Bees are a gardener’s best friend.
Not only do they make our flowers bloom, but we also rely on bees to help us grow all sorts of food and plant products—everything from fruits and vegetables to dyes, medicines, and fibers.
Bees are an indispensable natural resource, but habitat loss, pests and disease, pesticides, and climate change are threatening the bee population. Fortunately, you can help bee populations by adding a few choice plants to your garden this spring. More bees mean more pollination, which helps your plants thrive!
Here’s how you can plant a bee garden in Canada.
Variety is Key
When we think of bees, most of us picture the domesticated hive-dwelling honeybee. In truth, there are over 800 species of wild bees in Canada alone! These native bees are our most important pollinators, and you can help them thrive with a bee-friendly garden.
All bees travel from plant to plant in search of pollen and nectar to feed on. You can provide them with nutrition by planting flowers in your garden. Bees have excellent colour vision, and most are attracted to flowers with bright white, yellow, blue, or purple petals.
However, much like gardeners, different bees prefer different flowers. Some species feed from all kinds of flowers, while others are only interested in plants native to Canada. Different species of bees have different tongue lengths, so some can only access nectar from smaller flowers.
This is why variety is key in a successful bee garden.
To help all kinds of bees, you should plant flowers of all different heights, shapes, sizes, and fragrances. Include a few native species, like lance-leaved coreopsis, dense blazing stars, golden tickseed, sneezeweed, and New England Asters alongside your old favourites. Herbs and annuals, like mint and lavender, are also great for pollinators.
Which plants will do best in your garden depends on where you live and the type of soil you have. Regardless, you have dozens of native plants to choose from!
You should also be mindful of when your flowers will bloom. To provide nectar and pollen year-round, choose plants that flower at all different times of the year. This way there will always be something for the bees in your garden!
Many nurseries and garden centers sell flowers grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, like imidacoprid. These chemicals are lethal to bees and other insects. When you are planting anywhere in your garden, it is essential to choose neonic-free plants and avoid using chemical pesticides or insecticides.
Plant with a Plan
Once you have chosen some bee-friendly flowers, it is time to start planting! Instead of scattering the different flower species throughout your garden, try planting them together in groups of up to four feet in diameter. Bees like to forage from one type of plant several times in one trip, so this makes it easier for the bees to get the most out of your garden. It also gives them better protection from predators.
If you want to go the extra mile, there are other ways to make your garden welcoming to bees. Since most bees nest in the ground, it helps to leave behind bits of leaf litter and natural debris. Or, if you prefer a pristine garden, you can build a bee house instead!
You can also be a friend to the bees by providing water for them drink. Choose sloped container that allows the bees to approach the water safely. Just be sure to replace the water often so it does not become stagnant.