helichrysum is loved by bees, as well as other pollinators, and brings lots of vivid colour to the garden

Make Space for Herbs

Many herbs are excellent bee plants, and of course, are enjoyed by humans.   Rosemary provides a useful source of nectar during the winter, borage oozes nectar in the summer.  

Above: Bumblebee on borage and on chives (right).

Marjoram, chives, lemon balm and so many herbs are great plants for bees and butterflies – do take a look at my section about herb plants for bees.

Make Good Use Of Small Spaces!

A bee garden does not have to be a large garden.  Small gardens, with a little thought, can provide tremendous value to bees and other pollinators.  My garden is small, but the space is well-used.  I have a variety of bumblebees, honey bees, mason bees in my solitary bees house,  leafcutters too, chocolate mining bees, wool carders and hairy footed flower bees visiting this small space.  It was not always like this!  See my in-depth tips here.

Inspire the Kids!
Creating a bee garden is a great project for kids to get involved in.  There are many wonderful plants and activities that are inspiring for children.

Children love sunflowers, as do bees and birds.  And there is so much more that can be done! Inspiring children in the early years to create a garden – even if it’s just a small patch – can encourage them to take interest in, and learn about the natural world.  I have never forgotten that my love of bees and other wildlife, began when I was a child, spending many happy hours in the garden with my father.

Grow Your Own Organic Fruit and Vegetables!
Yes, a bee garden can include home grown produce too, so why not help the bees, and put food on your plate at the same time?  

After cropping, some plants, such as brassicas, can be left to flower, and the flowers are very attractive to pollinators.  Kale is one such example.  Personally, I think it would even look okay at the back of a flower border.

Many fruit and vegetable plants attract bees, whilst cross pollination by bees increases crop yield. Everyone wins!  Take a look at my page about bee-friendly fruit and vegetables.

Remember that tomato crops will also perform better if pollinated by bumblebees.

Install a Green Roof
Green roofs can be added to homes, garages, but even sheds. They can be filled with bee attracting plants, from wildflowers to succulents, especially sedums.

Include Different Flower Shapes In Your Flower Borders

Different bees are attracted to different flowers, so a good bee garden should include a variety. Some bees can manage plants with tubular florets, such as foxgloves, whilst others prefer more open varieties.

Remember to include a range of flowering plants with different shaped florets.  Read more about different flower shapes in your flower borders here.

Native Garden Plants vs Non-native Garden Plants
I am often asked whether a bee garden should consist only of native garden plants. There is no doubt that native garden plants can be very beneficial to the indigenous wildlife of a country. However, there are many introduced plants that are highly beneficial to bees and butterflies too, as well as other pollinators. We have already lost many native wildflower species, and I see no problem offering non-native plants, as long as they are not invasive.  If we look at out own diets, how many crops do we eat and grow that were not native to our country?

Create A Mini Bee Garden With Raised Beds And Planters For Bees
If you are disabled, or perhaps in a wheelchair, or if you are planning a community garden suitable for wheelchair access,  it may be that creating raised beds is the solution.  Why not create a bee-friendly herb garden in a raised bed, a raised wildflower pollinator bed, or planters filled with cottage garden flowers?

Likewise, you may have a large area of decking, or have restricted space on a balcony, but even here there are opportunities for pots and planters.  Imagine planters filled with cornflowers or lavender and thyme!  We'd have mini-feeding stations for bees!

Cut Out Pesticides

Take into account that if a bumblebee queen perishes before rearing new queens and males at the end of the season, a whole future generation of bumblebees is lost. With extinctions and drastic declines already, we cannot afford to lose more of our bumblebees. Butterflies are suffering too.  Neonicotinoids are of particular concern, and are present in many common household garden pesticides. Read more about how neonicotinoids work.  Remember, we used to manage before these were introduced onto the market – do we need them now?