Bee-Friendly Gardening Tips and Lessons Learned

Close up of a bee on white flowering thyme plant
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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 bee-friendly garden and things are certainly buzzing! 

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Moving is always difficult, but there are opportunities as well as challenges. 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 with our readers, we thought that it would be a great time to reflect on our first year of dedicated bee-friendly gardening at the new (now old – we’ve since moved again!)  house. The bee-ginning so to speak. Hehehe.

Bee on lavender flower

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.

Check out our idea sheet on plants for bees, birds and butterflies for inspiration. Investigate your local bee-friendly options for best planting including natives for your area. Check your local “pest” species to avoid anything your council may have categorised as invasive or restricted. 

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 any 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 working well.

Providing Safe Shelter for Bees

Bees benefit from safe spaces to shelter and potentially even make their homes. Turn your garden into a bee-friendly habitat.

Feeling handy? You can try building an insect hotel for solitary bees. We haven’t (yet) built any thing like this, but will share the details if we do! There are plenty of great DIYs online if you’re keen – customise to your local solitary bee species and available space. Ready-made products are also available. Remember to provide good housekeeping for the hotel guests.

If you feel like taking it a step further and becoming a backyard beekeeper with your own little hive of honeybees, check your local council regulations. Here in New Zealand there are strict rules around responsible bee-keeping for the safety of people, bees, and the wider industry.

Bees and Garden Chemicals

Take care with pest and insect control and other chemical use in your bee-friendly garden. Minimise if possible and use with care if necessary.
Many insecticides are generic killers, affecting your bad bugs, beneficial insects, and friendly bees and butterflies. Avoid neonicotinoids, if not already banned in your area. They’re subject to ongoing debate, but linked to colony collapse.
If you must spray, consider using a non-systemic (pyrethrum, neem, oils, soaps, etc) to directions early morning or dusk when the bees are not active in the garden. Take care with all other chemicals in your garden, too. Also consider your sources for new plants to reduce the risk of systemic pesticides.  

Bee Aware, Bee Safe

Stay bee-conscious when working in your bee-friendly garden. Shared spaces can sometimes be difficult to manage, but bee gardening safety is important for you, your family, your pets, and (of course) the bees.

Bees aren’t usually aggressive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get stung if you inadvertently make them feel threatened. I accidentally did with a poor bumblebee who got caught in a blossom against my leg while I was pruning spent roses – ouch! Fortunately, we both survived relatively unscathed.

If you are particularly concerned, it can help to avoid looking or smelling like a delicious flower. Limit perfumes before heading into the garden. Dress in muted colours as bees favour flowers in bright colours like blue, purple, and yellow, as noted above. Long sleeves/legs, closed toed shoes, gloves, and/or a hat can help, and keep you sun-smart whilst working in the garden too.

Honeybees and Our Food System Infographic

Shared with Permission | Read the full article at Blog

Developing Our Bee-Friendly Garden

We have 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. You will be entertained to know that his favourite outdoor napping position is completely on top of one of my (now pancaked) convolvulous plants. Must be nice, soft, and cool with all that silky silver foliage! Read more about safer gardening with pets and check out our idea sheet for 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 enjoying the garden as well, and seem especially fond of the hydrangeas. Pollination seems to be going well too, based upon the seeds developing in our flower beds and the tasty things growing on our young fruit trees and in the vegetable gardens and berry patch.

Bee-Friendly Gardening Tips and Lessons Learned

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