What to plant to attract bumblebees into your garden
Everyone knows how to attract wasps. Simply light a barbecue or lay down a picnic blanket and they’ll come a’ swarming. Wasps—despite their aggressive disposition—perform important predatory tasks in your garden, feasting on aphids, caterpillars and other plant munching pests. They also lend a hand in pollination duties, but for maximum performance, you need to recruit some bees. Here's how.
What sort of bees should I be attracting?
Honeybees and some species of solitary bee tend to settle on one flower and continuously feed on the pollen, but bumble bees "browse-pollinate", meaning they visit many varieties of flowers in search of their nectar fix.
They also have the ability to "buzz-pollinate", which happens when they squeeze their chubby bodies into large flowers and vibrate their muscles, causing pollen to fall onto awaiting plants below. Aubergines, potatoes and tomatoes are among the plants that benefit from this form of pollination.
Read more: 11 UnBEElievable facts about bees
When preparing a pollinator friendly garden, it’s important to plant a variety of pollen-providing flowers. There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK, and 225 species of solitary bee, some with short tongues that prefer open flowers such as alliums and daisies, and others with long tongues that can probe into trumpet-shaped flowers such as foxgloves and bluebells. It’s also important to have a mix of early and late flowering plants to spread the pollen resources across the season.
But what to plant? Here are a few flowery suggestions for your pollinating pals to enjoy.
In the herb garden
Bumble bees absolutely love busying themselves around the treats of a herb garden. Here are three top herbs to get them buzzing.
Beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder, and for the humble bumble, borage blue is the colour of love (see above photo).
You can freeze borage flowers into cubes of ice to glam up a cold drink or cocktail creation; just leave a few flower heads for the bees to enjoy.
Great with cheese, irresistible to bees! Harvest chive leaves for salads and sandwiches, but leave patches to develop flowers for bees to feast upon.
Look out for the "Forescate" variety that produces delicate pink flowers with garlic-tinged leaves. Garlic-breath bees can always freshen up by nibbling on…
Mint is ridiculously easy to grow. All you need is the smallest of cuttings for it to take hold before spreading like wildfire, to a point where you may wish you hadn't planted it in the first place.
Bees love it though, and can’t get enough of buzzing between those delicate flower heads. Try planting banana mint (Mentha spicata), a variety that will grow vigorously in well-drained soil. And yes, the leaves do indeed smell of minty bananas.
In the flower garden
Here’s three top bee attracting flowers to keep your garden heavy with airborne activity.
What bee could resist flicking a tongue into the fragrant bloom of the honeysuckle (see above photo)? Plant an early flowering "Belgica" (Lonicera periclymenum) for masses of tubular white flowers that turn streaky red and vibrant yellow.
If you fancy, save back a handful of flowers to make honeysuckle vodka. Half fill a jar with flowers, top up with vodka and strain after 24 hours. Easy!
This wild roaming rose produces beautiful wild blooms that any self-respecting apian will make a beeline for.
Use the autumnal fruit for making delicious rosehip syrups—perfect for slathering over ice cream and, more importantly, bringing a sweet fruity hit to cocktail creations.
Anyone who has tried to remove a super-sized buddleia from the garden will know the tenacity of this plant—it’s a strong willed, wily old shrub that will keep on returning, no matter how hard you chop it back.
Bees absolutely love it, so if you do happen to have an eternally sprouting buddleia, bow down to mother nature and consider it an important part of your garden’s pollination ecosystem.
Going wild on the allotment
Before clearing overgrown areas in your garden or on the allotment, check for any pollen-bearing plants and leave them be. Here are three prime nectar giving resources for pollinators to enjoy.
Don't be too keen to set the strimmer on any wild yarrow you might find down on the allotment—thoseflat-topped flowers are a bees dream feast.
Try the vigorous "Coronation Gold" in your flower borders. Its stems and leaves can also be used as a bittering agent in beer making. Bonus!
This hairy perennial has an extra-long flowering season that extends from March right through to December.
Try sucking on the white flowery trumpets for a sweet treat, making absolutely certain you are indeed sucking on a dead nettle, not something poisonous. Better still, leave them for the bees.
A common sight down the allotment or out in the field, teasels produce large spiny flower heads that hold stacks of nectar.
Bees love them, butterflies love them, and you might even attract the occasional seed eating bird such as the Goldfinch. Lovely!
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