Bees | Garden, March 2012

A Bee-Friendly Garden

Reap the bounty and beauty of working hand in hand with Mother Nature

Click here to read in the zMagPartner with Mother Earth by helping bees cultivate a more bountiful garden and a healthier planet.

By making a few simple accommodations in your garden, you can provide a beneficial habitat for honeybees and other native pollinators and become a part of a symbiotic ecosystem.

“Bees are valuable because they pollinate plants, including those in agricultural crops and home gardens,” says Kathleen M. Prough, state apiary inspector in the Division of Entomology & Plant Pathology at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“If you have fruit trees, bees will help pollinate those trees. Without pollination, there won’t be any fruit. Planting a garden that attracts bees will also attract butterflies to a variety of plants that require pollination.

“Invite pollinators to your neighborhood –– it’s a good thing.”

GardenShe suggests adding plants that flower longer to better accommodate bees.

“You can extend the flowering time by including plants that continue to bloom later into the growing season and thus continue to produce nectar that attracts both bees and butterflies,” Prough suggests.

Some of her favorites include the bluebeard shrub, Caryopteris x clandonensis, a New England aster that blooms until it frosts; the dense blazing star, Liatris spicata; and the summersweet, Clethra alnifolia, which produces lots of nectar and provides a display of gorgeous white flowers in July and August.

Amy Farrell, apiarist with Farrell Honey Bees, agrees that gardeners can help the bee population and boost their gardens’ productivity.

“It is possible to help honeybees and increase your fruit and vegetable yields by up to 44 percent,” she says.

Farrell, a volunteer with the White Lick Beekeepers Association, offers the following advice to become more bee-friendly.

Bee plant considerations
Honeybees need nectar from plants, shrubs and trees. They benefit from continuous blooms throughout the season but are in most need during early spring and late autumn.

“Although you will likely see bees foraging on one type of bloom at a time, they benefit most from a diversity of flowers and ‘weeds,’” Farrell says.

Bees will locate the most nectar- or pollen-rich flowers available, but they tend to prefer blue, yellow or white blooms. They see red as dark gray, but can see ultraviolet, which makes flowers look quite different than the way they appear to people.

Limit pesticides and herbicides
It’s best to limit the use of pesticides and herbicides. Even small doses of chemicals that have been deemed to be tolerable to the honeybee can have deadly consequences once a variety accumulates within a colony.

“Apply treatments in the evening, when bees are not foraging,” Farrell advises. “Better yet, move toward Integrated Pest Management (IPM). An example of IPM is to allow weeds to grow long enough to benefit honeybees and then cut them before they go to seed. Encouraging natural predators, like the praying mantis, is also beneficial.”

Avoid lawn chemical treatments. Consider allowing clover to grow, thereby providing nectar from one of the honeybees’ favorite sources and increasing vital nutrients in the soil.

Cohabitate successfully
GardenProvide pollinators with shelter from wind, rain and cold. This is more important for local pollinators that tend to be solitary. However, honeybees will still appreciate a safe place in the garden where they can keep their wings dry should a sudden downpour occur.

Also, providing a reliable alternative water source will help to keep honeybees away from swimming pools. Fill a shallow dish or birdbath with pebbles so that the bees will not drown. Or consider adjusting an outdoor faucet so that it drips very slowly.

“Honeybees are not very defensive while foraging –– just remember not to swat,” Farrell says. “They will sting if they feel threatened. However, you and your local bees should be able to work side-by-side in the garden just fine.”

Adding bee-friendly plants in your garden and yard creates a win-win situation and a ripple effect of benefits for bees, plants, gardens, crops and people.

Threats to Beehives

Pests that prey on honeybees include wasps, hornets, small hive beetles, wax moths, varroa mites and tracheal mites. Raccoons, skunks and bears love honey and will eat anything bee-made: honey, wax, larvae and even adult bees.

“The primary diseases that afflict honeybees are nosema apis, a form of dysentery that affects adults, and foulbrood and chalkbrood, which affect the larvae,” Farrell says.

A current concern is colony collapse disorder (CCD), when large numbers of honeybees will leave the colony and never return.

“The prevailing theory behind CCD is that the colony becomes overwhelmed with pesticides,” Farrell explains. “Disaster occurs twofold.”

Pesticides have been shown to have a disorienting effect, preventing bees from navigating back to the colony, she explains. Opportunistic pests and diseases then compromise the health of the remaining population.

Prough believes there are several causes for CCD.

“In 1988, we started seeing varroa mites on bees that threatened the bee population. These mites bite bees and give them a virus that is detrimental to bees.

“Also, the increased use of stronger pesticides that are sprayed on the crops the bees are pollinating kills the bees, as well as the intentionally targeted insects that are harmful to those crops.”

Plant a Bee Buffet

The Harvest Booster Perennial Collection from High Country Gardens offers a collection of small- and medium-sized flowering perennials to attract bees to pollinate flowers and vegetable plants in an easy-to-order collection.

The collection includes two plants each of: Catnip Nepeta x faassenii ‘Select Blue’; Bee Balm Monarda didyma ‘Pink Lace’ PPAF; Hummingbird mint, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’; Eastern purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea; Goldenrod, Solidago ‘Little Lemon’ PP#17297; and Oregano, Origanum vulgare ‘Rotkugel.’

These plants are cold hardy in USDA Zones 5-9 and have good heat tolerance. High Country Garden’s 12-plant collection sells for $89.99. (800) 925-9387,

Resources to befriend more pollinators

Garden> Gardening for Honey Bees by Kathleen M. Prough, state apiary inspector in the Division of Entomology & Plant Pathology at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Log on and click on the Honeybees box.
> Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses by Michael A. Dirr
> American Honey Plants by Frank C. Pellett
> Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials by Ellen Phillips and C. Colston Burrell

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