How to Plant a Bee Friendly Garden
A generation ago, bee stings were a fact of life. Most kids got a sting or two throughout their childhood, courtesy of those little buzzing bugs. These days though, it seems like bees are a bit harder to come by.
It’s not your imagination – ‘colony collapse disorder’, which is when worker bees abandon their colony, is seeing native bee populations decrease by up to 50% in some areas of the world. The causes of colony collapse are complex, but planting a bee-friendly garden is something we can do to help combat this bee crisis.
A bee-friendly garden is one that has a range of different flowering plants that attract bees and provide a natural source of food throughout the year. The right types of plants can also help protect bees from disease and keep your local bee populations healthy. The best part is that you don’t even need a big backyard because bee-friendly plants come in all shapes and sizes! Here are 7 flowering plants that you can include in your garden!
1. Callistemon (Bottlebrush)
Bees love our native bottlebrush, and these look great in backyards (or front!) with their large and vibrant red, pink, yellow or white flowers. They grow naturally in the desert areas of Australia, so they’re hardy and drought-tolerant. And there’s a colourful Callistemon to suit any garden, from the dwarf variety, that grows to around 75cm, to the full-size tree, that can grow more than 3m tall. The flowers are packed full of pollen, and bees absolutely love a bottlebrush when it’s in bloom!
This native is sometimes confused with Callistemon, and the flowers do look similar at a distance. Grevillea produces long, spidery flowers that, like the bottlebrush, come in a range of colours, like yellow, pink, red, white and a gorgeous pink-purple. They are drought and frost tolerant and come in a range of different sizes. Depending on the breed you choose, it could grow anywhere from 65cm to over 4m tall, so there’s definitely one out there to suit your garden.
Bees love Grevilleas because they produce pollen-filled flowers throughout the year, including the winter months.
3. Melaleuca (Tea Tree)
Most of us have heard of the potential healing properties of honey, and the tea tree is meant to produce the most potent of them all – manuka honey. Bees swarm to melaleuca plants for its dense flowers, which have lots of pollen and provide good nutrition. Scientists have also linked tea tree pollen to improved bee health – it improves their immune system, making them more resistant to the bacterial and viral infections that can lead to colony collapse disorder.
Tea trees grow up to 2m tall, are drought resistant and grow best in hot climates with fast-draining soils.
If smaller plants are more your thing, start your bee-friendly garden off with lavender. Lavender is a low-growing bush, with fragrant purple flowers. Bees love lavender because it is winter-flowering, so it gives them nourishment when food sources are scarce. Lavender can be a bit fussy – it prefers hot summers, dry winters and full sun. It is drought resistant once established, but it doesn’t always tolerate humidity.
If you’re after a hardy version, choose French lavender.
5. Annual flowers
Who doesn’t love a garden full of bright annual flowers? Flowers like daisies, nasturtiums, asters, zinnias, marigolds and cosmos are easy to grow, come in just about every colour of the rainbow, and create a quaint cottage garden feel. They’ll grow in the ground or in pots and don’t get too big. Being an annual, these flowers depend on being pollinated so that they can produce seeds, so they produce large amounts of pollen to attract bees.
Keen gardeners will know the advice: unless you’re growing edible flowers, you should pick off the flowers that grow on your herbs. Sure, you have your reasons for removing them, but there are also plenty of fabulous reasons to let those herbs bloom. Bees love herb flowers, particularly from herbs like oregano, mint, chives, sage, rosemary and thyme, and herb gardens can be grown in even the smallest of courtyards.
Herbs have the potential to flower at any time, although most flower over the hotter months, from spring through to autumn.
7. Fruit-bearing trees
While bees rely on the nectar and pollen of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, the opposite is also true. These plants rely on bees to help pollinate their flowers – without pollination fruit will not develop. Apple, berry and citrus trees are popular with bees because they produce a large number of flowers. Fruit can grow quite tall, however there are a number of dwarf varieties that can grow in pots.