5 Easy Ways to Create Gardens for Bees That You'll Enjoy Too

The more flowers you have, the more you can help out these important pollinators. Plus you'll also have a prettier garden.

The populations of more than 4,000 species of native bees (plus non-native honey bees) have been declining rapidly in recent years, and the main culprits include the use of pesticides, climate change, and the spread of parasites. These insects are essential to our natural ecosystems as well as our bountiful dinner tables and gardens, so bees need your help. The good news is, you can bolster the pollinator population in your area by making your landscape a bee-friendly oasis. Even just a few containers with colorful plants can help, but the more you can view your garden from a bee's perspective, the better. Here are the most effective ways you can give these amazing insects what they need to thrive.

close up of bee on flower buds
Robert Cardillo

1. Think Spring to Fall When Planting

Bees are actively foraging for food from early spring until late fall. Plant a combination of flowers, trees, and shrubs that bloom and provide nectar in each season. Start with early spring bloomers like dogwood and dwarf fothergilla, then follow with summer stars such as clethra and herbs such as thyme and lavender. Finish the season with fall bloomers such as asters and seven-son flower. Not only will the pollinators appreciate a spring-to-fall approach to planting, but you'll also get to have a colorful garden with something in bloom for six months or more.

2. Flower Form Matters

Plant breeders have spent decades developing flowers with double petals and petal-packed flowerheads. While these types of flowers are eye-catching to humans, they usually don't have much nectar or pollen for bees. The extra petals have often displaced the essential pollinator nutrient sites, rendering the flower useless to bees. Instead, look for plants with open flowers, especially native species like mountain mint and purple coneflower, which attract many types of bees because of the easy accessibility to nectar and pollen.

3. Plant Bee-Friendly Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs are sometimes overlooked as landscape plants for pollinators. Offering a wide range of bloom times and boasting hundreds of flowers per square foot, woody plants offer more pollen and nectar than most annuals and perennials. Start the growing season with flowering crabapple and Eastern redbud, which are among the first plants to start blooming in spring. Serviceberry, linden, and bottlebrush buckeye will draw pollinators while they bloom for several weeks in late spring and summer. Toward late summer and fall, a few options such as chaste tree and witch hazel can keep the flower show going until frost.

4. Go Chemical-Free

When you spray for a pest insect, it can often inadvertently harm bees. Instead of relying on pesticides to control unwanted bugs, opt for organic or mechanical means of control. And the more you can tolerate a bug presence (many of the ones you'll see are beneficial insects like ladybugs and soldier beetles), the more that a natural balance of pests and their predators will happen. Plus, most destructive garden insects usually move on before they cause lethal harm to a plant. Hand-pick the worst pests (looking at you, Japanese beetles) and crush or drop them into a bucket of soapy water.

wood mason bee house with bamboo tubes in tree
Courtesy of Amazon

5. Use Bee Houses

Becoming a beekeeper can be a rewarding hobby, but it's also a long term commitment. If you want to help pollinators in a more hands-off way, try setting up some mason bee houses (or even renting native bees for your yard). Mason bees don't live in a hive and don't produce honey, so they're not aggressive the way honey bees can be when threatened and they don't sting. Instead, they spend their lives raising their young in small nesting holes. The kicker? They pollinate up to 100 times more effectively than their honey bee cousins, and they'll barely need any upkeep.

Buy It: Mason Bee House, ($35, Amazon)

To attract these amazing insects, all you need to do is to set out a house that gives them a place to raise their young. Most bee houses you can buy have between 30 and 100 nesting tubes. Each year, you'll need to make sure your house is clean and parasite-free, so new mason bees can nest in it.

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