Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bee-Friendly Gardening: "BeeGinners" Garden Tips and Lessons Learned

Shared with Permission | Read the Full Article at Fix.Com
We've been busy working on our bee friendly garden over the past year, and things are certainly buzzing! The new garden has now been through its first summer-to-summer annual cycle and, when we were invited to share this honeybee infographic with our readers, we thought that it would be a great time to reflect on our first year of dedicated bee-friendly gardening (the bee-ginning so to speak...hehe...).

Food: Planting nectar-rich food sources. Nectar (the raw ingredient of honey) is a sugary solution produced by flowers to lure pollinators. 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.

Tips: Check out our idea sheet on plants for bees, birds and butterflies for inspiration, and investigate your local bee-friendly options for best planting including natives for your area, and check your local "pest" species to avoid anything your council may have categorised as invasive or restricted.  Make a few notes in your free garden journal on new plants to try in your garden.

We have been having great success drawing bees into the new garden with our plantings thus far, and 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.

Water: 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.

Shelter: Build 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.  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.

Chemicals: Minimise and use with care. Many insecticides are generic killers, affecting your bad bugs, beneficial insects, and friendly bees and butterflies.  Keeping plants healthy can help make them less-vulnerable to attack, but not necessarily. Avoid neonicotinoids (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. As noted in our post on gardening for bees, birds, and butterflies, also consider your sources for new plants to reduce the risk of systemic pesticides.  

I have to confess that the hardest part thus far (well...perhaps other than the time I got stung!) has been giving up on pesticides. Companion planting has helped, but conditions over the last year have been perfect for insects, and that has meant many pests attacking our plants.  I have been working with a combination of diatomaceous earth (affects insects by cutting and dehydrating, and can potentially harm bees, so used in spot application avoiding flowers), neem (affects all insects if sprayed direct, systemic effect only on chewing insects eating plants), and when I must for a really problematic pest issue, spot application of an insecticidal soap (inactive times, targeted pests, no flowers). 

Safety: Bee aware, bee safe. Bees aren't usually aggressive, but that doesn't mean you can't get stung if you inadvertently make them feel threatened, like I accidentally did to one poor bumblebee who was caught in a blossom against my leg while I was stretching to prune spent roses - ouch! Fortunately, we both survived relatively unscathed.  Stay bee-conscious when working in your bee-friendly garden (see tips here).  If you are particularly concerned, it can help to avoid looking or smelling like a delicious flower by limiting perfumes or scented products before heading into the garden and dressing 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.

Do you have any bee-friendly tips or lessons to share?  We'd love to hear from you!


  1. Which neem are you using? Granules in the soil or oil spray? Is it working for you? I dont seem to notice any difference when I do or dont use it but its always hard to tell!

    1. Hi Sue! Thanks for commenting. We've used both granules and the oil, and I completely understand where you're coming from about knowing whether or not it is having any benefit. I think so, but then again it is hard to tell, especially with how mobile and prolific some of our pests are here. I much prefer to use the soil granules (easy to work with and good for the soil) as part of our routine preventative garden care and only mix up the messy stinky oil on rare occasion if I am really targeting something specific.


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