The honeybee populations of the USA have been drastically diminishing Learn about Colony Collapse Disorder], and though no one knows exactly why, one factor is less foraging. We gardeners can do something about that!

Starvation is currently considered to be the leading cause of bee mortality.(1)

So What Do They Like?

waterlily tulip

early spring nectar

  • Bees like big drifts of flowers with the type of design you’d find in an English or Cottage garden style
  • Bees get thirsty and need water, a bubbler fountain sunk into gravel or sand is ideal. Bubblers and Fountains
  • They like blue flowers, but also purples, yellow, and white. Interestingly, they don’t like red flowers very well.
  • Bees like all season color- so choose plants to bloom in early, mid, to late season times. You will like that, too
  • Sunny spots with some shelter from winds; most garden flowers do,too.

It is really important that you never use pesticides in your bee garden. They poison bees.

Lawns

Somehow, American yards have become wastelands of sterile, over chemical laden, energy eating, fields of turf. No wonder bees are starving. I am not against lawns, I love a good, useful lawn- one that stays green through summer because of added clovers, one that is purposeful and considered in size and design. There is nothing better than a plot of lawn for play yards, for a picnic area, or to use in the center of a gardened space. If grasses are used in tandem with clovers, there is less need for fertilizers (clovers are nitrogen producing legumes), and you wouldn’t want herbicides at all!

Helpful Bulletin on the New American Yard, A PDF file which gives an example garden plan and ideas on landscaping in harmony with nature.

Your Bee Garden

Let’s fantasize a minute. Do you picture your bee garden as a flower border bursting with delicious colors? Or a sublime herb garden soothing your senses? A bee garden could be either, simply planted with those flowers and herbs that bees like best. Decorated with a bee skep as a focal point or a fountain, since bees love fountains, you might even take things to the next level and have your own hives.
A source for a backyard hive.

A formal circular garden surrounded with quadrants of brightly colored blooms, or an informal kidney shaped bed filled with annuals could both cater to honeybees and their palate. I always allow red clover plants to grow within my garden plants; it has a deep pink flower of good size and behaves itself. Zinnias produce colorful showy flowers with an array of fantasy forms and hues. Like a carnival in a seed packet! They are also available in single colors choices for a more restrained visual impact.

apple trees and coreopsis

Bee Heaven

Perhaps situating the bee garden away from children’s play areas, and adjacent to the kitchen garden or vegetable patch is an idea to consider. Add a seat where you can dreamily sit in the sunshine and listen to the drowsy hum of the bees. A few dwarf fruit trees underplanted with a mass of bee plants creates an orchard in miniature, and helps the trees set fruit. The Children’s garden in Inniswood Metro Park has just such an area. Apple trees within a farm fence filled with overflowing coreopsis blooms.

Flowers That Bees Like

bees visiting flower

photo: Creative Commons / Yerpo

Bees and flowers just go together, but what blooms are best for bees and to add into your bee garden?

  • Agastache (pinks,lavender)
  • Asters (pink,white,blues)
  • Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia (yellow-gold)
  • Borage (blue)
  • Coreopsis (yellow)
  • Daisies (white,yellows)
  • Dames Rocket (white,lavender)
  • Echinacea (pink,white)
  • Goldenrod (yellow-gold)
  • Globe thistle Echinops (blue)
  • Hyssop (blue)
  • Lamb’s Ears
  • Lavender(blue)
  • Melissa officinalis, Lemon Balm (lavender)
  • Monardas (purple,lavender,red,pink)
  • Penstemon (pink,white,red,blue)
  • Poppies (lavender, pinks, red, white)
  • Red Clover (pink)
  • Thymes (pink,white,lavender)

The blues mentioned are mostly purple-blues.

Heirloom and species forms of flowers are some of the best choices, since they are better nectar and pollen sources. Do you have a Historical style of home, or a genuine Old House? Think about using heirloom plants to create your garden with both a theme appropriate to the timeframe of your home and to help the bees.

In earliest spring you will see bees buzzing within the crocus, eranthis, and tulips blooms. Daffodils and lilacs attract them,too. During the height of the summer season, they are busy about your geraniums [pelargoniums], lobelias, calendulas, zinnias, and marigolds For late season interest, asters, coreopsis and black-eyed Susans billow in autumn colors and are alive with bees.

Pollinator Plantlists

Guide For Garden Plantings

Plant your bee plants in a large group, honeybees are efficient foragers and like to visit a lot of the same flower in a space. This is good design, too, creating the large drifts of flowers that Gertrude Jekyll encouraged.

Another way to plant more of the nectar and pollen rich flowers is to repeat stands of them throughout the yard. Repetition of the same flowers and plants are another design tip that creates pleasing pattern in your landscape design.

Hedgerows

Hedgerows are an old idea we could bring back. English garden writers often referred to the hedgerow, as it had been an ancient way of dividing their fields, full of fascination for the wildlife and plants it harbored.”Hedgerows, thatched houses and back gardens” seem to go together in English garden landscapes.

A news item reports the French have an idea we could use here in the USA: “France is to sow nectar-bearing flowers on the sides of roads in an experiment aimed at helping the honey bee”. I just recently received a wildflower mixture for bees from American Meadows. I am so excited to plant and it, as the mix includes red poppies, annual baby’s breath, cornflowers and other varieties.

In recent years there had been an effort to sow roadsides with wildflowers, and this could become an effort to also help the honeybee. Perhaps such an idea could be used with your own fences, or even within the city “hellstrip” between road and sidewalk?

Use these ideas and plant suggestions to come up with your own bee haven, and rest easy in the knowledge that you are supporting important food pollinators that give so much to the tables of their human benefactors.

Ornamental Trees

Don’t forget that many flowering trees attract honeybees, as well. My Malus ‘Snowdrift’ is always buzzing with bees in the spring. I also see them fill the Sweet cherry trees, Prunus avium.

5 Ways To Protect Honeybees
1. Plant your garden with the honeybee-friendly, flower suggestions mentioned here.
2. Buy Local! Use honey and bee products from your locale
3. Become a beekeeper, even an urban yard can hold some bee hives (made of natural material like wood, straw or clay).
4. Learn more about the bees and what helps them.
5. Don’t use chemicals in your gardens.

Bees have good color vision and they like striped guidelines to the nectar source ( like in morning glories); they are especially attracted to blue, purple, violet, white and yellow flowers. Lavender, petunias, foxgloves, catmint, are all good attractions for bees.

Read all about Urban Bee Gardening

Links:
Best Bee Plants for California

Bee Garden Plan