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Attracting bees to your garden

Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Nothing evokes the sense of an organic garden like the hum of honeybees toiling among sun-warmed summer flowers. Honey bees are important for pollination of all our fruits and berries and many of our vegetables crops. They don’t need us but we certainly need them. World wide their numbers are on the decline and experts are not sure why this is. By maintaining a bee-friendly garden, you can play a small but important role in helping to restore hard-hit wild honeybee populations, and help insure healthy, hefty bee-pollinated crops summer after summer.

Bee Provisions

Thanks to beekeepers, honeybees aren’t in danger of disappearing completely, even with the added problems of the Varroa mite. However, surviving wild populations of native bees and bumble bees do require help. You can help their recovery if you promote an environment that encourages bees to visit your garden. Here’s what you need to provide.


Bees need a reliable supply of water throughout the honey season. They use water to cool their hives and dilute the honey they feed to their larvae. On extremely hot days, bees might spend more time carrying water back to the hive than foraging for pollen and nectar. Provide a shallow pond in your garden where bees can land on the margins to collect water .Place rocks or grow water lilies in deeper water to provide bees with a safe drinking platform.

Pollen and nectar: Ornamental plants can direct bees to your garden, but not just any flower will do. If you aim to attract honeybees, you’ll need bee lures that produce ample amounts of pollen and nectar. Foraging bees identify desirable flowers by color, shape, and smell. Interestingly, bees can clearly perceive only four colors: yellow, blue-green, blue, and ultraviolet. Yellow, the color of most pollen, is another bee favorite. Regardless of the color, if a blossom doesn’t provide enough pollen or nectar, bees will totally ignore it. Interestingly, most modern ornamentals, such as hybrid roses, no longer produce enough pollen and nectar. For the best bee lures plant old-fashioned or heirloom varieties.

Protecting Bees: The most serious danger to foraging honeybees is the indiscriminate use of pesticides and other chemicals in the garden. This is just another reason to be organic and spray free. When it comes to controlling garden pests, simple home remedies can save the bees. For example, you can eliminate a variety of destructive insects, including aphids, by spraying infested plants with a fast jet of water from a hose. One organic spray, Pyrethrum, is very toxic to bees, if you must use is make sure it is late in the evening when the bees are back in the hive. Your Safety Rest assured that foraging honeybees rarely sting while away from the hive. If threatened, they usually fly away. Even so, if you are buzzed by a curious bee, it’s a bad idea to swat at her. Simply walk away. Interestingly, honeybees tend to fly in straight lines, so you can usually shake a pursuing bee by weaving or running around a tree. Just hope that your neighbours aren’t watching. Avoid wearing perfumes when you’re in the garden, bees will be attracted to you.

Best Blooms for Bees Because foraging honeybees (they are all girls) put in 12-hour shifts, they tend to visit only one type of flower at a time. So, they might find a solid mass of sunflowers more alluring than a bed filled with mixed flowers. For best results, make sure their favorite pollen and nectar producing blooms are continuously available in your garden throughout the year. Below is a smorgasbord of best bets. Check to see whether they will grow in your climate first.

SPRING Trees: Alders (Alnus spp.) Apples and crabapples (Malus spp.) Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) Catalpas (Catalpa spp.) Cherries, peaches, plums (Prunus spp.) Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) Elms (Ulmus spp.) Hazelnuts (Corylus spp.) Maples (Acer spp.) Oaks (Quercus spp.) Persimmons (Diospyros spp.) Redbuds (Cercis spp.) Sycamores (Platanus spp.) Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) Willows (Salix spp.) Shrubs: Blackberries (Rubus spp.) Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) Flowering quinces (Chaenomeles spp.) Perennials/annuals:Ajugas (Ajuga spp.) Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) Crocuses (Crocus spp.)

SUMMER Trees: Lime (Tilia spp.) Orange (Citrus sinensis) Tupelos (Nyssa spp.) Shrubs: Abelias (Abelia spp.) Butterfly bushes (Buddleia spp.) Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) Elderberries (Sambucus spp.) Sumacs (Rhus spp.) Wild or old fashioned roses (Rosa spp.) Perennials/annuals: Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) Bee balm (Monarda didyma) Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) Basil, Borage (Borago officinalis) Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberose) Catmints (Nepeta spp.) Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Cosmos (Cosmos spp.) Globe thistles (Echinops spp.) Lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina) Lavendars (Lavendula spp.) Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) Oreganos (Origanum spp.) Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) Sages and salvias (Salvia spp.) Summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) Thymes (Thymus spp.)

AUTUMN Shrubs: Butterfly bushes (Buddleia spp.) Spanish needles (Yucca spp.) Wild or old fashioned roses (Rosa spp.) Perennials/annuals: Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) Asters (Aster spp.) Borages (Borago spp.) Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) Mexican pineapple sage (Salvia elegans ‘Scarlet Pineapple’) Sedum (Sedum spectabile) Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) Verbenas (Verbena spp.) Wild carrot (Daucus carota)
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