April is National Garden Month. Gardening is a beloved American pastime that offers many tangible benefits: healthy food to eat, beautiful environments to enjoy, recreational areas in which to play and relax, and habitats for wildlife to forage and shelter. When planning your garden for this year, you can incorporate some simple planting strategies to help honey bees while ensuring that your yard and container plants look welcoming and beautiful. Consider planting early and late-season flowering plants to help honeybees when they first come out of their hives in early spring and throughout the fall months when sources of nectar are scarcer. If you plant sequentially there will always be something in bloom.
Amazingly, honey bees can visit up to 1,000 flowers a day. Since the bees will only forage on one species of flower at a time, planting clumps of the same plants will help them optimize their nectar-gathering trips and save precious energy. Furthermore, planting in large clumps or ‘drifts’ will help make the fertilization of your flowers more efficient. And consider planting flowering bushes and trees as both offer considerable forage for bees without much effort.
With respect to flowers, you should look for flowers that are open and have generous landing ‘pads’ for bees. Many of the very show garden plants are not friendly to honey bees as it is hard for them to gain access to their pollen and nectar. The simpler, more old-fashioned flowers like daisies are actually much better for honey bees. Certain spring bulbs like grape hyacinths and crocuses are also better food sources for bees than daffodils. Additionally, honeybees adore many types of herbs such as sage, oregano, borage, chives, lavender, thyme, mint, parsley, dill and rosemary. It is important to let some of your herbs go to flower or ‘bolt’ so that they bees can benefit from their nectar stores.
To help not only honey bees, but also the environment invest in organic gardening techniques. There are many wildlife-friendly options for managing pests. Furthermore, source your seeds, bulbs, plants, and potting soil from organic nurseries to ensure that they have never been treated with insecticides. By enriching your garden with native plants, you are selecting flowers, shrubs and trees that are naturally suited to the environment in which you live. Native plants require less water and aren’t dependent on pesticides in order to thrive. They make infinitely better habitats for pollinators and other wildlife.
Plant native and make a bee happy!