Plant native flowers and flowering trees and shrubs
Plant a variety of flowers to provide blooms throughout the year. Focus on native plants, to which local pollinators are already adapted. If you do grow exotic ornamentals, focus on “simpler” flower forms rather than highly hybridized varieties (for example, bees have no problem with “dog roses”, but they can’t get inside the “double” varieties with extra petals).
Don’t forget about flowering trees such as apples, plums, pears, and cherries (and bushes like blueberries) if you have the space. Even blackberries (kept in check!) make excellent sources of food for bees when in flower.
And if all you have is a balcony, there are great ideas to be found in this profile of a wildlife garden balcony!
Bee careful where you buy plants and seeds
Make sure to ask your nursery or seed provider whether the plants or seeds you plan to buy have been pretreated with any pesticides. Pretreatment is still common, particularly with systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids, which are implicated in bee deaths worldwide. Also, many ornamentals sold to home gardeners are not attractive to pollinators; many are so hybridized they don’t even offer pollen!
Grow your own vegetables and herbs from organic seeds, providing extra sources of food for local bees! Avoid using any pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides in your garden, and encourage others in your community to do the same.
Which plants are best for my area?
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation provides fantastic resources for creating, restoring, and managing pollinator habitat in North America:
- Pollinator Resource Center (regional plant lists)
- Five Plants to Help Pollinators (Xerces article for Storey Publishing)
- 100 Plants to Feed the Bees (handbook with plant profiles and planting tips)
- Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies (book)
If you have a lot of space and want to try establishing a meadow, take a look at their guide and calculator:
- Establishing Pollinator Meadows from Seed (if you have a decent-sized spot)
- Seed Mix Calculator (for calculating seed quantities for large meadow projects)
Having trouble with invasive plant species? One promising method is to enlist aggressive native plants!
Even if you have a lawn, it’s easy to improve it for bees
You’d be surprised at what will turn up if you simply stop mowing (if you have a lawn, that is). Dandelions are a common volunteer. Even though they’re not native to the U.S., they’re still great flowers for all sorts of bees, especially as they show up so early in the year, and flower throughout spring, summer, and late into fall.
Dandelions and white clover provide abundant nectar and pollen that is easily accessible to a wide range of bees (different types of bees have different tongue lengths, restricting their flower choices to various extents). Red clover favors longer-tongued bumble bees. Clovers are especially good in lawns, and the white variety flowers at a lower height than the red, so you can still mow occasionally (at your mower’s highest setting) if you choose. It even helps some ground-nesting bees if you keep a patch of closely mowed (or even bare) ground in a sunny spot.