An English summer doesn’t seem complete without the gently hum of bees and a flash of colour as a butterfly flutters by. The Turfonline team have some ideas to help you attract butterflies and bees to your garden.
- Provide flowers with easily accessible pollen and nectar
- Leave out a little pot of water for drinking and bathing
- Avoid using pesticides
- Arrange plants in groups
- Use succession planting for a long flowering period
- Think about providing larvae food plants for butterflies
What do butterflies and bees need?
If you want to attract butterflies and bees to your garden, you need to provide the things they need.
That means food, water and, if you want them to stay, shelter.
Food for bees and butterflies is simple, they need flowers with pollen and nectar that is easy to access. Butterflies also appreciate food for their caterpillars. If you have the right plant species in your garden you may well become a nursery for baby butterflies.
Water, is also fairly easy to supply. A shallow tray with marbles or stones and topped up with water on a daily basis is just perfect. The marbles form little perches so that no unsuspecting bee can fall in and drown.
There are more than 250 species of bee in the UK and 71 recorded species of butterfly. Some are quite specialised in their needs so it would be impossible to create the perfect conditions for all of them to breed in your garden. You can however improve your chances by adding certain features.
Bumblebees and some solitary bees like to nest in the ground, a little pile of sand might encourage them to stay with you – especially if it is on a green roof well away from any disturbances.
A bug hotel is fabulous for some bee species and for Meadow Brown butterflies, areas of long grass are the tops.
Every little helps, and if all you can do at this stage is provide food and water, then you can be almost certain that these beautiful creatures will visit your garden.
Does the size of a garden matter to butterflies and bees?
It doesn’t matter if your garden is as big as a field or as small as a window box. When you are the size of a bee, everything in the human world must seem ginormous anyway.
What does matter is what you choose to plant in your plot. Let’s look at some of the criteria for butterfly and bee friendly plants.
Which plants are friendly for Butterflies and bees?
Imagine you are a bumblebee looking to gather pollen for your babies and nectar for energy. A bumblebee has quite a large abdomen and a nice big set of wings – it’s a wide load! There are two groups of bumblebee – long tonged and short tongued, but nevertheless, easy access to the centre of a flower is essential. So avoid choosing the “double” flowers – the ones with so many petals that you can’t see the pollen in the centre. Instead look for the sort of flowers a child might draw – big yellow centre surrounded by petals.
A really good way to choose bee and butterfly friendly flowers is to head to the park or garden centre on a sunny day and just watch. Take note of which flowers are getting all of the attention from pollinating insects and buy those. (or take a picture and research them when you get home)
You can also look at the labelling on plants – most garden centres will tell you if a plant is pollinator friendly. Some even group them all together in one place.
Succession planting for a long flowering period
In an ideal world, your garden will be bursting with bee friendly flowers from March to October. You can achieve it quite easily if you plan ahead – even in a window box. Crocus are great for bumblebees in early spring, then there are early bloomers such as alpine plants, herbs such as rosemary (great for cooking with too), bright summer bedding plants, and late bloomers like dahlias.
Take some lessons from nature. A trip into the countryside at least once in each season will tell you which wildflowers are in bloom. Wildflowers are becoming more fashionable in gardens, not least because they are pollinator friendly AND easy to care for.
Here are some of my personal favourite plants for pollinators and the months they appear
- Jan: Butterbur – smells divine but can be very invasive – not a garden plant
- Feb: Snowdrops
- March: Crocus, daisies – perfect for early flying bumblebees.
- April: Saxifraga granulata a snow white alpine with nodding blooms. Perfect for green roofs. Also cowslips and primroses
- May: Honesty – easily grown from seed. Purple flowers and seedheads that look like silver pennies. Also Rosemary an aromatic herb with little blue flowers and strawberry plants
- June: Lavender. Great in the borders or in pots and very popular with bees and butterflies. Wildflower meadows with mixed species are starting to look amazing now.
- July: Summer bedding plants such as cosmos. Keep deadheading to ensure a succession of flowers.
- August: Nasturtiums. An annual plant with edible leaves. Some butterflies will lay eggs on these plants
- September: Dahlias – choose the ones with lovely open flowers. Sedums such as S spurium look amazing at this time of year.
- October: Ivy – Not a favourite with every gardener but the flowers provide a much needed source of pollen for bees
- November and December Not many butterflies or bees will be out foraging in the winter time. You can help by not disturbing the spots where they are hibernating. That means minimal gardening for you!
How to avoid using pesticides
It stands to reason that if you want to look after butterflies and bees, you need to avoid using chemicals that could poison them. Experiment with things like companion planting and detergent sprays to keep unwanted garden bugs under control. You will probably find that by encouraging bees and butterflies you also support beneficial insects like lacewings and ladybirds. In theory, they will help keep aphids etc under control.
How to provide food AND habitat for butterflies and bees
Two low-maintenance ways to bring butterflies and bees into your garden and encourage them to stay is to establish either a mini-meadow or a green roof.
Take a look at this video to find out more…..