Bee-Friendly Gardening Tips and Lessons Learned

Close up of a bee on white flowering thyme plant

Get the buzz on bee-friendly gardening with our bee-ginners tips, lessons learned, and reflections on establishing our bee-friendly home garden. We’ve been working on our new home’s landscaping, including our bee-friendly garden and things are certainly buzzing! 

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The Bee-Ginning...

Moving is always difficult, but there are opportunities as well as challenges whenever we start again. The latest garden-in-progress has now been through its first summer-to-summer annual cycle with many guest bees. When we were invited to share the honeybee infographic below, it was a great time to reflect on our first year of dedicated bee-friendly gardening at the new house. The bee-ginning so to speak. Hehehe.

Bee on lavender flower

Developing Our Bee-Friendly Garden

We’ve been having great success drawing bees into the new garden with our plantings thus far. I have high hopes that things will get even better as existing plants mature and we (finally!) get around to planting out the remaining semi-empty beds now that some of the interfering renovation work (like exterior painting and scaffolding) is over and our youngest puppy has matured enough not to trample, taste, or dig up all the smaller bedding plants. His favourite outdoor napping position is completely on top of one of my (now pancaked) convolvulus plants. Must be nice, soft, and cool with all that silky silver foliage! Read more about gardening with pets in our post on pet-friendly gardening.

The most popular plants in our bee-buffet seem to be the lavender (we currently have three species, all mass planted in different areas) and the old-fashioned iceberg roses, but the bees seem to be enjoying just about everything as the plants cycle through the blooming seasons. The monarch butterflies are also enjoying the garden, and seem especially fond of our hydrangeas at the moment. That’s really cool and it’s an unexpected treat to have them visiting our garden.

Pollination seems to be going ok, too. There are lots of seeds developing in our flower beds and tasty things growing around the edible gardens, including our young fruit trees and the berry brambles. Fingers crossed for the seasons to come!

Interested in exploring bee-friendly ideas for your own home garden? Buzz on down for some tips, lessons learned, and a bee-utiful infographic below! You can also explore other bee-related posts using the bee-friendly gardening tag.

As a mini-update since this post was first written and shared, those seasons to come were, unfortunately, short. Although our new garden got off to a great bee-ginning, we’ve moved yet again and are starting fresh with yet another new garden. But we like to think that the bees are still happily buzzing around at the old home (and those before it), and the bees in our new neighbourhood are already making themselves at home here.

Bumblebee on lavender flowers

Food for Bees: Planting Nectar-Rich Food Sources

When selecting flowers for your bee-friendly garden, include nectar and pollen rich plants to attract and nourish the bees. Some plants are inherently more abundant than others, but environmental conditions such as temperature, soil conditions, aspect, etc can also affect nectar levels. Foraging bees visit only one species at a time, so mass plantings or repeating the same plants around your garden helps provide an ample supply. Interestingly, bees are most drawn to yellow, blue, and purple flowers if any of those work in your garden scheme.

Looking for some bee-friendly plant ideas? Check out our post on plants for bees, birds and butterflies for inspiration. Investigate your local bee-friendly options for best planting, including native plants for your area. Also check on your local “pest” species to avoid anything your council may have categorised as invasive or restricted. One gardener’s treasured plant might be another gardener’s invasive nightmare.

Bees on purple hydrangea flowers

Water Sources for Bees

Ensure fresh clean water is reliably available. Bees need water to cool their hives in warm weather and dilute food for their larvae. A shallow pool where they can land on the margins (or rocks / water plants in larger sources) works nicely. 

We definitely didn’t want standing water around our garden to add to the mosquito population, but our fresh water birdbath (and sometimes even the dog’s drinking dishes…) have been visited by guests. The dog’s drinking dishes aren’t ideal though – we wouldn’t want any accidental stings. It’s better that the bees have a few rocks for perching in the birdbath so we can stay both a bee-friendly and pet-friendly garden.

Providing Safe Shelter for Bees

Our current garden is free-range without any dedicate hives or homes, so the bees are transients. At least as far as we know! Perhaps a few solitary bees might be squatting happily and, if so, they’re welcome to stay!  Bees benefit from safe spaces to shelter, and might potentially even make their homes in your bee-friendly habitat. 

Feeling handy? You can try building an insect hotel for solitary bees, customised to your local solitary bee species and available space. Ready-made products are also available if you’re not up to the DIY challenge. Whatever style of hotel you choose, remember to provide good housekeeping for the hotel guests. 

If you’d like to become a backyard beekeeper with your own little hive of honeybees, it’s really important to check your local council rules and other applicable regulations. Here in New Zealand there are very strict rules around responsible bee-keeping for the safety of people, bees, and the wider industry. Some keepers will position guest hives on suitable properties, which might also be a viable in between option if you’re keen! 

Pink manuka flowers

Cautions for Bees and Garden Chemicals

Take care with pest and insect control and other chemical use in your bee-friendly garden. Many insecticides are generic killers, affecting your bad bugs, beneficial insects, and friendly bees and butterflies. Use caution when sourcing new plants to reduce the risk of accidently adding plants that come already carrying systemic pesticides. If you need to spray, consider using a non-systemic (pyrethrum, neem, oils, soaps, etc.) applied either early in the morning or at dusk when the bees are not as active in the garden. 

Bee Aware, Bee Safe

Stay bee-conscious when working in your bee-friendly garden. Shared spaces can sometimes be difficult to manage, but bee safety is important for you, your family, your pets, and (of course) the bees. As mentioned above with the boys and their water bowls!

Bees aren’t usually aggressive, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get stung if you inadvertently make them feel threatened. I accidently did not too long ago with a poor bumblebee caught in a blossom against my leg while pruning roses. Ouch! Fortunately, we both survived relatively unscathed, although my leg took a while to recover. I was wearing long pants, but they were yoga-style leggings and the stinger went right through.

If you’re inclined to be extra cautious, it can help to avoid looking or smelling like a delicious flower. Haha! Admittedly, I usually smell like sunblock when I’m gardening… In addition to avoiding floral perfumes and lotions, you can dress in muted colours and/or avoid the bees’ bright floral favourites. Wearing long sleeves/legs, closed toed shoes, gloves, and/or a hat can help, and keep you sun-smart whilst working in the garden too.

Two bees flying to aster flowers

Honeybees and Our Food System Infographic

The Importance of Bees: Cross PollinationThe Importance of Bees: Foods That Bees Make
Shared with Permission | Source: Fix.com Blog
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Bee-Friendly Gardening Tips and Lessons Learned

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