Can you imagine our world without bees? While you may not think that the extinction of bees would be a big deal, you need consider the consequences: it’s a fact that we would go hungry without them. Think of fruits, nuts, and vegetables… in fact, 70% of our main food crops are bee-pollinated. These have flowers bees like to feed on, not flowers that need the wind for pollination.
Without bees food crops would be more sparse, having to rely on other pollinators. As a result, there would less pollination and consequently, less food could be grown. In fact, many cases, there would be no crop at all. The pictures in This Is What Dessert Would Look Like Without Bees provide a startling revelation of the important part that bees play in our food supply.
Well, the reality is that the world’s bees are declining in number while at the same time the human demand for food increases.
Is there a way the ordinary person can help bees to survive? Home gardeners can help in a small way: by growing flowers bees like, we can help to increase bee numbers. While it may be only a drop in the ocean, it does help. There are benefits for the gardener, too. Bee-friendly gardens attract more bees, which ensures better pollination of food crops. Furthermore, adding more flowering plants increases the colour, interest, and visual impact of the garden, a real bonus.
1. Choose Flowers Bees Like
Bees forage for nectar and pollen, which they need to feed themselves and the juvenile bees in the hive. Nectar is a sugary liquid within the flower. Pollen provides proteins, fats, and other nutrients. In the course of their foraging bees pollinate the flowers from which they take the food.
According to Dr Heather Mattila a honeybee biologist at Wellesley College, “Bees need a varied diet of different pollens in order to grow into strong, healthy workers. A green space can be a green desert if it doesn’t have flowering plants that are bee-friendly.”
Bearing this in mind, you need to grow a selection of many bee-attractive plants to encourage bees to your garden. Trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals: all of these have some flowering plants among them.
The next step is to find what flowers bees like. Which of them are also suitable for your garden? There are so many varieties that this should not be difficult. Ideally, you’ll have flowers available from early spring to late autumn or early winter. This means that if possible you should include a wide range of plants. It’s a good idea to look first at the various flowers bees like.
What Kinds of Flowers Attract Bees?
Bees sometimes fly long distances to forage. It’s not surprising therefore that these tired bees are particularly attracted to flowers where they can easily reach the pollen and nectar. They appreciate flowers that are well laden with nectar and pollen. They can feast to restore their energy and take some of the food back to the hive. However, some kinds of flowers store their nectar and pollen deep within the flower structure and some bees’ tongues may not be long enough to reach it: other pollinating insects are needed for that.
Not all flowering plants produce useful quantities of pollen and nectar. Some plants that have been bred for landscape use have flowers that are short of these commodities. Others have complex flowers that bees cannot navigate. You can help bees by providing flowers with accessible pollen and nectar.
Specific Types of Flowers
These kinds of flowers make it easier for bees to draw nectar and collect pollen.
Flat flowers with petals around and open centre. The centres of these flowers provide landing pads for the bees and give them a firm surface to stand on while they reach for the nectar. The stamens are in the centre so it is easy for the bristles on the bees’ legs to collect pollen. They don’t have to push aside petals to reach the goodies. Examples are daisies and any daisy-shaped flowers, including clematis, echinacea, rudbeckia, sunflowers, and calendula. In the left image, a honey bee extracts nectar from an aster flower, which has a daisy-like shape.
Bowl-shaped flowers. These have similar advantages for the bees. Pollen and nectar are easy to reach. Examples of flowers with this shape are poppies, crocus, single roses, and peonies. In the image to the left we see a bee in a poppy
Umbrels. These are clusters of small flowers on short stalks, arranged like the spokes of an umbrella. They provide a surface for the bee to land on and small flowers, which make for easy foraging. Examples: the carrot family, spirea, angelica, elderberry. The image to the left shows a bee extracting nectar from a globe thistle
Mint Family. These flowers are popular visiting grounds for bees. Those with long tongues can sit on the flower and collect the nectar, which is not available to pollinating insects with shorter tongues. Examples are mints, nettles, and salvias. The image above shows a bee on salvia flowers.
