Gardening for bees

Gardening for bees is easy. Read our expert advice on bee-friendly plants for your garden. 

Bees are a dating service for many crops and plants. They introduce flowers to each other by transferring pollen from one flower to the next. In return, the flowers feed the bees with nectar and pollen.

Bees prefer open, single-head flowers to complex, double-headed varieties.  They find lots of petals hard to negotiate to get their nectar and pollen.

They like:

  • The same plants grown in clusters, not peppered round the garden. 
  • A steady supply of food, not bursts of plenty followed by famine. 
  • Suitable species that will appear every season.

They don't like:

  •  pesticides
  •  fungicides
  •  herbicides

You wouldn't want traces of these in your honey. Bees don't like them in their food either.

We asked Adrian Thomas, author of RSPB Gardening for Wildlife: A Complete Guide to Nature-friendly Gardening, for his expert advice on how to create a bee-friendly garden.

"Here are some of my favourite bee plants from many years of study. There are of course more, but they are heavily outweighed by all the plants that are rubbish for bees. I’ve tried to cover every area, and to choose plants that will grace any garden."

1. Herbaceous border

It’s hard to go wrong with geraniums – something small like Mavis Simpson at the front, something bigger but compact in the middle like Geranium x magnificum.

2. Green manure

Scorpionweed (Phacelia tanacetifolium) is probably the best green manure crop for bees.

3. Lawns

Encourage clovers - red or white - to flower on your lawn, and spread the love for bees across a  much larger areas of the garden.

4. Acid soils

Heathers are sure-fire winners. Something like Erica carnea will grow on most soils and provide excellent early and late season nectar and pollen.

5. Architectural plants

It’s hard to beat the the Viper’s Buglosses (Echium family), which produce spires of flowers. Echium ‘Blue Bedder’ is really easy to grow, or if you want drama, try 8 feet tall Echium pininana in sheltered areas.

6. Walls and fences

These can support plants that bees will love. Ivy is invaluable in the late autumn, if allowed to get its head into the light and flower.

7. Bulbs

For something bulbous, Allium (Allium sphaerocaphalon) crawls with honeybees.

8. Vegetable garden

Make sure you grow some herbs because so many are great for bees, such as chives, sage and lavender.

9.Trees

It’s very easy to forget trees for bees. If you’ve only got a small garden, single-flowered cherry trees are hard to beat, and look great. For a large garden, Norway Maple hits the spot.

Take action

Download our free information booklet, 20 things you need to know about bees.       

Help us cover Britain in wild flowers and help bees in your neighbourhood with a Bee Saver Kit.

 

Get involved

This article is based on an article that first appeared in 'Earthmatters', Friends of the Earth's supporter magazine.

Become a member of Friends of the Earth and receive regular copies of 'Earthmatters'.