Monday, September 5, 2016

Bee-Friendly Gardens: Selecting Plants to Attract and Benefit Bees

It's Bee Awareness Month here in New Zealand and the Great Kiwi Bee Count is in progress, so fittingly this month's Monday mini-series is all about the bees. We've been working to create our own bee-friendly garden (check out our Bee-Ginners Lessons Learned), and this month we'll be posting about planting bee-friendly gardens, creating a bee-friendly environment, controlling pests with bee-safety in mind, and tips for safely sharing your space with bees. Here are some bee-friendly planting tips for selecting and positioning plantings to attract and benefit bees:

Plant 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. Check out our idea sheet on plants for bees, birds and butterflies for suggested plants, and investigate your local bee-friendly options for best planting including natives for your area. Don't forget to avoid anything your local council may have categorised as invasive or restricted. 

Include Bee-Friendly Flower Shapes. Collecting nectar is hard work!  Bees favour flowers with easy access, such as open-faced or bowl shaped blooms, especially honeybees who have short tongues.  Don't let that dissuade you from including a few bell-shapes though - some varieties of bumblebees quite enjoy drinking from bells and tubes.  Layered ruffly blooms are pretty to look at, but are much less attractive as food sources for bees of all varieties.

Bring Back The Bees - Better for Bee Flower Comparison
Diagram from Check out their full Bring Back the Bees post and infographic for more bee-friendly gardening ideas!

Include Their Favourite Colours.  Interestingly, bees are most drawn to yellow, blue, purple, and white-ish flowers if any of those work in your garden scheme. Bees share our trichromatic vision, but instead of red, blue, green their range is ultra violet, blue, green.  This doesn't mean that bees don't visit flowers that appear (at least to us) as other shades, working on ultra violet appearance and scent, but it never hurts to serve up a selection of their favourite colourful floral dishes!

Consider Mass Plantings.  Foraging bees visit only one species at a time, so mass plantings, clump plantings, or repeating the same plants around your garden helps provide an ample supply.

Plant for the Seasons.  Keep the bee buffet open as long as your local weather conditions will allow by planting for the seasons.  This will benefit the bees, but is also great for creating seasonal interest in your landscaping and brighten up your dreary winter days if you are lucky enough to enjoy year-round gardening.

Bee-Ware of Potentially Toxic Plants.  Did you know that some plants have toxic nectars or pollen which can be harmful to bees? Potential bee hazards include common flowers such as rhododendrons, azaleas, etc.  These are prolific where we live, including both gardens and naturalised into the general environment, so I am assuming that the bees must have some natural wariness. Any bee gurus out there know the answer? As noted in our post on gardening for bees, birds, and butterflies, also consider your sources for new plants to reduce the risk of inadvertently planting "bee-friendly" plants harbouring harmful systemic pesticides. We'll share more about chemicals in part three of this mini-series later in the month.

Plant for the Pests.  Planting disease and pest-resistant plants as well as using deterrent or sacrificial companion planting can help reduce the need for preventative and corrective controls in your garden which may be harmful to visiting bees. We'll share more about controlling pests in part three of this mini-series later in the month. 

Have a tip to share?  We'd love to hear from you - comments are always welcome here, including related links if you wish to share.  To leave a live link, you can use the following format as a guide: <a href="">text you want shown for your link</a>.  Looking for more bee-friendly garden tips?  We'll have a new post every Monday this month, and you can take a buzz through our archives for more bee-related posts or visit our bee, bird, and butterfly gardening board on Pinterest.


  1. Your bee pictures are AWESOME! Would love some tips on taking some of my own

    1. Thanks! :) We shared a post for Nature Photography Day back in June with some handy Nature Photography Tips. For my bee pics, it's a combo of equipment/technique, opportunity, and patience. To photograph a bee in action, you need to shoot from a close but safe position (good lenses help!) and at a speed which will allow you to free the very mobile bee with a depth of field that keeps key parts of the bee in focus. Personally, I like a bright and still day, where possible, at a bee active time of day in a location where there is plenty of buzz, like a mass planting of their favourite flowers. In my compositions, I'll often shoot so that the bee is the sole subject (like the first pic above) and use depth of field to blue background distractions, but it's also nice to shoot in context sometimes too and include multiple bees or the flowers they are traveling around.

      Hope that helps, and have fun (safely!) experimenting with your bee photography!

    2. Wow thank you for answering and for all the tips! :-)


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