Honey Bee Gardens

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In a world where the fragile balance of ecosystems is threatened, you can help-right in your own backyard. It is easier than you may think to create a honey bee garden. In addition to being a beautiful focal point for your home, bee-friendly gardens provide a haven for many important pollinators. You don’t have to have a large space to have a positive impact.

Honey bees foraging on plot of colorful blooms in garden image.

While you are planning your garden design, take a few moments to think about the pollinators you hope to attract. Including some flowers for bees is easy to do. Remember to include a variety of bloom types and don’t forget bees need shelter and water too.

Inviting Honey Bees to Your Garden

Thankfully, honey bees are such docile insects that we can share space with them. She is very unlikely to sting. Of course, honey bees can sting but usually only do so for defense.

Give them proper space and you can enjoy the beauty of watching the bees collect needed hive resources (nectar, pollen and other things they need).

Create A Honey Bee Garden: Research & Planning

Your honey bee garden can be as simple or complex as you wish. Maybe you will start small and expand the space over years to come? Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • make wise use of space – use every square foot
  • use plants suitable for your climate
  • choose a variety of plants with a long bloom period
  • a water source – small pond or water garden

Begin by considering the resources you have available. Will you need to till a spot of soil for planting?

Or, can you provide a mini-oasis on the patio or a balcony? Start with a plan and feel free to adjust as you go.

Do consider the amount of space a plant needs. I had the great idea to grow my own sponges one year. It is a vine plant – how big can it get?

Well, my bees did enjoy my luffa flowers but I will not be growing them up the side of my house again – they got huge!

Small Backyard Spaces for Pollinators

A good bee garden provides things that beneficial insects need. Visiting honey bees may not live in your garden-they may just visit for food. Honey bees fly several miles, if necessary, to find what they need.

Make use of the space you have. Don’t let the idea that you don’t have enough room for acres of bee attracting sunflowers – keep you from doing something.

Not everyone feels comfortable around insects – some have a serious fear of bees – apiphobia. Be sure to leave room for you and your visitors to walk or sit.

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A lovely bench is a good idea or maybe a small gazebo. Place any sitting spots away from large, pendulous blooming plants.

Design wide walkways or paths. This allows humans and pets to walk through your backyard bee garden safely. Some dogs have been known to eat a bee on occasion. We certainly don’t want this to happen.

These areas may be a good spot for a few flowers that are not attractive to bees. This may sound strange but these plants may benefit other pollinators and add beauty to the garden.

If you have a trouble spot in your yard, a space that tends to hold water after a rain – consider planting a rain garden there. Reduce erosion and provide some bee food too!

Planting Wild Spaces That Grow Freely

Do you have a large backyard? If you have the space, mass plantings of several pollinator-friendly flowers can provide much needed pollen and nectar.

A small meadow of mixed wildflowers that honey bees like provides bloom throughout the warm season. Planted close together this “wild area” of the yard should not need much maintenance.

Container or Patio Pollinator Gardens

Another option for the city gardener or those with limited space is pots. Perhaps, a container garden on a small patio fits your lifestyle better. It is very easy to grow plants in pots for bees.

Large containers can grow beautiful plants to brighten your outdoor space. And, you can even grow some types of vegetables right on your patio.

In addition to patio fruit, small bushes, squash, cucumbers and many herbs benefit from bee pollination.

Feed the bees and have fresh herbs for dinner. To brighten up a small area, try some potted marigolds, dwarf sunflowers or zinnias.

Another plant you can grow in a container is the lotus! Yes, lotus tubers planted in large containers can be a great food resource for the bees in your area.

Infographic chart of things a honey bee garden needs.

Bee Friendly Plants

Bee friendly plants may provide either nectar or pollen – or both. Those classified as true honey plants are known to produce reliable amounts of nectar. Bees collect pollen to be used as a protein source for rearing young.

Choose plants that have a long bloom time or different varieties that overlap in bloom. We would love to have something blooming all season.

First, consider your climate and growing conditions. Plants in the wrong location will not flourish. Stressed plants don’t produce as much nectar. And, you will be stressed while trying to make it fit in an unsuitable location.

Then, choose flowers that do well in your area. You may have annuals, perennials or better yet – a mix!

