The last few years there has been an increased awareness and desire to attract bees to gardens around the UK and much of Europe. For various reasons (diseases, varroa mite, bad weather and pesticides), bees have had a tough time over the past years with numbers dwindling significantly. It is therefore encouraging to have great institutions such as for example the RHS actively promoting bees in gardens. You will also find many articles raising awareness and drawing attention to the plight of the dwindling bee population. Here are some tips on how you can attract bees to your garden.
Bees are essential to gardens and flowers because when they move from flower to flower to collect nectar and pollen, they are important pollinators. Insect pollination is essential for many plants to set fruits and seeds. Bees are of course also part of the indigenous wildlife and therefore important to cherish and protect.
There are three main species of bees:
Honeybee - this is a social bee living in large (commercial) colonies and produces honey
Bumblebee - this is also a social bee living in nests (bumblebee nests much smaller than honey bee colonies).
Solitary bee - as the name suggests, these bees do not live in large hierarchical colonies
How to encourage and attract bees to your garden
Gardeners can do a lot to create the ideal environment for bees. First of all, choose the right plants and bulbs and ensure that you have flowers throughout the active period for bees. Also, plant in sunny locations as much as possible as this will lead to more flowers, and bees like the sun.
Bees tend to be active from late winter to autumn. In late spring and summer, bees are usually spoilt for choice, but it’s in late winter and early spring that food for bees is scarce and that (early) spring flowering bulbs can be of great value.
Furthermore, make sure that there are plenty of clump forming plants with lots of (diverse) flowers. This ensures lots of pollen and nectar in one location. One or two flowering plants here and there are much less attractive to bees. Bees also like lots of colour, in particular purple, blue, yellow and white are most attractive.
As mentioned earlier, pesticides are a major hazard to bees and therefore keep its use to a minimum. If you must use them, try non-toxic alternatives if they are available, and spray plants in the evening rather than whilst the sun is out, avoiding direct exposure to the flowers.
Spring bulbs that are good for attracting bees
Apart from planting well-known bee-friendly shrubs and perennials such as for example Agastache, Buddleja, Delphinium, Geranium, Lavendula, Nepeta, Salvia and Verbena, there are many flower bulbs that are ideal for bees.
The flowers of certain bulbs, such as for example large flowering dutch crocus or some tulips, open during the day and close at night, and bees sometimes even stay overnight inside the closed flower!
Below we have listed a number of bee-friendly spring bulb varieties:
- Snowdrops (Galanthus Nivalis)
- Crocus (mixed crocus tend to come in white, yellow, blue and purple, so it won’t get much better than that!)
- Tulip (single-flowering)
Late spring/early summer:
Most double flowering bulbs (such as double tulips) are less attractive as bees find it more difficult to reach the pollen or nectar. Daffodils are usually also not the first port of call for our hairy colourful little friends.
Should I be afraid of getting stung?
The most famous bee is undoubtedly children’s’ favourite “Maya the Bee”. This iconic black and yellow fluffy bee has done a lot to dispel many peoples’ fears of this insect that has a nasty ability to sting.
The reality is, that if left alone and treated with respect, honey bees as well as bumble bees, rarely sting. They normally just go about their business and are usually way too busy gathering pollen to make honey than to worry about you. It is however advised to not disturb social bees’ nests or stand too close to bee hives, unless you are wearing a beekeeper’s suit. Solitary bees in particular are not at all aggressive, and would only use their sting in self-defense.
We invite you to browse our online bulb catalogue at www.bulbsandbeyond.com and hope you will find those bee-friendly bulbs that fit your garden. If you have any questions about whether your favourite bulbs are good for bees, or anything else we can assist with, then please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.