If you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, it’s likely bees have played a vital role in pollinating many of the foods on your plate! One way to help these threatened, tiny but hardworking insects, is to create a bee friendly garden. A magnet if you like, to lure them to spend more time hanging out at your place!
If you have a garden, even a small one, you can encourage your local bees to visit regularly. Bees help fertilise up to 90% of the earth’s major food crops and you can support their health and survival, while reaping some awesome benefits.
4 Benefits of Attracting Bees to your Garden
An intentionally designed bee friendly garden:
1. Has a beautiful variety of perfumed colourful flowers that bloom continuously throughout the seasons. (A visual and sensory smorgasbord for you!)
2. Improves the quality, size and flavour of your fruits and vegetables. (A more delicious edible feast too!)
3. Increases the quantity of produce you harvest. (More food on your table)
4. Attracts beneficial insects that help reduce pests. (Less effort needed on pest management)
Sounds pretty good right?
So, here are ten simple ways you can attract more bees and beneficial insects to your garden. Think ‘win-win’!
How to Create a Bee Friendly Garden
Honey bees collect nectar from flowers as a food source for energy. While they are foraging for nectar, they also gather pollen on their back legs and carry this back to the nest to provide proteins and fats for their babies (brood).
Flowers offer a sugary bribe to pollinators for their free pollination services. They have some incredible strategies for luring bees to sample their wares too! These include their shape, smell, colour, quantity and quality of nectar and pollen.
The bonus for you as a gardener, is of course pollination of crops that need a pollinator! So, more fruit and vegetables to harvest. Let’s tuck in.
10 Tips to Design a Bee Friendly Garden
1. Aim for Continuous Flowering all Year
Choose local native varieties of flowering plants (edible and ornamental) that stagger flowering throughout the year. Consider when each flowering species is in bloom, so you have a food source for bees year round. This provides diversity and variation of nectar in their diet.
Long-flowering species that are full of nectar and pollen, will encourage bees to hang around for longer than short-lived annuals.
2. Allow Herbs and Vegetables to Flower
When your vegetable crops finish, don’t pull them all out! If you’re tight for space, allow at least one or two to flower and set seed. Whilst sacrificing the space in your garden to a flowering vegetable or herb, you will help feed the bees. The bonus? You reap the reward with free seeds when the plant finishes its life cycle, and you can compost the rest of the plant to recycle nutrients!
3. Grow Fruit Trees
If you have the room, try to grow at least one dwarf fruit tree – even in a large pot. Ideally grow several and include a citrus variety if you can. Fruit trees provide bees with a mass of fragrant flowers they can feed on for a long period. A mass of blooms helps them save energy by foraging in one spot.
If you can, underplant your fruit trees with shallow rooted flowers to attract the bees and boost pollination.
4. Provide Water Access
Bees need easy access to clean fresh water. It needs to be in a shallow container or ‘bee bath’ so they avoid drowning. A bird bath is just too deep. Add pebbles, rocks or wet sand so bees can drink water safely.
5. Provide a Chemical Free Refuge
Have a 100% poison free zone for bees, as well as your family, pets, birds, wildlife and other insects. An organic, pesticide-free, and ecologically sustainable garden is a magnet for bees and other beneficial insects like ladybirds, hoverflies, preying mantis, spiders and parasitic wasps.
These insects help you by keeping many pests like aphids, scale, moths, grasshoppers and caterpillar numbers in balance. Some of these insects also feed on nectar and whilst in your garden, will dine out on other insects, saving you time, money and effort on pest control. Major bonus!
6. Be Colour-wise with Flowers
Research suggests bees have favourite colours and are drawn to flowers that are richest in nectar. Bees can see UV light and a range of blues, violets, yellows and greens but not red. Bees see flower colours differently to us.
According to Associate Professor, Adrian Dyer of RMIT University, “many flowers have ‘ultraviolet nectar guides’ on them. The patterns are like signposts telling bees where to go to find the nectar.” Cool hey?
Always include a variety of blue, purple, violet and yellow blooms if you can.
