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How to Make a Honey Bee Garden

One reason many people look forward to planning a garden is to help honey bees and other pollinators. You can make a honey bee garden in a smaller area. It is not necessary to have acres of land. Consider reserving a least a small space to make a bee garden for our beneficial insects. Sharing your outdoor space is so easy to do – it’s a buzz to be “bee friendly”.

Honey bees foraging on plot of white daisies in garden image.

Why Are There No Bees in Your Garden?

Some areas are experiencing a drastic decline in pollinators. How many bees visit your garden will depend on your local conditions. Some areas have more pollinator insects than others but on average there are just fewer bees than usual.

Honey bee decline in recent years has been tied to an influx of pests and disease. It seems there is not one sole issue causing problems for our honeybees.

Not as many feral (wild) colonies exist today as did in year past. And, it’s not just the honey bees – native bees and other pollinators are experiencing lowers numbers.

When considering why you see fewer bees in the garden, you must also ask – do you have what they need? Bees need a reason to visit your garden. Do you a wide variety of plants that offer food for them?

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While you are planning your garden design, take a few moments to think about the bees. Including some bee friendly plants is really easy to do.

Some serious gardeners want to have more pollinators so badly that they even decide to get their own beehives.

Create a Bee Habitat in Your Backyard

A good bee garden provides things that these beneficial insects need. This is their habitat. A place to live that allows them to prosper. Food in the form or nectar and pollen, as well as, clean drinking water are the primary needs.

But some insects will also make use of the plants foliage for shelter or nesting materials. A good bee habitat also provides resources for other insects, birds etc.

In designing your bee garden consider these points:

  • 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

Small Backyard Spaces for Pollinators

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

When you create a bee garden plan, of course you want to fill the space with flowers. Many different types of them. But, you will want to enjoy the garden too!

Leave room for you and your visitors to walk or sit. A lovely bench is a good idea or maybe a small gazebo. Place any sitting spots away from large, pendulous blooming plants.

We enjoy watching the bees and butterflies work. But not everyone wants to get “up close and personal” with stinging insects.

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 but if the dog is not allergic-things are usually fine.

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

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 flowers provides bloom throughout the warm season. Planted close together this “wild area” of the yard should not need much maintenance.

However, this is not for everyone and you may not have extra space that can “go wild”. Do some research before buying and avoid plants that are invasive in your region, even if they do feed pollinators.

Container or Patio Pollinator Gardens

Don’t hesitate to consider the needs of bees for your small garden spaces. Perhaps, a container garden on a small patio fits your lifestyle better. It is very easy to grow plants in pots for bees.

Containers can grow beautiful flowers to brighten your outdoor space. And, you can even grow some types of vegetables right on your patio. This provides food for visiting insects and perhaps some food for you as well.

In addition to patio fruit bushes and trees, squash, cucumbers and many herbs benefit from bee pollination. Marigolds, dwarf sunflowers and zinnias do well in containers.

Plan a Water Feature for Your Bees

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

Suggestions for water in your bee garden:

  • 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 bees.

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

Bees sit on the live plants and sip water from the pond. Any pond of fountain needs a calm place to safely drink. If you have more room, build a small pond and add a few goldfish.

While not practical for a yard with several beehives, these water ideas are really cute and something the kids can help make. They also make cute gifts for bee loving friends.

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

Honey Bee Friendly Plants

Honey bees must gather both nectar and pollen from flowers. Honey is made from plant nectar and stored for Winter food. Bees also collect pollen to be used as a protein source. Bee friendly plants may provide either or both.

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

Annuals grow, bloom and die in one season. But, they provide a lot of nectar and/or pollen at one time.

Some great annual plants for the bee garden are: Cornflower, Cosmos, BorageSunflowers, Zinnia, Salvia, Dahlia, Snapdragons, Sweet Alyssum others.

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 of bee food.

Perennial plants to consider are : Echinacea, Thyme, Aster, Yarrow, Lavender, Sedum, Phlox, Agastache and many large shrubs and trees. Don’t forget to consider native shrubs for your pollinators too!

Do you enjoy growing herbs? This is a popular activity for many gardeners. Many flowering herbs can be grown in small places or even pots. Bees enjoy the blooms and you reap the benefits of fresh herbs for the kitchen.

Choose Plants Suited for Your Location

The wise gardener knows the importance of considering climate when choosing plants. The most beautiful bee 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 a plant fit in an unsuitable location.

If you desire plants that require a lot of moisture, have a plan for irrigation.  This might be an installed system or just within reach of a water faucet.

Not every plant has to used with pollinators in mind – some are for your enjoyment too. However, if you are planning for pollinators, be aware of plants that can be toxic to bees.

Picture of flowers suitable to use in a bee garden.

Bee Friendly Weed Control

What is a weed? For the gardener, that really depends on your point of view. 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 bees have stopped foraging.

Use care when choosing any type of pesticides or weed killers. Homemade herbicides such as, vinegar weed killer, are not as effective as commercial types but they will work. Anytime you can use mulches or cover crops to reduce the use of weed killers, that is a good thing to do.

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

image of pollinator ebook to help grow your bee garden

Attract Honey Bees to Your Garden

If you are planning a new garden just for bees, you are starting with a blank slate. The design and plants chosen will depend on the area you have available and your climate.

But, an existing garden can become more bee friendly as well. The most common practices to attract honey bees to your garden are:

  • check to see if you have plants that bees like
  • something blooming all season is best
  • provide water
  • use fewer chemicals

Not every flower provides nectar or pollen to feed bees. Plants that do not require bee pollination have no need to attract insects.

Also, some flowers have long deep throats that honey bees can not access. These are favorites of long tongued butterflies and humming birds.

Choose some plants that are known to have flowers that attract honey bees if you want to see more of them visiting.

Hummingbird Feeders and Bees

In the spirit of having a bee friendly garden that you also enjoy – you may want to hive a hummingbird feeder. They are a popular feature during the Summer months. But, sometimes the bees and the birds can clash.

Both hunger for sweet nectar and if the bees are having trouble finding food – problems arise. If you experience this problem consider these tips to keep bees away from hummingbird feeders.

It is not always possible to prevent every bee from visiting your feeder but the problem can be reduced. And thankfully, in most locations the problem doesn’t last all Summer. It is a bigger problem when natural nectar is sparse.

Bee Garden Crafts and Activities

Developing and decoration 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 bees.

Learning how to make seed balls with soil and red clay is a fun activity for all ages. This is a great way to spread patches of wildflowers around in a natural setting.

Another method of doing some bee friendly gorilla gardening is by making seed bombs with air dry clay. These make great gardening gifts and are so simple the kids can help.

When creating bee friendly gardening plans, you don’t have to be stuck in one spot. You can spread the plant love around and help diversify bee food sources near and far.

Designing and creating a garden for pollinators is fun. Your local garden center may be a good source of plants. Check to be sure that the plant source does not use chemicals harmful to bees!

Not interested in keeping bees? That’s okay. Everyone can help pollinators by making wise choices in the garden.

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