Bees in the Garden: Why We Need Them and How to Attract Them
By Ryan Dorn, SouthernSeeds.com
Alright, fellow green thumbs! It's time to talk bees – those tiny buzzing friends of ours who often don't get the credit they deserve. They're essential for our environment, for our food supply, and even for our existence. You might be wondering, "Really? Can we survive without bees?" Well, let's dive into it, and while we're at it, we'll throw in a few tips on how to make your garden a bee haven.
For a comprehensive list of bee-attracting plants to consider for your garden, scroll down to the end of this post where you'll find our 'Top 25 Plants for Attracting Bees.' It's a must-read for every aspiring bee gardener!
Why are bees important?
Let's start with a bit of Bee 101. Picture bees in a field of sunflowers, buzzing from one to another. Here's the thing: it's not just about the sunflowers (though, let's be honest, those tall, sunny faces are quite the sight). Bees play a critical role in the production of much of the food we humans munch on every day. Did you know it's estimated that one out of every three bites of food we take has been influenced by bees or other pollinators? Amazing, right?
Not only do bees help pollinate over 70% of the world's crops, but they also play a key role in pollinating plants that create food for livestock. Yep, if you enjoy a good steak or a glass of milk, you have bees to thank for that as well. It's not just about food, though. Certain species of bees are also critical for pollinating plants used for clothing fibers like cotton, and even for pollinating plants used in biofuels.
Bees: The Unsung Heroes of Humans and the Environment
Bees have a job that goes largely unseen, but their impact on our lives and the environment is immense. We rely on these tiny creatures far more than most of us realize.
Their buzz is more than just the soundtrack to a summer day; it's the sound of survival. As pollinators, bees play a crucial role in our food production. It's been estimated that about one-third of the food we eat is directly or indirectly derived from honey bee pollination. These crops include fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oilseeds such as sunflower and canola, to name just a few. Without bees, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of these crops, leading to a cataclysmic decline in available food and a rise in prices.
Beyond our plates, bees also significantly contribute to our economies. In the US, bees' pollination services are worth billions of dollars annually. They are crucial to agriculture and therefore to the livelihood of farmers.
But bees' importance goes beyond our food supply and economy. They're also essential for the health of our environment. By pollinating plants, they help to maintain biodiversity. These plants provide habitats for a multitude of other species, helping to support a wide range of wildlife.
Without bees, our landscapes would look drastically different. We would see fewer flowers and less fruit. The absence of bees could even affect other animals in the food chain that depend on the plants bees pollinate. Their disappearance could send ripple effects throughout entire ecosystems.
The bottom line is, bees are indispensable to both humans and the environment. It's hard to overstate the importance of their role, and it's one we should not take for granted. So let's dive into why bees are disappearing and what we can do to help.
The Importance of Bees: A World Without Bees?
Bees play an essential role in the ecosystems of our planet. It's not just about the honey; they're incredibly efficient pollinators. Each time they visit a flower for a nectar snack, they're transporting pollen from the male parts of the flower to the female parts. This fertilizes the plant and allows it to produce fruit and seeds. Everything from apples to zucchinis owes a debt to the hard work of bees.
But let's take a moment and consider a world without bees. If bees keep dying and disappear, our menus would look starkly different. Imagine biting into an apple, only to find it’s been replaced by...well, nothing. You can say goodbye to strawberries, almonds, tomatoes, and even the sunflowers that you love seeing every summer. About one-third of the food we consume each day relies on pollination mainly by bees, according to the USDA.
Now, you might be wondering, why have the bees disappeared? Well, bees are under threat. Pesticides, habitat loss, disease, climate change, and more have caused bee numbers to plummet. In the US alone, we've seen a decline of more than 50% in managed honeybee colonies over the last decade. If the trend continues, the consequences could be disastrous for our food supply.
We may not realize it, but we need bees. They're small but mighty, and their work has a significant impact on our lives. So it's up to us to help these fantastic creatures. We can begin right in our backyards, by creating a haven for them. Let's explore how to do that.
Every Step Counts: How You Can Help Save Bees
So now that we know the importance of bees, the threats they're facing, and what our gardens can do to help, it's time to look at how each of us can play our part in protecting these pollinators. Here are a few simple steps that each of us can take:
Plant a Bee-Friendly Garden: A diverse range of flowering plants can provide a steady source of food for bees. From cosmos to milkweed, these plants can make your garden a haven for bees.
Avoid Pesticides: Pesticides can be extremely harmful to bees. Instead of using them, try natural, bee-friendly methods of pest control. Encourage the presence of pest-eating birds and insects, or use plant companions that naturally deter pests.
Provide a Bee Bath: Just like birds, bees need water too. A shallow dish filled with water, with pebbles or twigs for the bees to land on, can make a world of difference.
Support Local Beekeepers: Local beekeepers are often the front line in the fight to save bees. You can support them by buying local honey and other bee products.
Educate Others: Many people don't know the importance of bees and the dangers they face. By educating others about bees, we can help spread awareness and encourage more people to help.
Become a Beekeeper: If you have the space and the inclination, why not become a beekeeper yourself? It's a great way to help local bee populations, and you'll get the bonus of fresh honey too!
Leave Some Weeds: Yes, you read that right. Some common weeds, like dandelions and clover, are actually great food sources for bees. So let a few grow, your buzzing friends will thank you.
Create Habitat for Wild Bees: If you have space, leave a patch of garden to grow wild to provide habitat for wild bees. Some bees also nest in small holes in wood or the ground, so providing nesting sites can be a big help.
Remember, every small action can contribute to a big difference. Together, we can all help to protect and preserve our vital bee populations.
