One of the most fun, easy and rewarding ways to make a big Beesponsible impact is to plant your own bee garden. Bee-friendly flowers and plants not only help keep bees healthy and thriving, but also provide beauty and even increase the yields of any fruits and veggies you may be growing. Whether you plant a big garden, little patch or even just a flowerpot, you’ll contribute a wonderful, healthy and valuable habitat for bees and other pollinators. Here’s how to get started.
Bees love native wildflowers, flowering herbs and many fruits and vegetables. If you have the space, planting bee-friendly shrubs and trees supplies large areas of beneficial blooms too. Bees require a variety of pollen and nectar sources, so including a diversity of flowering plants best supports their nutritional needs. However, whatever you can provide, even a window box or a few potted plants, can help. See the interactive section below to get specific planting ideas.
Whatever you do, DO NOT use pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals in your garden or anywhere in your yard. Most of these chemicals are toxic to bees and have widespread effects detrimental to plants, beneficial insects and other native pollinators. Not to fret — bee-friendly gardens are healthy gardens. They won’t need chemicals to keep pests away and will set you up for natural success in your gardening. Learn more about natural ways to control weeds and problem pests.
Not only do native bees prefer native plants, these plants thrive in your garden with little effort, as they’re adapted to your area. You can browse our planting guide below by region, but you may also want to visit the websites of local botanic gardens and plant nurseries for more info on bee-friendly plants specific to your area.
Bees forage as soon as the weather starts to warm until it becomes too cold, and you’ll notice a variety of bees emerging at different times throughout the year. This means you want your garden full of blooms throughout as many seasons as possible. Select plants with long blooming cycles. Or choose plants with successive blooms. You can also pair various plants with different bloom times. This provides constant food for bees and beauty for you. See below for more ideas on this.
Try to plant at least one square yard of the same plant together or repeat it multiple times throughout your garden to make a perfect bee attractor. On each foraging trip, bees will only visit one type of species, so this makes it worth their while. But if you’re short on space, planting just a few wildflowers or herbs in a planter or window box still provides more foraging habitat for bees.
As tempting as it may be to cut flowers and bring them inside, be sure to leave plenty of flowers on your plants to allow bees to get all the pollen and nectar they need. When spent, deadhead the flowers to encourage new growth. If you grow herbs or vegetables, harvest them but leave the plant intact. When they’re done for the season, let them bolt to please the pollinators.
Especially during the heat of summer, bees need a lot of water to drink and use in the hive. Once bees find a source of water, they often return to the same place. Keep them from visiting a neighbor’s pool or any other unsafe place by offering a shallow area of fresh water, like a bird bath or small saucer with stones or floating cork to perch upon. Don’t forget to clean and fill it regularly.
Not all bees live together in hives. In fact, most bees are solitary and 70% of them nest in the ground. So once you have plenty of nectar and pollen sources, it’s best if bees can live nearby. This keeps their foraging distance short, as well as provides shelter to hide from predators and a place to get out of the elements and to raise little bees. Simply leave some bare soil that remains undisturbed in a sunny well-draining area for ground nesters. And for the 30% of bees that nest in wood cavities, leave hollow plant stems and old branches or logs around. Don’t tidy up your yard too much in the fall — those leaf piles and other plant material provide vital overwintering habitat. Let them be and delay your cleanup until later in the spring to give native bees a chance to emerge.
Stop waging a war against weeds — not only will this make your life easier, you’ll help save the lives of bees along with a wide range of wildlife that relies on them. Instead of mowing down or removing this vital food source, let dandelions, clovers, milkweed, goldenrod and other flowering weeds grow (or at least hold off until after bees forage their blooms). Instead of furthering the stigma surrounding weeds, think of them as the beneficial wild plants they are, and let them be for the sake of bees.
Neighborhoods predominately filled with large grass-covered yards present a stark scene for bees. If you have a traditionally manicured lawn, you can help these hungry bees out by converting sections into bee gardens, replacing grass with bee-friendly ground cover or turning it all into a flowering meadow. This approach feeds bees and takes much less maintenance. Once your neighbors see your beautiful yard, you may even start a trend. Learn more.
Inviting an array of bees into your own backyard is simple when you plant their favorite: native flowers. By providing nectar and pollen as food and creating shelters in your garden space, you will create new habitat for bees, as their natural habitats become less abundant.
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