Let’s face it. Gardening takes a lot of work. Yes, it has many benefits, including getting to eat fresh, great tasting and very healthy foods. But, with all the hard work and expense it takes, gardeners definitely want to have the biggest harvest possible. Aside from water and fertilizer, two very important ingredients for gardening, plants also need to be fertilized – and the more plants are fertilized, the more produce will be available. So, it is important that the gardener include the best bee attracting plants to their garden plans to ensure a more productive garden.
Bees are an important ingredient in any outdoor garden because they will ensure that as many flowers as possible turn into luscious veggies and fruits. Being aware of some easy to grow and best bee attracting plants is one way to quickly increase your garden yield.
So, why do plants need pollinators and how does a gardener get the pollinators to come to the garden?
In simple terms, pollinators are animals (and most of us probably think of bees) that move the pollen in a flower from the male structure (anthers) to the female structure (stigma) of the same plant species. This movement of the pollen results in fertilization of the flower’s egg – this fertilized flower then produces seeds and fruit surrounding the seeds. The YouTube video below provides a very simple explanation of pollination.
Why is pollination important?
Bottom line: If the flower is not pollinated, the bloom just drops off the plant and dies. There is no fruit produced and no seeds to continue growing plants in the future. Many animals, and many varieties of insects are critical to the pollination process. And, pollinators are critical to our food supply. Numbers vary, but it is estimated that pollinators are necessary for about ¾ of our food (1). While some foods are self-pollinating, for example bananas, it would get kind of boring to have a steady diet of nothing but bananas.
Pollinators are not just necessary for large commercial farms, but they are critical to your home garden. This was brought home to me one spring when we had day after day of rain. The plants were blooming like crazy – the cucumbers and tomatoes loved the rain. But, no fruit was being produced. I kept going to the garden, looking at all the plants and watching as bloom after bloom fell to the ground – and not a single tomato or cucumber was to be found. It dawned on me, after several weeks, that the ongoing rain had stopped the bees from coming out and pollinating the flowers. It took several weeks after the rain stopped to finally see fruit beginning to grow. As you can see, pollinators can be critical to the success of your home garden.
How can you attract more pollinators?
While bees buzzing around can be alarming to some, they are really critical to the production in your garden. So, I recommend, in addition to growing veggies and herbs, plant some flowers in your garden. Not only are they pretty to look at and make your garden even more attractive, they perform a vital function – they attract busy little bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden.
Attracting Honeybees to your Garden
Honeybees are a very attractive and desired pollinator because they are so efficient at pollinating. Their specialized hairs trap pollen when the bee brushes against the stamen and spreads that pollen as it moves from flower to flower.
These bees prefer purple, blue and yellow flowers – so flowers in these bright colors will attract honeybees to your garden. Also consider planting vetch, alfalfa, clover in your yard to attract honeybees. These have the added benefit of being good crops for green manure and will not only attract honeybees, but will improve your soil.
Long used as a companion plant, the marigold is a great addition to your garden for attracting honeybees. While some conventional garden wisdom says that marigolds serve as a bee detractor – they definitely attract the honeybee. They can be beneficial by not only attracting the honeybee, but also discouraging other garden pests. Some gardeners swear that their strong odor seems to ward off other pests such as rabbits and could discourage wasps and other “bad” insects from attacking you and/or your plants.
The marigold blooms all season if you regularly deadhead them. They are also are very long-lasting as cut flowers. Although some find the odor to be too strong, I love having a vase of marigolds on the kitchen counter because I like their fresh smell. I guess beauty, in this case, is in the nose of the beholder. Easy to grow, heat resistant, and sun loving, marigolds have long been a favorite companion flower in vegetable gardens. You can read more at Gardening Know How: Do Marigolds Repel Bees: Learn About Marigolds And Honeybees.
Cosmos is another prolific and attractive flower for the gardener as well as one of the best bee attracting plants. They come in a wide array of colors. One of my favorites is the Bright Lights cosmos. This one comes from Mexico – so it can stand high heat and drought conditions and perform all summer long. This variety blooms in bright golds, yellows and oranges, lasting all summer if you regularly deadhead and comes back from seed year after year. In areas with a long growing season, they will bloom into the fall as well.
Sunflowers in their bright yellow colors are great attractors for honeybees. There are single bloom varieties that grow on a tall stem and multiple bloom varieties that are smaller and certainly attractive and colorful bee attractants. For an inexpensive and lush sunflower garden, just sprinkle black oil sunflower seeds in the yard before a rain and watch as a multitude of sunflowers grow. They will bring many a happy bee to your garden.
Bee balm (monarda) is another great plant for attracting honeybees. Because it is rich in nectar, gardeners will see not only honeybees, but also butterflies and hummingbirds buzzing around the bee balm bloom. Once established, bee balm will come back year after year.
Bee balm is a great addition to the garden for you as well as the bees. The flowers look attractive and make a beautiful edible garnish in summer salads. Bee Balm is considered an herb that is noted for its fragrance, and is also the source of oil of thyme. The leaves of the plant, either dried or fresh can be brewed into a a refreshing aromatic and medicinal tea.
Medicinally bee balm can be used as a diaphoretic, diuretic, stimulant, carminative, and antiseptic. For more information about its medicinal properties, take a look at Alternative Nature Online Herbal. Best yet, bee balm is a perennial that will come back to your garden year after year.
Clearly, bee balm is one of the best bee attracting plants – good for your garden and good for you.
Basil is another great addition for your garden to attract honeybees. Basil is available in many varieties and is a prolific grower that will have the honeybees all abuzz. Let some branches bloom to attract the bee to your garden, then harvest the rest of the plant for cooking.
While the above are not the only honeybee attractors you can grow in your garden, the above are easy to grow plants that will provide visual enjoyment, smell great, and bring many honeybees to your garden to pollinate all your veggies and flowers. Not only will your garden benefit from the addition by producing more veggies, but the honeybee population and the environment will benefit as well.
Other tips for attracting honeybees to your garden
This may seem obvious, but if you are trying to attract bees to your garden, avoid using pesticides because they will kill not only the pests you don’t want, but the bees as well. Use natural pesticides such as ladybugs or sage burning. If you must use pesticides, according to the Xerces Society, some that are considered non-toxic to bees are:
- Bacillus thuringiensis
- Kaolin clay
- Corn gluten
- Gibberellic acid
Give them something to sip on throughout the day
Have shallow dishes of water in your yard and around your flowers for the bees to hydrate. If you have a deep fountain, be sure to place pebbles in it so the bee can sit on it to drink water as needed. When you first place water in your garden for bees, it is a good idea to “flavor” it to attract the bees. You can spike it with a tiny bit of chlorine bleach, ground up oyster shells in a shallow pan or a weak sugar solution. The smell in the water alerts the bee that you have provided something for them to drink. After they have found the source, the gardener can just put plain water in the container.
Don’t kill or swat at them
Just let the bees go about their business in the garden and they will leave you alone. Don’t swat at them or otherwise try to aggravate them. If you are allergic to bees, you would want to step away when they are around. But, I have found, I can garden around them all day and they will be busy working and not bother me or sting me. They are a great contributor to the garden, so appreciate them as they work hard to ensure your success as a gardener.
Bees in your garden make a happy garden
Yes, gardening is indeed hard work. But, keep in mind, if you select and plant the best plants to attract bees in the garden, you are not the one doing all the work. When you are inside taking a break, bees are working all day long pollinating everything in your garden. You will have more produce than you know what to do with and the bees will be well-fed and busy making honey. Attracting bees to your garden is good for you, good for the bees and good for the environment.