Gardeners have a role to play in helping bees, no matter how small the growing space available. Read on for five tips to make your green patch more pollinator-friendly
1. Blooming bright: choose the right flowers
Choose plants with open or snout shaped flowers, like single dahlias or foxgloves, to make it easiest for bees to extract the nectar or pollen. Bees can see purple better than any other colour, so violet, mauve, or lavender blooms are particularly good choices. If you need help identifying bee-friendly species, keep an eye out for the RHS ‘perfect for pollinators’ tag in garden centres.
2. All year round: plant for the seasons
When turning your garden into a bee paradise, bear in mind how plants flower at different times of year. Choose a variety of different bee-friendly species and plan ahead so that a couple will be in bloom at all times throughout the spring, summer and autumn months. Planting now for early summer? Good choices are: campanula, allium, borage, catmint, globe thistle, poppy, sweet pea or thyme.
3. Step away from the mower
One of the biggest threats to Britain’s bees is the loss of their natural habitat: grassy meadows, replete with wildflowers. Modern gardens and grass verges tend to be mowed short, destroying bees’ food. Letting your lawn grow long will give wild flowers the opportunity to blossom, providing extra sustenance for passing pollinators.
4. Gimme shelter: variety is key
By incorporating different habitats and types of shelter into your garden, you can help as many of Britain’s bee species as possible. Bee hotels – fun and easy to make – provide shelter for cavity-nesting bees such as mason bees and leafcutter bees. These should be in a sunny, ideally south-facing position, at least a metre off the ground.
Some solitary species, such as the mining bee, burrow into the ground. To make this easier for them, pick a south-facing spot with good drainage, ideally on a slight slope, and clear the grass and foliage. Push bamboo canes into the exposed soil for extra nesting opportunities. Other species, including some sorts of bumblebee, prefer the shade. Many will nest in upturned plant pots or among the loose mortar of old stone walls. If you can, create a nearby water source too – all bees need to drink.
5. The best of the pest: avoid pesticides
Insecticides can be deadly to bees. Instead, deter pests in a natural way wherever possible, with companion planting or by providing habitat that will attract beneficial insects naturally. For example, you could plant a ‘wild area’ of long grass and wildflowers to attract ladybirds and hoverflies, which eat aphids, as well as helping the bees.