The bee population is in trouble, and it needs all the help it can get! Bees are crucial to sustaining the ecosystem because they’re the most efficient pollinator species out there. As such. bees also have an important role to play in biodiversity. But since the late 1990s, their population has fallen rapidly. Wondering how you can help? Or what to plant in the garden to help save the bees? A good start is to grow bee-friendly plants. Helping create natural places full of the plant's bees like can no doubt play a role in saving the bees.
In this article are some plants (with different examples) that attract and assist in sustaining bees. Whether you have a small potted garden or a large lawn to work with, planting some of these could significantly help the bee population in your area.
The survival of several bee species hangs in the balance as the bee population faces challenges in maintaining themselves. Climate change, habitat loss, use of insecticides and chemicals indirectly puts a strain on the population of several plant species and not just bees.
The situation is so dire that according to a paper published by NRDC many food crop species would die out without the help of bees to handle pollination. Embracing bee-friendly and sustainable garden practices could be the only way for us to undo the damage that bees have had to bear in the past.
Here are some options for your garden. Simply plant some of these to save the bees.
Heirloom plants, often referred to as ‘heritage plants’, are used for food and are grown for non-commercial purposes. They are direct descendants of old varieties and are usually handed down or gifted. These plants are usually cultivated in isolated groups.
Heirloom plants have been tried and tested as a method to attract bees to gardens – they’re an age-old method of catching any bee’s attention and this method continues to work. Several of our ancestors who had an interest in gardening have planted these varieties in their days, but it might be tricky getting your hands on a rare and genuine selection in the modern day.
You can reach out to organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange (US) and Plants of Distinction (UK) to ask for heirloom plants. A quick online search may also show similar organizations run by local planters and farmers in your area, who can also provide gardening tips. These organizations carry unique heirloom vegetable seeds that would become interesting plant additions to your garden.
One reason why solitary bees love heirloom plants is that they are usually ‘single blossom’ plants that have nectarine linings that bees find easy to navigate through, making pollination a lot easier. Organic varieties such as rainbow carrots, Brandywine pink tomatoes, Big Jim peppers, and Yellow Pear tomatoes will be a safe pick.
Heirloom plants are a known bee favorite and growing the right plants in your garden including some heirlooms could guarantee the attention of bees.
Plants that flower, especially native varieties should be easy for you to get your hands on. Simply ask for those grown in your particular region. Native flowering plants won’t be difficult to grow either at your location, because of their suitability to the local climatic and geographical conditions.
Honey bees love a variety of flower species because they are flat, open, and tubular in structure. The flower shapes, therefore, make it easy for bees to enter but also ensure that pollen brushes on their bodies. They also have bright colors and exotic scents which are particularly appealing to the honey bee.
It won’t be difficult for you to either find flowering plant species or grow them because they can thrive in most living conditions. You can check out the local nursery to see what varieties are available. A website such as Native Plant Finder could be a useful guide in figuring out which flowering plants are native to your region.
Bees indeed love sweet nectar, but they’re suckers for mint too! It does not matter which variety of mint it is: catnip, apple mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, or even peppermint – bees love them all. You don’t want to go overboard with mint, so plant them around your flowering species. If you’re lucky enough to have local honey bees, you’ll also taste the difference.
Another good reason to grow mint plants is that they’re fairly easy to maintain. They’re also a multi-purpose culinary herb which means that you can use them for cooking purposes. This aromatic herb can be used to add flavor to several beverages and pack a punch in dessert recipes. Don’t shy away from growing mint varieties (yes even lemon balm which technically falls in the mint family) because of the benefits that they hold for both you and your bees!
Apart from mint, other herb varieties such as borage, thyme, rosemary deserve a mention of their own. Rosemary is a bee favorite because of the differently colored flower blooms it has to offer in the spring season. There are several different types of rosemary herbs, and all of them attract bees equally well.
Rosemary comes to life the most in spring when it is lush and blooming with flowers. Another reason to grow this herb in your garden is that you can use it in cooking to make mouthwatering flatbread, as well as take advantage of the medicinal properties that this herb has to offer (it is used to treat hair and scalp related problems).
Thyme is another bee favorite that holds numerous benefits for both you and your guest bees. It is a low-growing herb and a companion plant that most gardeners will grow along with cabbage, potatoes, eggplant, and strawberries because it repels insects such as worms and beetles and attracts beneficial insects such as bees. The lavender-tinted delicate flowers are what attract bees to the thyme plant. You can also use this edible plant in the kitchen for adding flavor to soups, sauces, braises, baked goods, and gravy.
Borage is a particularly popular herb that is used to attract bees to gardens, so much so that it is known as ‘bee bush’, ‘bee bread’, and ‘starflower’. This valuable honey plant with its blue-lilac flowers is a bee magnet because of how quickly it can replenish its nectarine linings – it’s a total hotspot for bees!
You can find several uses for borage as well, as it’s an edible medicinal herb. Borage leaves are used to add a crunchy texture to salads and desserts, whereas its medicinal properties are known to treat depression.
Give these herbs a shot if you want to grow a bee-friendly garden.
Certain vegetable species produce different male and female flowers that bees can help pollinate when they come to gather nectar. This is true for vegetables like pumpkins, melons, squashes, and cucumbers which develop long vines as they grow, sprouting flowers as they do so that bees can be drawn to them for pollination. Bees also enjoy flowers produced by vegetables such as onions, cauliflower, and chives. You could maintain a vegetable garden that is also bee-friendly, one in which you can grow regular kitchen-use greens.
Bees enjoy the flowers of almost every fruit tree, because of the steady supply of nectar that they have to offer. Choose fruit trees that produce a lot of flowers, and have variety in fruit trees as well. For the summer, apple and cherry trees make for a big hit with bees because of the large colorful blossoms. In fall, you can grow plum and peach trees that bloom a bit later but are just attractive to your little bee friends.
Finally, our favorite bee-friendly plant pick is…
No list of bee-favorites is complete without the mention of the iconic calendula flower. The flower is noticeable from afar due to its vivid orange and yellow appearance, making it more attractive to bees.
It produces nectar and pollen which interests bees and gives off a good scent. Plus, it’s great for your garden’s aesthetics because the plant itself is quite appealing to look at. Additionally, calendula is a very low-maintenance plant and while it enjoys mild climates the most, it will also go through some harsh winters.
The plant will also grow itself because it is a self-seeding variety – so you don’t have to worry about growing bunches every season. For a long time, homeopathic medicine has used Calendula and it has pharmaceutical properties as well. This edible plant makes calendula tea, calendula shortbread cookies, and calendula cupcake sprinkles. Planting these in your bee-friendly garden can yield benefits for both of you.
Our planet's flower-rich habitats shrink by the day. Meanwhile, other plants and vegetables that we consume daily only flourish due to the hard work bees put in. By growing bee-friendly plants in your garden, you will be able to do your part in preserving the bee population.
To become a real bee champion make sure you have been friendly plants available year-round. Consider growing the flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables mentioned in this list for a bee-friendly garden. You'll also benefit from the various numerous domestic benefits that these plants have to offer.
It isn’t easy being a bee these days, so don’t shy away from helping them out!
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges. She’s also busy researching and exploring technology applications for product development for a changing world.