10 TIPS FOR A BEE FRIENDLY GARDEN

Posted February 19, 2022
by Hilary

Ever wonder what a beekeeper plants for her bees? Here’s snapshot the flowers in my bee friendly garden this year. Plus, I’ll share a bunch of tips that you can use in your own gardens.

1. Learn About Early & Late Blooming Flowers

When planting for bees, pay attention to bloom time. Ideally you should stagger bloom times so that you provide bee food all year! In wintery climates, early spring blooms are especially important for native bees coming out of hibernation. In dry climates, bees are often most desperate for food in late summer when flowers are scarce.

Check out Xerces Society’s pollinator plant lists and regional guides for planting recommendations. One of the best things about their guides is that they list the bloom times!

2. Plant Trees!

Did you know the best way to help bees is to plant flowering trees? Trees are the biggest food source for bees. A mature flowering tree provides millions of flowers and it does so without taking up too much space. (You’d have to have an acre of pollinator plants to match what a large tree can offer!)

Plus, trees are a lasting resource. Even if you move away they will go on providing for the bees.

Plant trees for bees in your bee friendly garden.
3. Plant Bee Friendly Shrubs 

If you don’t have the space for a new tree, consider planting flowering shrubs. This will provide large amounts of flowers all in one place that are convenient to forage from. In mild climates, you may even find something that blooms all year like the moonlight grevillea in my garden (see first photo).

I also planted 3 Mexican Elderberries next to each other to create a flowering privacy screen between my yard and the neighbor. It’s less maintenance than a hedge (no need to constantly trim), and the birds and pollinators love it. If possible, select a species native to your area. You will support more wildlife that way.

 blooming broccoli

4. Let your veggies bloom!

If you have an edible garden, another great way to squeeze in more blooms is to allow a few veggies to bloom. I always let my brassicas go to flower after my initial harvests. I also like to leave my bees a few artichoke blooms. They love it.  If your veggies starts to bolt, let them!

5. Embrace Weeds

Dandelions are common in my garden area, and I love to see them grow and often leave them on the borders of my beds. The bees are always on them. Find out what common weeds in your area are great for pollinators and consider leaving a few patches for the bees!

6. Install Irrigation

Irrigation has been a such a time saver in my garden. A local company, Good Neighbor Gardens, installed a drip irrigation system in my garden beds. My flowers and veggies have thrived, and it has saved me tons of time hand watering.

Before irrigation, I also used terra cotta irrigation pots call ollas.

7. Get inspired by books! 

For pollinator gardening, there are so many great books out there.

I recommend Planting for Honeybees: The Grower’s Guide to Creating a Buzz by Sarah Whyndham-Lewis and The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity by Kate Fey.

If you want to see more book reommendations, check out my For Bee Gardeners idea list on my Amazon storefront.

A Bee Collects Pollen from a Poppy.

8. Beware Short Blooms

Some flowers have limited bloom times and although they may look popular with the bees, they don’t last long. Bread poppies are one of these examples. In the mornings when the flowers first open, the bees go wild collecting their pollen, but by afternoon the pollen is gone and the flowers do not generate more. Check out this reel I made to see the frenzy of bees making their pollen pants in poppies in my garden. I still love planting poppies, but if you have limited space, you may want to select a plant that has more to offer. Cosmos are a great long-blooming summer flower. 

9. Think About Flower Shape

Flowers attract pollinators in a number of ways: color, smell, shape and reward (nectar). If you’re specifically looking to attract bees, focus on open flowers with larger petals. This is what is attractive to bees.

Other shapes, like skinny tube flowers are attractive to long-tongued pollinators like humming birds. Flowers that bloom at night are often white so nighttime pollinators can find them more easily. Some flowers that rely on rodent pollinators even smell like cheese!

If you plant flowers that have a variety of shapes, don’t worry. Many bees, especially honey bees, are generalists when it comes to pollination, and they’ll visit all kinds of flowers. Want to learn more about the different kinds of pollinators? Check out my trivia game, Pollinator Popcorn.

 10. Save Time – Don’t Dead Head

Allowing flowers go to seed provides you with two opportunities:

First, seed saving from your garden, which gives you a generation of plants that are adapted to your garden’s microclimate and soil.

Second, seed heads are bird food! Everything is connected. Supporting other animals in your garden ecosystem helps your bees—in the big picture. Birds attracted to your garden because of seeds oftens stick around to hunt caterpillars and  that can mean healthier plants and more flowers for bees!

20 of My Personal Favorite Flowers for Bees

All of the flowers below are in my home garden. Many of them bloom year round where I live. My hardiness zone is 10a/10b. Some of the flowers, like cosmos, I plant for the pure joy of taking photos of my bees in them. Bee sure to pick a few flowers that bring you joy too!

How do I get bees to pose for my camera?

Photographing bees is one of my favorite pastimes. It’s a huge reason why I have a bee friendly garden!

Learn all my bee photography secrets in my upcoming Zoom talk. The talk will cover practical and super specific tips for getting great bee shots using your phone, fancy camera or whatever suits you best. The class is called Amateur Bee Photography and you can check it out on the event page on my website.

2 Comments

  1. Sara

    I didn’t know poppies were a one-time feast. Amazing how they know to take advantage of the short bloom.

    Reply
  2. Bee Removal

    Thankss!!! So much Your all Tips for retaining bees in the garden work so well that I do not have to worry anymore about bees it keeps them occupied without disturbing anyone!!!

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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