Honeybee on Mammoth Sunflower

Honeybee on Mammoth Sunflower

Another BEE-autiful Day!  (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist!)  No signs of bee depopulation at Dragonwyck. The sun was bright throughout most of the day, and a light breeze blew through the trees.  Once again, bees were all over  Dragonwyck Sanctuary.  The bumblebees seemed to prefer the pond plants, specifically the purple flowers of the pickerel rush plants.  The honeybees far outnumbered the bumbles today.  They congregated around the sunflowers and the corn.  (Both types visited the black-eyed susan flowers from time to time.)

We are pleased to see the vast numbers of bees in our garden this year.  Bees are an essential element of a healthy and productive garden.  In addition to pollinating ornamental flowers, they are important pollinators of fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Last year, we had noticeably fewer bees.  There has been widespread reporting of a decline in feral bee populations as well as commercial honeybee colonies. Science Daily noted that such a decline constituted a global “pollination crisis”.

Honeybees are sensitive to a variety of pathogens, including parasites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, and chemicals.  They also suffer from loss of habitat.  You can positively impact your native bee population, at least on a small scale, by creating an environment that is safe from harmful chemicals and provides for their basic needs.

The first step in creating a bee-friendly environment is to determine what to plant.

1.  Include as many native plants as possible in your garden.  It makes sense that native bees like native plants.  Bees may be up to four times more attracted to native plants than they are to exotics.  You may wish to go to your local nursery or extension service for advice.

2.  Whenever possible, select heirloom varieties instead of hybrids.  Hybrids tend to produce less pollen and nectar than heirlooms.

3.  Plant a variety of plants that flower at different times.  Bees will need pollen and nectar during all of the growing season.  Be sure that at least one type of flower is blooming at all times in the spring, summer, and fall.  Don’t forget to plant flowers for the early spring and late fall.  If you have to, get out your calendar and write down the bloom time for each flower in your garden to make sure you have no gaps.

4.  Plant flowers of different colors.  Bees can easily discriminate color and are particularly fond of yellow, white, blue, and purple flowers.

5.  Plant flowers of different shapes.  There are thousands of different types of bees, varying in size, shape, and preference for flower shape.  The greater variety of plants you have, the greater of variety of bee you can attract.

Two Honeybees on Crimson Sunflower

Two Honeybees on Crimson Sunflower

Once you have selected your plants, you need to determine where to plant them.

6.  Bees like sunny places, so your garden should be located in a sunny area.  (Be sure you have checked the growing conditions required for the plant.  Not all plants like sun!)

7.  If possible, place plants of one type in clusters instead of mixing the different plants together.  If you have the space, plant clusters should be approximately four feet in diameter.

8.  Try to select a garden location that is free from wind.  Bees like to fly from flower to flower without being swept away by a breeze.  If you don’t have such a location, consider constructing something to protect from the wind, like a trellis or fence.

A few years ago we ran into a unique problem with the placement of plants.  We planted two scotch broom shrubs next to the Ponderosa.  In the late spring, these shrubs burst forth with small, lemon-yellow flowers.  The bees loved these shrubs!  Our placement of the shrubs, however, was unfortunate.  Cartwright, the main bullfrog at the time, would spend all of his day sitting underneath those two shrubs and just devour every bee that came by.  We are smarter now.  The majority of flowering plants in or near the pond have very long stems!  Problem solved.

Once your garden is established, the bees have their food source.  They will also need water and shelter.

Honeybee on Black-Eyed Susan Flower

Honeybee on Black-Eyed Susan Flower

9.   Be sure you have a water source in your garden.  It doesn’t have to be large.  At Dragonwyck Sanctuary, we have two ponds, one dog pool, and a birdbath.  Bees do not need this much water, however.  Birdbaths are a great water source for bees, but you can even just keep a pie plate with water in your garden.

10.  Many wild bees do not live in hives.  Instead they burrow into the ground.  So, if you mulch your garden, leave some space uncovered for the bees to live.  You can also leave a pile of dirt or sand nearby for this purpose.

Maintaining your bee-friendly garden.  Go organic!

11.   Avoid using pesticides in your garden.  Pesticides are designed to poison insects.  Bees are insects.  There are other options for pest control.  Try some of them!

12.  Do not use herbicides in your garden.  Herbicides are designed to poison plants.  Bees are very sensitive to poison.  Instead of herbicides, try using mulch to cut down on invasive weeds.  You can hand-weed any weeds that do get through the mulch.

Note:  Sometimes bees really enjoy some of the weeds that grow, such as dandelions.  You may consider keeping them, at least until the flowers are gone.  Just a suggestion!


13.  Be careful with deadheading.  Don’t pull off those flower blooms until they are crunchy and hard.  Bees may still be enjoying the fruits of a withered flower, even if you aren’t.

If you follow these suggestions (or even some of these suggestions) you should find that your garden will be healthier and full of bees! Please let us know if you have any more bee-friendly tricks!

For Further Information

The 10 Best Plants for Bees

Join the hunt for Bees! The Great Sunflower Project.


Mader, E.  (2009, March, 23).  Conserving Pollinators:  A Primer for Gardeners.  Cornell University Cooperative Extension.  Retrieved August 7, 2009, from  http://www.extension.org/pages/Conserving_Pollinators:_A_Primer_for_Gardeners

Urban Bee Gardens: A Practical Guide to Introducing the World’s Most Prolific Pollinators Into Your Garden. University of Berkeley, Retrieved August 7, 2009, from http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/general_nativevexotic.html

USDA/Agricultural Research Service (2009, May 29). Honey Bee Colony Losses In U.S. Almost 30 Percent From All Causes From September 2008 To April 2009. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 7, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2009/05/090522180642.htm