Bees play an essential role as pollinators in the garden. Without bees many of our vegetables and fruit would never get to harvest stage.
One way to encourage more bees into your garden is to plant lots of flowers to attract bees and other pollinators. For example, mixing flowers among the vegies not only adds colour, it helps to ensure that there are enough bees around to do the job. Of course the bees aren’t interested in helping the flowers; they’re simply chasing the pollen and nectar that the flowers produce. Pollination is incidental. Honey bees, while important, are not the only pollinators. Many other insects play a part in pollination, as do environmental factors such as wind. Native bees, of which there are more than 1500 species in Australia, are also critically important. Tomatoes, for example, are pollinated by what’s termed ‘buzz pollination’. Buzz pollination is almost impossible for honey bees but can be carried out by certain native bees.
Take special care when applying garden sprays such as insecticides. Remember bees and many other pollinators are insects so they will be adversely affected if insecticides are used without due care. They may even be harmed by other substances such as fungicides (*). Click below for Australian experts’ views on pesticide risks to honeybees.
- Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (2013), Overview report – Neonicotinoids and the health of honey bees in Australia
What to plant to attract bees
Here are some easy-to-grow, bee-attracting flowers that can be started from Yates seeds. Favourite, bee-friendly colours seem to be yellow, purple or blue.
- Forget me nots are spring annuals that produce copious quantities of seed, ensuring that the plants re-appear year after year.
- Lavender in all its forms is a wonderful bee attractant and, because of its long flowering period and its range of varieties, it’s possible to have lavender in flower for most of the year. Dwarf Lavender Munstead can be grown from seed.
- Nasturtiums, too, grow readily from seed. Both the bee-attracting flowers and the leaves are edible.
- Catmint, with its grey foliage and soft mauve blooms, makes a delightful edging for vegie beds.
- Yates Phacelia (pictured) is renowned for its appeal to ‘good’ garden insects, including hoverflies and honeybees.
- Salvia, especially the blue flowering variety, attracts bees.
Some of the herbs are also very bee-friendly. They have a natural affinity with vegetables and many are said to deter insect pests in the garden. Try these herbs:
- Basil is an annual that grows right through the warmer weather, producing sprays of white, pink or mauve flowers in late summer and autumn. Allowing a few flowers to develop will attract bees.
- Thyme is a perennial mini shrub that, like basil, flowers in late summer.
- Sage, the culinary form of the ornamental salvias, does a good job as a bee attractant.
- Rocket can be classed either as a herb or a salad vegetable. Allowing some rocket to flower and go to seed will encourage friendly insects to visit the garden.
- Also try borage, chives, garlic chives and coriander.
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Don’t forget, though, that some people have a life-threatening allergic reaction to bees and bee-stings. Perhaps a cute sign about yours being a ‘bee-friendly garden’ will provide visitors with an appropriate warning.
To encourage native pollinators, plant native flowering plants and try to leave some natural parts of your garden. Areas with unmown grass, native shubs, logs, ponds and rocks all help provide suitable nesting and feeding sites for native insects and other small creatures.