How to Prepare Your Garden for Bees

Let’s be honest, bees are awesome! In addition to providing honey, it is estimated that one out of every three bites of food we take is made possible by bees and other pollinators.  There are over 3,500 species of bees native to the United States – however most of our honey production comes from European honeybees. If you are considering starting a beehive in your backyard and raising your own honey (you know, raw honey lasts forever), one of the first steps is making sure you have the right set up for a proper hive and the best flowers to plant for honey bees.

A well-designed bee garden provides food and shelter for the bees, while also providing a solid foundation to start a beehive in your own backyard or homestead!

Friendly reminder – when bees have a great place to forage – we all benefit! Nectar and pollen provide needed food for bees, but it also helps plants produce seeds and fruits for reproduction.

In turn, we benefit from bees when we eat apples, berries, cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes and other crops that depend on bees for pollination. So, let’s go through what it takes to make an awesome home for bees in your backyard.

Bee Friendly Habitat

Bees Need Cover

When making the perfect home for bees in your backyard its important to find the right cover for a beehive.  Ideal beehive locations have the following characteristics:

  • The hive faces the morning sun to warm things up early and get the day started right. If the hive doesn’t get morning sun, then the bees spend precious energy (i.e. honey) warming things up.
  • Late afternoon shade to reduce the heat later in the summer.  If the hive gets too hot, the bees spend precious energy (i.e. honey) cooling things down.
  • The hive location needs easy entry and exit from the front. This is like an airport for bees and needs a clear runway.
  • Provide north facing cover to prevent cold winter winds from freezing your bees.
  • Keep away from anything that could become a nuisance to the hive. Young children, dogs and other animals should not have direct access to the hive and ideally should have a bit of distance between them when possible.
  • Finally – make sure you check with your local laws and zoning to ensure a beehive works for your area!

Bees Need Water

It goes without saying that bees need to drink from time to time. To have the best habitat for your beehive, be sure that there is a close (constant) water source.

If there is not a natural body of water within 0.5 miles, consider adding a bird bath in your backyard. Keep the water fresh every week or so and be sure there is something in the middle or around the edges for the bees to land on and drink!

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Best Flowers to Plant for Honey Bees

When selecting the best flowers to plant for honey bees it is most important to look for varieties that are native to your area. Native plants require less maintenance and typically work better for bees to gather nectar and pollen. 

Plants that have been bred for bigger and longer lasting flowers often produce bigger and more flower petals at the expense of anthers (the reproductive part of the flower) which means less pollen for bees.

Find native perineal flowers that come back each season and require less upkeep. Be on the lookout for purple, blue, or yellow flowers and plant fewer red flowers. Bees do not have the ability to see red and will rarely visit those flowers (unless they also reflect ultraviolet light like bee balm).

Below is a comprehensive list of bee-friendly plants based on blooming season. It makes sense to combine a variety of plants that bloom during the year to provide a constant supply of both pollen and nectar. If you have any questions, be sure to ask a specialist at your local nursery for additional suggestions based on your location.

Early Season / Spring:

Trees

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Maples
  • Native Honeysuckles
  • Shadbush
  • Willows

Flowers:

  • Barberry
  • Bidens
  • Blanket Flower
  • Blazing Star
  • Blue Pea
  • Borage
  • Bush Anemone
  • California Poppy
  • Chinese Houses
  • Daisy
  • Horehound
  • Lavender
  • Marigold
  • Sage
  • Salvia
  • Scented Geranium
  • Tansy
  • Wisteria
  • Yarrow

Mid-season / Summer:

Shrubs

  • Spirea (tons of variety)
  • Rose (tons of variety)
  • Summersweet

Flowers, Herbs, and Vegetables

  • Basil
  • Bidens
  • Black-eyed Susan (very hardy)
  • Blanket Flower
  • Bluebeard
  • Borage
  • California Poppy
  • Catnip or Catmint (very hardy)
  • Chaparral Nightshade
  • Cosmos, Daisy
  • Dusty Miller
  • Goldenrod
  • Gum Plant
  • Horehound
  • Lavender
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Lemon Queen
  • Milkweed (great for butterflies as well)
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Pincushion
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Pumpkin
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Sea Holly
  • Spearmint
  • Sunflowers
  • Squash
  • Thyme
  • Toadflax
  • Tomato
  • Verbena
  • Yarrow
  • Zucchini

Late Season / Autumn:

Flowers, Herbs, and Vegetables

  • Aster (my personal favorite are Purple Aster – great fall colors)
  • Autumn Sage
  • Bluebeard
  • Cosmos
  • Goldenrod
  • Pumpkin
  • Rosemary
  • Sunflowers
  • Squash
  • Toadflax
  • Verbena
  • Yellow Trumpet Bush

What to Avoid for Bees - Insecticides

It should be common knowledge by now, that we are experiencing a dramatic decrease in bee numbers worldwide. Who knows the specific cause, but nevertheless there are ways to keep dangerous chemicals away for your precious bees in the meantime.

It is documented that bees are harmed if not killed by a variety of insecticides. Herbicides and fungicides also weaken bees to varying degrees. The best way to save your bees is to avoid applying these types of chemicals all together.

Be diligent in your yard and garden and identify problems early before they get too big. Work to find alternative ways to treat your bug problem to avoid harming your bees. If you MUST apply any chemical treatment, try to find a natural product and apply it after sundown to avoid exposure to bees.

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