7. Grow Fragrant Flowers
Bees however, are also attracted to very strongly patterned and heavily scented flowers. Often those that have a sweet-smelling perfume. So, while you should aim to include blues, violets and yellow flowers, bees will often be drawn to fragrant, vividly-coloured blooms. Nasturtiums are a great example, especially when planted en masse.
DID YOU KNOW?
Birds often prefer red and orange flowers, as do butterflies, who also go for yellows and pinks. Each pollinator has a preference for different colours! So, don’t despair if you have a garden with these colours – you will also attract other pollinating species, as well as bees.
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8. Grow Climbers Vertically
Try to utilise your vertical space wisely, such as growing flowering species up trellises, fences and walls. This not only looks attractive and opens up new opportunities to grow more plants, but also provides benefits for bees.
Climbing plants make it easy for bees to access flowers to feed from and foliage to shelter from rain. Many solitary bees (life Carpenter and Miner Bees) will also find nesting places and building materials in mulch, leaves and soil below the plants.
9. Provide a Protected Sunny Spot
Bees prefer foraging for food in a sheltered position away from strong winds, heavy rain and strong shade. Consider the location of your pots or flowering plants within your own garden microclimate and choose the most favourable position if possible.
Likewise, you can provide habitat for solitary native bees with an insect hotel or bee nest in a protected location. Safe dry habitat is vital for a bee friendly garden.
Learn about the local species in your area and what nesting needs they have. In my garden, Leaf Cutter Bees chew little circles in my arrowroot and rose leaves to build their nests. Whilst I may not see them often in my garden, I know they’re there!
10. Don’t Waste your Weeds
Plants like dandelions and thistles provide a rich source of nectar for bees. Rather than pulling them out, wait until they finish blooming and then cut the heads off before seeds form. These weeds also add vital nutrients to your compost.
So, if you provide ‘bed and board’ with a free meal of nectar and pollen thrown in, you can easily create a bee friendly garden. If your space is really small, take these tips and downscale to pots. You can support your local bee population with these simple tips to make your garden more attractive to bees.
“With bee gardens, we develop and maintain a connection to something larger than ourselves—we get to see and know the intrinsic value of the flowers and the lives of the bees that visit them in each season.” – Kate Frey, author The Bee-Friendly Garden
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- The Adaptive Significance of Sensory Bias in a Foraging Context: Floral Colour Preferences in the Bumblebee
- Bee Forage Information
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[…] Follow the tips on this website for creating a garden that supports a diversity of insects and work with nature to create balance and harmony and create a bee-friendly garden. […]
I want to have a bee waterer, but don’t want to invite mosquitoes to lay their eggs there. What do you recommend that be used to inhibit the laying of mosquito eggs that’s obviously safe for bees and other small insects?
Thanks for your question. I personally don’t have an issue with mosquito larvae, most likely because when you develop a healthy ecosystem in your garden (a balance of predator insects who prey on pest insects like mozzies), they get eaten before they cause you problems.
My suggestions are:
* Provide the water for your bees anyway. Dragonflies are also attracted to shallow water sources and lay their eggs. Their larvae eat mosquito larvae so you not only get the benefit of encouraging beneficial predator insects like dragonflies into your garden, but they can help take care of the mosquito ‘problem’. For them, it’s dinner!
* Grow mosquito repellent plants nearby or make a pot up with several plants that do the job and sit this beside the bee bath. e.g. Citronella grass or citronella geraniums; Ageratum (also known as Blue Tops or Flossflowers); Catnip (Nepeta Cateria); Marigolds and Beebalm or Horsemint. All these plants contain strongly scented compounds that are used in commercial repellents and that mozzies find offensive. Use Nature!
* Change the water regularly. Tip it out if you see wrigglers. Most mosquitoes tend to lay their eggs in dark, dirty water. This is because this environment has sufficient nutrients for their larvae to feed on. If you maintain fresh clean water in your bee bath and remove any organic matter like leaves on a regular basis, this should discourage most mosquitoes.
* Create a frog-friendly garden and they too will outcompete your mozzies for food!
Hope this helps give you some natural ways to tackle this.