Growing plants that are beneficial to pollinators is a favorite hobby of many gardeners. This is a great way to help bees even if you are not able to have a hive of your own. One wonderful plant to consider is the annual herb Borage. It is very easy to grow borage for bees in your garden.
What is 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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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.
All parts of the borage plant are edible. Leaves and flowers are used as a garnish or dried for storage. Borage leaves make a lovely herbal tea!
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 for Bees
Cultivated as a vegetable in some regions of the world, this plant is responsible for honey production too. Some apiaries grow borage to feed bees in large fields near their hives.
The bees are able to harvest nectar from the flowers and then the farmer can harvest and sell the seed.
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 is why we called them a honey plant.
Some flowers are picky in the initial growing stages. Not every plant is worth the effort to begin with seed. In some cases, you are better off to add started plants to your garden beds. This is especially true when dealing with perennials that are slow to develop.
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.
Growing Conditions for this Honey Plant
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.
Starting Seeds Indoors
These plants are not frost tolerant. For planting outside, wait until all danger of frost has passed and sow them directly in the soil. Always, ready the instructions on your seed packet – they are very useful.
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.
Sometimes seeds do not germinate well – especially if you buy them at Walmart or similar. With the little peat pellets – I don’t feel so bad if the seed doesn’t come up.
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.
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.
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.
Planting Borage 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.
Bees are attracted to many different types of flowers in nature. However, there is benefit in providing more diversity in the bee diet.
Grow borage for bees this year, it is a good way to help hungry pollinators. Having a variety of plants makes your garden or yard more bee friendly.