How To Create A Bee-Friendly Landscape

Bees play an essential role in human food: they’re the chief pollinators in every fruit and nut crop, and they are responsible for the propagation of virtually every blossoming plant. As much as bees depend on nectar from these crops to live and reproduce, humans also depend on bees: without them, we wouldn’t survive.

Still, in most urban landscapes the increased reliance on noxious pesticides and herbicides has weakened bee populations on a global scale– a phenomenon that biologists are still working to understand, let alone reverse. Elsewhere in suburbia, native plant communities have largely been replaced by houses, roads, and the relatively flower-­less landscapes we known as “lawns,” which are rarely hospitable to bees. Accordingly, Professional Beekeepers and Pollination Researchers at the University of Maine recommend that gardeners and anyone interested in the outdoors take a few simple steps to create bee-friendly landscapes on their own property, which ultimately helps us all.

Plant Species Native To Your Eco-Region

Planting native wildflowers is one of the most beneficial things we can do as gardeners– not only is it better for the soil, but it makes for a happy, thriving bee population. The same is true of native plants: not only will they be easier to rear, but native vegetables and fruits taste better to humans and bees alike.

Aim For Biodiversity Throughout The Season

Bees needs multiple sources of pollen and nectar-producing plants to survive each season, from early spring to late fall. (We also benefit when we get to eat apples, blueberries, cucumbers, cranberries, pumpkins, squashes and other crops that depend on bees for pollination.) Below, find a schedule of what to plant when. Depending on the weather in your region, the exact week of planting may vary, so use discretion (e.g. if it’s April and you’re still having frosts, maybe hold off on the blueberries). In general, bees benefit from gardens that bloom throughout the season.

Early Season:

  • Trees: maples, apples, shadbush, willows, cherries, plums, native honeysuckles
  • Perennials: blueberries, bugloss, lungwort, pigsqueak, crocus, violas

Mid-Season:

  • Shrubs: spirea, rose, summersweet, rosebay rhododendron
  • Perennials: milkweed, purple coneflower, blazingstar, mint, oregano
  • Annuals: single-­flowered marigold, borage, tickseed, blanketflower

Late-Season:

  • Perennials: aster, bottle gentian, phlox, yellow and purple coneflowers, goldenrod
  • Annuals: cosmos, snapdragon

Give Them Some Shelter

Bees also need shelter, and there are a variety of ways to provide it. Some people like to build nest blocks (which look just like birdhouses with multiple holes the size of a dime) or hang bundles of dried hallow sunflower stems to attract cavity-nesting native bees (these do best under an overhang that will protect them from rain). Chances are, however, that if you have a tree or a shed in your yard the bees will find a way to live there.

Plant Flowers in Large Masses

Bees benefit from large clusters of blossoms– which is why they love flowering trees and fields of daffodils, which save them the time and effort of having to fly up to 3 miles in search of food. It’s best to plant flowers in patches of 3 x 3 feet or larger. Most good bee flowers do well in full sun.

More Water, Fewer Lawns, and Please: Limit The Pesticides

Experts at the University of Maine recommend floating a piece of wood in a birdbath to provide a landing platform for bees. Any open water source will also suffice (like a small pail filled half-way to the top)– just remember to change the water frequently, which will benefit both the bees and the birds. Is also advisable to add more flowering plants to your landscape so that the bees aren’t starved out by the grassy monoculture of your lawn.

It’s also advisable to lighten up on the pesticides– bees love wild weeds (read our manifesto in defense of weeds here) and provide them with many health-restoring energetics. Herbicides and fungicides also weaken bee populations, which is often why those who prefer the heavy-handed use of chemicals often have trouble getting their flowers to bloom (you’re killing off your pollinators!)

You can also go for the gold by adding crops that bees love: consider plants in the Sunflower Family (“daisies” like Sunflowers, Dahlia, Echinops, Sneezeweed, Erigeron) and Mint Family (catmint, basil, lemon balm, beebalm, salvia). Not only will these plants beautify your garden, but the bees will thank you for it.

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