One of the most practically useful, environmentally-conscious ways you can repurpose your outdoor property is to build a bee-friendly garden. In addition to hosting a beautiful set of pollinator-friendly flowering plants easy on the eyes right in your backyard, you’ll also be doing your part to build a bee sanctuary to boost their dwindling numbers.
Let’s dig into the top tips for creating a bee-friendly garden, and why building one is worth the effort and hard work. We’ll also explain how to gauge just how bee-favorable your garden is once it’s built so that you can continually refine it.
Why Build a Bee-Friendly Garden?
Did you know that ¾ of the entire global crop production depends on pollinators like honey bees? That means that, essentially, without them doing their work of spreading flower pollen, we would literally starve.
Each year, honey bee populations decline at striking rates. For example, in just one year period:
“The honey bee population decreased 40% in the winter of 2018 to 2019 alone, and the annual rate loss for the 2019 to 2020 winter was also 40%, declines that experts described as ‘unsustainable.'”
Source: Union College
The bees are in desperate need of our help – as proper repayment for all the amazing pollination work that they do for us. This is nothing short of an existential crisis – one that threatens the very continued existence of life as we know it on Earth.
Yes, it’s true that the challenge to preserve and safeguard honey bee populations is enormous: we need to take collective action at the global level in the same way that we came together to battle COVID-19 or any large-scale problem.
But equally true is that we have the power also on the individual level to make a difference. One of the best ways to do that is building a bee-friendly garden, a sanctuary for the endangered honey bees that literally give us life.
Bee Garden Tip #1: Use Natural Pesticides (If Any)
Industrial chemical pesticides like Roundup are bad news for honey bees. Research shows that, among other mechanisms of harm, these pesticides damage the gut bacteria of honey bees and, in turn, make them more susceptible to disease.
Their increasingly common use is strongly correlated to declining global honey bee populations:
“Recently, honey bee and some non-Apis bee population declines have been documented globally. These declines have been attributed to many factors, including exposure to pesticides. Depending on the mode of action, dose, and exposure route, pesticides can have lethal or sub-lethal effects on bees, which ultimately can impair their pollination services.”
The good news is that creating a natural, pesticide-free refuge in the form of a bee-friendly garden goes a long way towards mitigating the massive global damage wrought on honey bee populations by widespread pesticide use:
“Through habitat loss and increased use of conventional agrichemicals, global expansion of intensified agricultural practices threatens vital ecosystem services, including pollination by wild bees… the risk from increasing pesticide use to the abundance and diversity of wild bee communities… is buffered by the presence of natural habitat.”
Instead of synthetic, industrial chemical-laden pesticides, consider using some all-natural alternatives in your bee-friendly garden like:
- Neem Leaf.
- Marigolds and tomatoes (for green flies and black flies).
- Chrysanthemum Flower Tea.
- Onion and Garlic Spray.
- Salt Spray.
- Eucalyptus Oil.
Bee Garden Tip #2: Opt For Bee-Friendly Flowering Plants
The best strategy to attract and keep bees in your garden is to plant flowers that they like with steady blooms from spring until fall to keep them in our garden across seasons. Make sure you plan out your planting to include plenty of species for each turn of the season.
Here are a few ideas for staggering your bee-friendly plants:
- For spring season (April-late May): bluebell, pussy willow, dandelion viburnum, dicentra, crocus, lungwort, crocus
- For early summer (early June through late July): poppy, campanula, globe thistle, comfrey, allium, thyme, borage, catmint, hollyhock, sweet pea,
- For late summer (late July through early September): lavender, honeysuckle, Echinacea, sedum, buddleia, cornflower, foxglove, nasturtium, ivy
As a general rule, you will want to prioritize flowering plants with “open” petals like many of the ones on the above list. Open-petaled flowers provide bees with easier access to the sweet bee-nourishing nectar inside.
If you’re growing vegetables in your garden, peppers, onions, and beans are ideal because they produce bee-friendly flowers.
Bee Garden Tip #3: Leave a Portion of the Garden Wild
If you have enough space, consider leaving a south-facing portion of the garden untouched to attract solitary bees that might build their nests there.
Thistles and dandelions are common weeds that bees have an affinity for, so let them grow uninhibited in the “wild” section. Also, the weeds’ hollowed stems provide a natural shelter for bees.
To create favorable conditions for attracting bees and not other unwanted guests, Dadant and Sons offers high-quality deterrents to keep ants, wasps, and hornets at bay in the wild section of your garden.
Bee Garden Tip #4: Equip Your Garden With an Open-Water Source
Bees need water just like any animal. If you don’t have a natural water source in your garden or nearby like a pond, you can make your own DIY water source by placing a tray or tub in the garden with a few rocks inside.
Bee Garden Tip #5: Makeshift Shelter For Honey Bees (Bee Hotel)
In a shaded corner of the garden, add some upside-down or chipped potting plants for bumblebees to shelter in. Make sure there are wide enough spaces in them for entry and exit.
If you’re handy with carpentry and have the inclination, you might want to build a DIY bee hotel for your wild bees. Here’s a brief tutorial as a guide:
National Geographic offers a helpful schematic design for a bee hotel.
How Bee-Friendly Is My Garden?
The non-profit environmental advocacy group Bumblebee Conservation Trust offers a free Bee Kind tool that allows bee allies to assess how friendly their garden is to bees, plus tips on how to improve it if you score low on the test.
Contact Dadant and Sons For More Bee-Friendly Garden Tips
We’re multi-generational experts on all things honey bees and beekeeping – including how to design and build your very own bee-friendly garden. Contact us with all your questions and we’ll be happy to answer them.