Bees are essential to the health of our planet, to natural ecosystems, and to our food supply. Without bees, almost none of our edible crops would be pollinated – no fruits, no vegetables, no nuts. Many favourite garden flowers would go unpollinated too – no seeds for future plants. And no honey for our toast.
Bees – like much wildlife – are finding their environment heavily reduced by development and industry. Bushfires and drought have taken their toll, as they have in so many other areas of nature. There’s fewer wild places to find food sources, and fewer places to hide out and rest.
When they do find green spaces, pesticides and herbicides wipe out their colonies, the ones that aren't already reduced through verroa mite and colony collapse. Which is why, for the past decade, bees have been dying off at an unprecedented rate.
Maryland became the first state in the USA to ban the use of neonicotinoids, sometimes called ‘bee-killing pesticides’ in 2016. The European Union has had a ban in place since 2013, after an almost twenty-percent fall in bee populations there.So help a hungry bee out, and give her something delicious to eat.
Best Bee-Friendly Plants
Chances are you already have a number of nectar-rich, bee-friendly plants in your back yard. But why not expand this habitat by planting more of what a bee likes? Almost everything that bees love to feed on, we humans love to look at.
Bee plants make pretty garden plants.
Simple flat open flowers are the easiest for them to feed on, where the nectar is laid out on a plate rather than hidden deep in the folds of many petals - look for "single", not "double" in the description of the flower.
Blue, purple, and yellow are their favourite colours, so lavender is a favourite; and petals with stripes and rings on can help the bees find their way to the central nectar source more easily. It's like a landing pad!
If you only have limited space, a small collection of herbs in pots will help feed you, your spirit, and our busy little bee friends . It's enough nectar for a quick snack, to keep them going until they can find a filling lunch elsewhere.
The aromatic fragrance of herbs is wonderful on a warm day, and the often evergreen silvery leaves are attractive in the garden, and a tasty addition to many dishes. Flowering herbs often have very pretty flowers as well as those aromatic leaves - try oregano, thyme, mint, lavender, and rosemary, which will all appeal to a purple-loving bee. Or for something more unusual, agastache and bergamot - commonly called beebalm, a big clue! - will provide enjoyment for bee and human alike.
If you have more room than a balcony or windowsill, you can attract and nourish bees by choosing varieties of nectar-producing plants that bloom for a long time, and an assortment of plants that bloom at different times of the year, to provide the maximum amount of nectar.
Some Favourite Bee-Friendly Plants
Many native plants are great bee-attractors. Bottlebrush (Callistemon) and Grevillea are favourites with bees, butterflies and beneficial insects, and many birds and small mammals love them too.
Their colourful blossoms are rich in sweet nectar, a valuable food source – especially the smaller-flowered ones. You can choose compact plants for pots, rambling ground covers, bold hedges, and elegant trees – there is something to suit every back yard.
Bees love the mauve-purple petals of Swan River daisy (Brachyscome), an ideal bee-attractor, with simple daisy blooms smothering ferny foliage. It’s the sort of easygoing plant that can easily tuck into the smallest window box or patio tub.Coast rosemaries (Westringia) have heaps of lilac flowers that bees prefer, and flower for long periods of time. They also stand up to most tough conditions, including wind, dry spells, poor soil; and need little maintenance other than an occasional clip to keep the shape and encourage more of those flowers.
Tea trees (Leptospermum) are a favourite of native bees and make an excellent honey. We have several kinds to choose from: lemon-scented with delicate fine foliage, which you can use to make a bush tea; cascading shrubs with masses of pale pink flowers; striking burgundy foliage and vivid magenta flowers; and impressive weeping hedges covered in starry white blossom.
Non-native plants also provide valuable food supplies for hungry bees. You can make a pretty screening hedge with Abelia – dainty, dense, glossy leaves which emerge bronze, and clusters of white-lilac blossoms.
The seaside daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) can find a home in almost any garden. Once it is happy, it will self-seed in cracks and gaps in paths, giving you free flowers! The blooms, white with golden eyes, look lovely trailing from hanging baskets and windowboxes.
Be Kind To Bees
- Bees need water to survive, so provide a fresh water source - even an old pot plant saucer (with rocks in the bottom to give them somewhere to land) will do.
- Bees need somewhere to overwinter and shelter from wind and bad weather. A loose heap of old bricks, branches and bamboo canes will do - but why not add something more stylish to your garden in the shape of a bee house or insect hotel?
- Limit the use of pesticides and herbicides in your garden as these can be toxic to bees - our eco-friendly range of garden sundries is ideal.
- If you garden organically, without chemicals or pesticides, your local beekeeping group would be happy to hear from you; they may appreciate the use of your acreage as a feeding ground.