Are you a garden enthusiast that wants to help bees? Not everyone can have a beehive but almost everyone can grow plants that are beneficial to pollinators. This is a great way to help honey bees. There is one plant that should have a place in anyone’s bee garden. This is borage – an annual herb that has many uses. And, it is very easy to grow borage for bees.
Do Bees Like Borage?
Borage (Borago officinalis) is an herb that is also called Starflower. It is an annual plant that grows, blooms and produces seed all in one season. The original plant does not return next Spring but some of the seedlings might.
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Sometimes, it is grown as a great companion plant for tomatoes and believed to help them perform better. Borage adds trace minerals to the soil and is considered a good product for composting or mulching.
It a popular herb valued for its medicinal properties. With reported uses for asthma, blood pressure, skin care and many other issues it is taken as a supplement in pill form. It is reported to be useful for treatment of various auto-immune disorders.
All parts of the borage plant are edible and it is a popular addition to fresh salads. Leaves and flowers of borage are used as a garnish or dried for storage.
Borage leaves make a lovely herbal tea! In fact, an “old wives tale” purports that slipping a leaf of borage in a man’s drink would give him the courage to propose. (I don’t recommend this love potion but it is interesting.)
Ancient Romans (Pliny the Elder) believed borage had anti-depressant properties. From the seeds of this plant, borage oil is produced. This is used in many skin and hair treatments.
But among all the wonderful qualities of this herb the one I love best is its ability to feed bees. Many pollinators, including honey bees, are attracted to the purple blooms of borage.
Borage is Grown As a Honey Plant
Cultivated as a vegetable in some regions of the world, this plant is responsible for honey production too. Some commercial apiaries grow borage to feed bees in large fields near their hives.
The bees are able to harvest nectar and pollen from the flowers. Later, the farmer can harvest and sell the plant seed. Large amounts of seed are produced thanks to good bee pollination.
Having a long flowering period, borage is well suited for areas that may experience a dry season in mid-Summer. They are capable of producing a lot of nectar. This honey plant may allow some beekeepers to harvest a crop of borage honey.
Perhaps you do not have room for a field of borage plants? That’s okay. Every nectar producing flower counts. Plan to include a few borage in and among your vegetable garden plants or even your flower beds.
This is one of those bee friendly plants that grow in pots well too. Average sized containers can create a nice display.
Growing Borage from Seed
Borage is not a picky plant when it comes to soil conditions. It enjoys loose rich soil but will produce in less than perfect locations too. Adding a little organic material may give the plants an extra boost.
They flower best in full Sun but can tolerate some shade and still produce many blooms. The flowers themselves are quite beautiful in shades in blue to purple.
This plant would not be my first choice for a rain garden planting. They can have a few problems in constantly soggy soil.
Starting Seeds Indoors
Borage seeds are rather easy to grow. But, the plants are not frost tolerant. You can start them inside early if you wish. For planting outside, wait until all danger of frost has passed and sow them directly in the soil. Always, read the instructions on your seed packet.
My favorite technique is to start borage from seed inside about 5-6 weeks before my last frost date. It may not be the most economical method but I like to start seed in those little expanding Jiffy pot peat pellets.
While not absolutely necessary, I used a small heating pad under my seedling trays. I have found that they last for years and really do promote germination. Warning – cats love to sit on them too.
Paper Pots for Growing Seedlings
Once the seedlings have emerged and have 2 -4 true leaves, I move them outside to my small greenhouse. This is nothing fancy and you can certainly keep them inside if you have a sunny location.
In the greenhouse, (which I only keep above 40° F at night) the plants sit on their heating pad. This helps them survive and grow. When I begin to see roots coming out of the bottom of the peat pellet, it’s time to make a decision.
If the weather is still cool outside – you can make your own paper pots for your seedlings. This gives them more room and gives a little time for the weather to warm.
Borage can also be included in a recipe for making seed balls with red clay powder. This is one way to increase a diverse pollinator habitat.
Making Paper Pots for Borage Seedlings
- small glass jar
- 1 bag potting soil
- 1 bottle osmocote plant food
- Take a full page (single sheet) of newspaper and fold it in half lengthwise. Place a straight sided jar (I used a tall jelly jar) on the sheet with about 2” of newspaper extended-beyond the open top of the jar. Roll up the paper on the jar.
- Use your hand to gently punch the extended paper down into the jar. Don’t try to be neat here. Your goal is to get most of the loose paper crunched down inside the jar.
- Carefully remove the newspaper form from the jar. You have a shell much like a paper cup. Use both hands to fold the paper and form a rather tight-fitting bottom for your plant.You must rely just a bit on feel here and you get better with practice. Use both hands inside and outside the paper cups to form a base for your borage seedlings.
- Add potting soil to your paper pots. You want to replant your seedling and have it at the same depth. Add enough soil to the bottom to ensure the planting depth doesn’t change.If there are very few roots sticking through my peat pellets, I remove the netting that covers them. But, you do not have to do this step – I would not stress the roots if they are growing out. Add enough potting soil to hold your seedling in place firmly.
- Now water each one – I do this by hand and let the excess drip out. Then, place your paper potted borage seedlings back in their tray.Like any young plant, water as needed. As long as you do not overwater, these pots will last for weeks. What a great way to save.
Planting in the Garden
When all danger of frost has passed – or you can’t stand to wait any longer, you are ready to plant outside.
Place the seedlings in a non-heated shady location for a couple of days. This will help them harden off and suffer less from the change in environment.
Dig a hole everywhere you want your borage to grow and plant paper pot and all. Water well and wait for the flowers and bees to arrive. It’s that easy.
When these herbs are in bloom, encourage pets to stay away. Dogs notoriously try to eat bees – often the end result is painful.
Grow borage for bees this year, it is a good way to help hungry pollinators – including native bees. Having a variety of plants makes your garden or yard more bee friendly. Also, many of the flowering herbs that attract bees provide fresh ingredients for your kitchen.