Making Your Garden a Bee Magnet
You might be wondering, with the crucial role bees play in our ecosystems, should you be doing your part in attracting them to your garden? The answer is a resounding yes! Your garden can provide a vital habitat for these hard-working insects. But what exactly is it that attracts bees to your property?
Bee-friendly gardens have a few things in common. Diversity is key - a variety of flowering plants will offer bees a range of nectar and pollen. Aim to have plants that flower at different times throughout the year to provide a constant food source.
Bees are especially attracted to certain plants. They can't resist the colorful allure of Cosmos or the sweet scent of Lavender. Plant some Nasturtiums and you'll have a buzzing garden in no time. Bees also have a soft spot for native plants like Milkweed and Vervain.
Consider the color of your flowers too. Bees have good color vision to help them find flowers and the nectar and pollen they offer. They especially love blue, purple, violet, white and yellow plants.
Plant flowers in clusters. Bees like to focus on one type of flower before moving on to the next. This makes their work a little easier and helps them conserve valuable energy.
Avoid pesticides. These can be harmful or lethal to bees. Instead, opt for organic, natural methods of pest control.
Creating a bee-friendly garden not only helps these valuable creatures, but it's also a great way to enjoy a vibrant and healthy garden. So roll up your sleeves, get planting, and let's give our bee buddies a boost.
Planting a Pollinator Paradise: Top Flowers Bees Love
By now, you're probably buzzing with excitement about how important bees are to our world and the things that they find most attractive in our gardens. But it's one thing to know that bees love flowers—it's another thing to know exactly which flowers will make them go wild.
So, let's roll out the green carpet and take a look at some flowers that bees just can't resist:
Asters (Aster spp.): These late bloomers offer food for bees when other nectar sources are scarce. They're an easy-to-grow perennial and are available in many species and cultivars.
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.): True to its name, bee balm is a bee magnet. This perennial produces a profusion of bright, tubular flowers that are full of nectar.
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): These cheerful, yellow flowers are easy to grow and produce a lot of pollen, which bees love.
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia spp.): This hardy perennial, with its bold, fiery colors, is a favorite among bees.
Borage (Borago officinalis): Borage is excellent for attracting bees to your garden. Its beautiful blue flowers are rich in nectar.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Bees adore the bright, open blooms of calendula. An added benefit? These flowers are also perfect for cut flower arrangements.
Catmint (Nepeta spp.): With its fragrant leaves and beautiful purple flowers, catmint is a bee favorite.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): Chives are not just a useful herb; their pretty purple flowers are very attractive to bees.
Cleome (Cleome hassleriana): Its nectar-rich blooms serve as a valuable food source, making it a beneficial addition to gardens that aim to support pollinators like bees.
Coneflower (Echinacea spp.): These perennials are not only loved by bees, but also by butterflies and birds.
Cosmos (Cosmos spp.): Tall and feathery, cosmos can add height and drama to your garden, while also attracting bees with their vibrant colors.
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum): This ground cover produces tiny but nectar-rich flowers that are irresistible to bees. On top of being an amazing groundcover plant and bee favorite, this is Southern Seeds' top selling seed. It is truly spectacular!
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): A late season bloomer, goldenrod provides a critical source of nectar as the season winds down.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis): With its aromatic leaves and vibrant purple flowers, hyssop is a must-have for any bee-friendly garden.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.): This fragrant herb not only draws in bees, but its essential oils are known to calm and relax—beneficial for both bees and humans!
Marigold (Tagetes spp.): Easy to grow, marigolds come in a wide range of colors that can entice bees. In addition, they are amazing companion plants for most vegetables providing an outstanding natural pest control. If you haven't checked it out, we covered companion plants in a recent blog.
Milkweed (Asclepias spp.): Bees love milkweed, but so do monarch butterflies. Planting milkweed can support both of these vital pollinators.
Mint (Mentha spp.): Not only is this perennial herb useful in the kitchen, but its small, clustered flowers are full of nectar and irresistible to bees. Just remember, mint can be invasive if left unchecked, so consider planting it in a pot.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum spp.): These vibrant, trumpet-shaped flowers are a big hit with bees. They're also edible and can add a spicy flavor to salads.
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus): The tall, colorful spikes of snapdragon flowers attract bees with their vibrant colors and plentiful nectar.
Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.): Sunflowers aren't just pretty to look at. Their large, flat blooms offer plenty of nectar and pollen for bees.
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima): This plant, with its tiny, fragrant flowers, provides plentiful nectar for bees throughout the growing season.
Vervain (Verbena spp.): With their clusters of tiny, tubular flowers, vervain plants are a bee's dream come true.
Yarrow (Achillea spp.): This perennial's flat-topped flower clusters make it easy for bees to land and forage for nectar and pollen.
Zinnias (Zinnia spp.): Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds all love zinnias. These flowers are easy to grow from seed and come in a rainbow of colors.
If you can incorporate even a few of these plant varieties into your garden, you'll be doing your part to support local bees. And, as we've discovered, that's something that's beneficial for us all. Now, go forth and create your own pollinator paradise!
Wrapping Things Up
There we have it – an in-depth exploration of the vital world of bees, an understanding of their immense role in our environment and our lives, the looming threats they face, and our power to make a difference. Remember, each one of us has the capacity to influence the survival of these incredible creatures. Through conscious choices and simple measures, like nurturing a diverse garden buzzing with bee-attracting plants, we can collectively aid in the conservation of bees and, in turn, our environment. Your garden, balcony, or even window box can become a sanctuary for these unsung heroes. Happy planting, and remember, the next time you see a bee buzzing in your garden, take a moment to appreciate its tireless work that benefits us all.