Now that spring has finally reached the UK we’re starting to see a few bumblebees and honeybees in the garden. Here’s how you can help them to thrive by planting bee-friendly flowers.
Why bees are important in our gardens
It’s been said before, but some things should be repeated over and over again. Bees and other pollinating insects are vital to the UK economy. They’re crucial for food production because they pollinate fruit trees, oilseed rape, potatoes, tomatoes, salad crops, root vegetables, cabbages – all of those foods that are so important for supplying us with the vitamins and minerals we need for good health.
Why is farmland not enough for bees? Because many of our agricultural crops these days are wind pollinated (wheat, barley, maize, oats) and are just not suitable forage for bees. Add to that the fact that many farms, gardens and brownfield sites are being built on – so the wildflowers that bees once depended upon are fast disappearing under brickweave driveways.
Where farm crops are good for bees – oilseed rape is excellent – the flowering period is all too short. Bees need to eat all through the spring, summer and autumn months – not just for 3 weeks in May and June.
It’s up to us, the gardeners, to make sure that each and every one of our little plots is stuffed full of bee food. Bees need a succession of food and they need a good variety of pollen and nectar too.
Which plants and flowers are good for bees?
Native wildflowers are great for bees. They evolved with bees so they provide exactly the right balance of nutrients for the baby bees as well as the flying adults. There are wildflowers in bloom almost every month of the year. Even in winter time, ivy flowers provide pollen for honeybees who are brave enough to take flight in the colder months. (Bumblebees and solitary bees hibernate but honey bees are awake all year long and they will go out foraging on mild winter days).
Another bee favourite is sedums. Sedums have star-shaped flowers that are lovely and flat. The pollen and nectar are easily accessible to our stripy friends. Remember, that some bees have short tongues and big bottoms – they can’t all reach pollen and nectar if it’s buried deep in the plant.
Where to plant bee-friendly flowers
You don’t need room for a whole wildflower meadow to be able to help bees. A window box full of native cornflowers will bring bees from miles around. And if you don’t have room for plants on the ground, why not install a sedum green roof on your garden office or shed?
If you do have room for a small wildflower meadow, you will be helping more than just bees. Butterflies, moths, lacewings, ladybirds, frogs, toads, hedgehogs and all sorts of beneficial creatures will welcome a little patch of habitat. Even something as small as one square metre – about the size of a raised bed – has lots to offer.
What about replacing a wooden fence with a native hedgerow? Using hawthorn and blackthorn will give you flowers in spring and berries in autumn. Plus only the hardiest burglar will consider climbing through a prickly hedge.
Don’t forget too that plants are good for you. They have an amazing calming effect and really do boost wellbeing. Also, a stunning patch of green adds a touch of luxury to a property and can increase its monetary value.
How to grow bee-friendly plants
The cheapest and easiest way to grow bee-friendly flowers is by sowing seeds directly into the soil in spring. Right about now (April) in fact. Wait until the soil warms up a bit – so in some parts of the UK that might not be until May. Then dig and rake the soil into a fine tilth, sprinkle on the seeds, keep them watered and wait for Mother Nature to do her thing.
You may need to do some weeding as the seeds develop, so make sure you can tell the difference between the plants you want and the ones you don’t. Remember, you won’t see flowers for a few weeks so you’ll be identifying them by their leaves and stems.
Alternatively, you can buy plants from the garden centre. I personally prefer perennial plants. They cost a little more to buy but they do keep growing back year after year.
My favourite time-saving way to create a bee-friendly flower patch though is to use Meadowmat wildflower matting. It’s so simple to lay and you get instant coverage. It’s perennial too – so less maintenance.
Check out this video all about Meadowmat and how to lay it.