Annuals

Annuals grow, bloom and die in one season. They don’t return next year but they provide a lot of nectar and/or pollen at one time. This type of flower is often easy to grow from seed – this makes them an economical choice.

Picture of flowers suitable to use in a bee garden.

Some great annual plants for the bee garden:

  • Borage
  • Cornflower
  • Cosmos
  • Salvia
  • Sunflowers
  • Zinnia

Perennials

Perennials are also a good choice for bee habitat. They bloom and return the next year. A mixture of several different types creates a pleasing display and a long span of flowers in bloom.

Mass planting of bee friendly purple cone flowers in back yard garden image.

Some perennial plants to consider for your bee garden are:

Water for Drinking

If you live in a rural area, your pollinators may have access to natural water. However, you may find that bees will use a good water source that you provide.

Suggestions:

  • a large birdbath with pebbles around the edge to create a shallow drinking spot
  • medium sized water garden with water, plants and fish
  • smaller craft sized water sources
Bees drinking water from a garden container image.

Bird baths and medium sized fountains can be a viable addition to the pollinator garden. While not providing a lot of water, they are beneficial to thirsty insects.

Do you have space for a small water garden? A tub or plastic pond form with some plants will add beauty to your area.

Any pond or fountain needs a calm place to safely drink (add stones or plants like water lilies). If you have more room, build a small pond and add a few goldfish.

While not practical for a yard with several beehives, a clay dish bee waterer or the larger DIY bee water station are really cute and something the kids can help make. They also make cute gifts for bee loving friends.

Bee Friendly Garden Practices

If you are planning a new garden just for bees, you are starting with a blank slate. But, an existing garden can become more bee friendly as well.

  • use fewer chemicals
  • add more flowers to find in nectar dearths
  • natural weed control

Avoid using chemical pesticides on your yard or garden as much as possible. Especially dusts (like SEVIN) that are highly toxic to bees.

If you notice a time of the year when nothing much is blooming, add some flowers for bees that bloom at this time.

Be aware of plants that can be toxic to bees – not normally a big concern, but why add them? Do some research before buying and avoid plants that are invasive in your region, even if they do feed pollinators.

Practice bee friendly weed control. Keep in mind that many “weeds” feed bees – perhaps you can leave some natural areas.

However, if you must do something for weed control, consider all of the alternatives. Some types of weed killers are safer for bees than others and always apply late in the day when most foragers have gone back to the nest.

Homemade herbicides such as, homemade vinegar weed killer, are not as effective as commercial types but they will work.

This caution also applies to spraying for mosquitos which can harm foraging insects and kill the entire colony too!

Hummingbird Feeders

You may want to have a hummingbird feeder in your garden. In most cases this works out just fine. But, sometimes they clash. Both hunger for sweet nectar and if the bees are having trouble finding food – problems arise.

If you experience this problem there are some tips that will help to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders. And thankfully, in most locations the problem doesn’t last all Summer.

Why Are There No Bees in Your Garden?

How many bees visit your garden will depend on your local conditions. Some areas have more pollinator insects than others but there are fewer bees than usual.

Even though honey bees are not endangered, there are not as many feral (wild) colonies today as in years past. And, it’s not just the honey bees – native bees and other pollinators are experiencing lowers numbers.

When considering why you see fewer insects, you must also ask – do you have what they need? Bees need a reason to visit your garden. A good honey bee habitat is all about diversity.

Gardening Activities that Spread the Message

Developing and decorating a honey bee garden can involve the whole family. It is a great learning experience for children and helps them develop a deeper appreciation for insects.

Learning how to make seed balls is a fun activity for all ages. A method of gorilla gardening – making seed bombs with air dry clay is a great way to spread patches of wildflowers around in a natural setting.

These make great gardening gifts and are so simple the kids can help.

Some serious gardeners want to have more pollinators so badly that they even decide to become a beekeeper. This is a commitment and not for everyone so do your research before getting started in beekeeping.

image of pollinator ebook to help grow your bee garden

A Final Word

Not interested in keeping a beehive? That’s okay. Everyone can help pollinators by making wise choices in the garden. The things you do – or don’t do, can help save the bees (all bees) and benefit other types of wildlife too (Humans Included).

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