How to create a bee-friendly garden
Find out how to create a garden that will attract bees and help them to flourish
With their bright flowers, open spaces and stress-relieving environments, gardens are naturally among our favourite places. However, plenty of other species will enjoy your garden too, and bees are number one on that list.
Bees are vital to our ecosystem. Like butterflies, they pollinate the food we eat and the plants that provide habitats for many wildlife species. Yet their numbers have been steadily declining for years - a review of insect numbers in 2019 showed that 40% of bee species are experiencing ‘dramatic rates of decline’, and unfortunately, this number has only risen since.
However, your garden is the perfect ecosystem to help replenish the species, no matter its size. With a range of nectar and pollen-producing plants, your garden will soon be buzzing – and so will you!
And for more tips on turning your outdoor space into a haven for wildlife, check out our tips for creating a butterfly-friendly garden and for attracting birds to your garden with a bird bath.
How to create a bee-friendly garden
Pick bee-friendly flowers
The main thing in a bee-friendly garden is the plants you grow. Since bees are pollinators, they need plenty of nectar and pollen to eat, and some plants are better producers of this than others.
On top of this, bees can also see certain colours better than others. For example, they are susceptible to green, blues, purples, and ultra-violet light (which flowers reflect in large quantities), but they can’t see reds well. So, you should consider the colour of your flowers carefully when planting.
Some of our favourite bee-friendly plants are:
Best bee-friendly flowers
Plant for every season
Although you’re most likely to spot bees in the spring and summer, they will need some nectar and pollen supplies throughout the rest of the year. Bees do not hibernate over winter, so they will need supplies of nectar and pollen all year round. To provide plenty of variety all year round, add flowers with assorted blooming times. Choosing a mix of early and late-season plants will ensure your garden is full of buzzing bees and vibrant colours from early spring until long after the end of summer.
More like this
Create a safe home for bees
Several species of bees don’t live in hives, and there are also plenty of solitary bee species that travel alone. By adding a safe place for bees to shelter, you may see them in your garden more often than you expected! Bee hotels are the easiest way to attract solitary bees and increase species diversity in your garden. Bees will lay their eggs in a bee hotel, which will hatch and emerge straight into your garden. However, remember that bee hotels will need full sun.
Leave the weeds
Although weeds may be a minor nuisance to you, they are incredibly beneficial to wildlife species. Dandelions, clovers, honeysuckle, knapweed, and chickweed are just some examples of weeds that will bring bees back to your garden repeatedly. In addition, these nectar-rich plants will provide plenty of food for bees without you even trying! So don’t be afraid to let your garden grow a little wild and let nature take its natural course.
As with all animals, bees require water. Not only do they need water to drink, but they will also use it to thin crystallised honey and regulate the temperature of their hives. So, try and provide a water source in your garden. A shallow tray should be more than enough, though try to add some rocks or stones around the edge to give bees a place to land. Bees require water all year round, so try to provide for them regularly.
Finally, as with any wildlife space, you must avoid the use of chemicals and pesticides in a bee-friendly garden. Pesticides are extremely toxic to bees and will kill most of them off – they are one of the main causes for the drastic decline in bee numbers in recent years. Instead, choose more natural gardening methods, such as natural fertilisers for stronger plants and companion planting strategies to deter any pests without causing any harm.
Small bee-friendly garden ideas
Fortunately, having a small garden doesn’t limit your ability to attract bees. The main thing that will attract bees to your garden is flowers, and you’ll always have room for them! Even if it’s something as small as a windowsill planter or a few pots on your balcony, you have space for a bee-friendly area wherever you have room outdoors.
- Small garden pond ideas to create a haven for wildlife
- Eco garden ideas: 5 tips for an environmentally friendly space
- Rose garden ideas: how to plant and tend these romantic flowers
- Best scented plants for a beautiful, fragrant garden
- 6 best trees for small gardens
- Balcony planter ideas for a thriving urban garden
Remember, bees have limited sight, so plant clusters of brightly coloured plants – including plenty of purples! - that they can easily see and smell. If your space is limited, go for strong-smelling flowers that will bloom primarily in spring and summer. However, if you’re working with a large balcony or a small section of the garden, incorporate a range of flowers that will bloom all year. To complete a small bee-friendly garden, try and add a water source. Even a small, shallow tray will do the trick – just make sure the bees have somewhere to perch, and you refill it regularly. Check out our piece on garden pond ideas for small spaces
Medium bee-friendly garden ideas
If you have a bit more space to work with, consider planting more ambitiously with a range of trees, vegetables and herbs, and flowers. Plenty of plants provide nectar and pollen besides flowers, and they can be just as beneficial to you too. Growing your own cooking produce is the healthiest option for your body since you know exactly where they’ve been and how they have been treated.
Some of the best plants, besides flowers, to add to your garden include:
Best bee-friendly trees
- Apple trees
- Cherry trees
- Willow trees
- Hawthorn trees
- Juneberry trees
Best bee-friendly vegetables and herbs
As well as planting to help bees, a medium-sized garden should allow you to give them a safe place to shelter. Add a bee hotel to your space to keep your new friends around.
Large bee-friendly garden ideas
For a large bee-friendly garden, one of the best options is to add a wildflower meadow. As well as plenty of flowers in your garden beds and various trees, vegetables and herbs, a wildflower meadow is a rich environment for bees and plenty of other wildlife species. A wildflower meadow provides not only nectar but also shelter, rest areas and a safe place for their young.
Growing wildflowers is relatively easy, though they will thrive in poorer soil conditions. If you’d like to give your wildflower meadow the best chance of flourishing in healthy soil, starve it of nutrients before planting. Choose some native wildflowers that will attract bees – this wildflower selector by Plantlife can help you make the right choice for your garden – and, ideally, sow them in autumn.
Add a path through your meadow or around the side to make your wildflower meadow feel more like a part of your garden. This will integrate your wildflower meadow into the rest of your garden and show that it is a feature that you are proud of.
This article was created by Sean Barker who is the marketing director at First Tunnels, one of the UK’s leading suppliers in polytunnels. They have a large range of polytunnels from domestic to commercial, which are perfect for everyone’s gardening needs.
Sean Barker is the marketing director at First Tunnels, who are one of the UK’s leading suppliers in polytunnels