What is a gardener’s best friend? Some say it’s those Felco pruners that fit perfectly in your hand, or that special Hula-ho cultivator, but few think about the tiny creatures that are essential to successful gardens everywhere — bees.
Gathering nectar and pollen, these lively insects soar and bounce, filling gardens with vitality and motion. Bees are essential for pollinating flowering crops and almost one-third of our food supply depends on their efforts. A typical honeybee can visit over 1,000 flowers a day — talk about being busy as a bee!
Here in Washington state, some of the more common bees are the energetic honeybee, solitary mason bees and the yellow and black striped zeppelin of bees, the bumblebee.
The plight of these tireless pollinators has come into focus in recent years. Colony collapse and the impact of pesticides have created a crisis that has threatened their numbers. So what can you do to attract and promote the health of these vital creatures?
Molbak’s suggests that adding buzz-worthy plants to your gardens will not only lure and feed bees, but beautify your yard as well. We’ve gathered a number of flowering perennials and shrubs that will provide season-long snacks for your flying friends.
Offering puffs of fragrant blue flowers in spring or summer, California lilacs (a.k.a. ceanothus) are loaded with bees. These fast-growing shrubs come in small or tall, and are also drought-tolerant and virtually carefree. Added to foundation plantings as accents or as stand-alones, their nectar-laden blossoms are like a bee buffet!
Low-growing heath and heathers offer a sea of color and thousands of long-lasting spiky blossoms. Great for massing on dry hillsides or as edging, plant a variety of colors with different bloom-times and your yard will be humming with activity. Or, try a patch of English thyme — food for the bees and flavor for your culinary creations!
Cottage garden classics bee balm and coneflower come in a rainbow of shades that offer bees a place to gather and rest, and tall, elegant hollyhocks and spiky penstemons bring texture and height to summertime gardens. And you can even bring an indoor bloomer outdoors — patio classic Meyer lemon’s prolific flowers and heady fragrance will benefit from visiting bees and the summer sunshine.
In addition to adding bee-friendly plants, here are a few more helpful tips to nurture bees:
1. Limit or eliminate pesticides. Both active and inert ingredients could have a negative effect on bees.
2. Plant bloomers in bunches that run a little wild, with different shapes and colors. Bees like variety!
3. Add a water source. Bees need water for digestion and for cooling their hives. A dish filled with river stones and water gives them a place to sit and sip.
Catch the buzz on how to support bees or become a beekeeper at Puget Sound Beekeepers Association at www.pugetsoundbees.org.