Wildflowers These are the flowers of plants that have become naturalised in a certain area. The flowers are simple and their shapes are helpful to bees. You would probably call them weeds if you found them self-sown in your garden. Bees don’t care about classifications and they get much of their food from these plants in areas where they grow prolifically. The image on the left shows a few wildflowers.
2. Ideas for Choosing and Planting Bee-Friendly Plants
Before you choose your selection of plants that attract bees, you need to consider several points about where you’ll plant them.
Bees prefer to visit sunny areas so choose a place that gets plenty of sun.
Plant in clumps. This gives the bees a better chance of finding your offerings. If you have sufficient space, clumps of a square metre (square yard) are recommended. Urban and suburban home gardeners usually can’t manage this but make your clumps as large as your garden plan allows.
Choose flowers of different shapes. There are many species of bees which are of different sizes and have a variety of tongue lengths. Flower of different shapes helps to cater for the differences.
Bees have good colour vision, which helps them to find the nectar and pollen they are looking for. They also have colour preferences, being particularly attracted to blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.
Try to have a mixture of plants flowering during all seasons. These can be vegetables, herbs, fruits trees, shrubs, and bulbs as well as ornamentals.
Choose single flowers, e.g. single dahlias, single hollyhocks.
Let some of your vegetables e.g broccoli, flower. These flowers provide food diversity for bees and you will benefit because the seeds that follow can be used for next year’s crops (unless you are growing hybrid plants). It’s a win-win situation.
Try to include a wildflower garden
Flowers That Attract Bees
This table comprises a list of well-known plants that bear bee-friendly flowers. It is by no means comprehensive. Depending on where you live, you will find many additional plants for your bee garden. Remember to include wildflowers and flowers that are native to your area.
3. Other Ways to Help Bees
Once you have more bees visiting your garden, you will want to make sure that they stay in the vicinity. To encourage this, here are some suggestions that will make your garden more attractive to bees and will encourage other insect pollinators to become happy inhabitants as well.
Keep your garden free of pesticides or try to use less toxic ones like Neem oil. But be sure to use the spray in the early morning or after sunset when there are few, if any bees around.
You can provide accommodation for bees and other beneficial insects during the winter by building a bee hotel. The one on the right is a simple example. See How to Make a Bee Hotel that Really Works for other examples, with building instructions and a video.
Try to set aside a rough area with some dandelions, clover and other weeds
Make and distributeseed bombs Just a reminder to respect other people’s property: these are not meant for people’s gardens, however neglected they might be, or any privately-owned land. Follow the link to find instructions for making them and ideas for distribution.
The bee population is declining worldwide. It follows that since we depend on bees for the pollination of 70% of our food crops, humanity will be faced with a food shortage if bees die out. Or, if there isn’t a food shortage, then the variety of foods available to us will be severely limited.
On the positive side though, there are organisations across the world whose aim is to protect bees from human-related causes of their decline. These bee-killers such as toxic chemicals, are presently widespread in our agriculture. It is worth noting too, that people can assist these organisations by providing uncontaminated food for bees. This is where home gardens can help. Although one home gardener can’t help many bees, when we add the single home gardens together we find that they add up to a useful number of gardeners to provide food and protection for bees.
We home gardeners can help by growing the beautiful flowers bees like, by providing areas of winter shelter for solitary bees, and by avoiding the use of toxic substances in the garden. Also, if we need to use sprays, we can take care to use them in the early morning or after sunset, when bees are unlikely to be around. By doing these and other thoughtful acts such as providing water for bees, we can encourage pollinators and other useful insects to live in our gardens, providing a natural harmony and balance.
Do you do anything to help bees that I haven’t mentioned here? Please tell us about it in the comments. If you have questions or wish to comment, please do so in the comments box. I look forward to your responses.