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Like most of you, I have a love/hate relationship with bees. I hate their stings, and thank goodness, no one in my family is allergic to them, but I love their role in nature, acting as the major pollinator. Without them, many different species of plants and animals wouldn’t survive and one way to support them is to create a bee-friendly backyard.
Last year we decided to develop a close, personal relationship with bees by adding beehives to our busy backyard. Already we have an owl habitat and both herbs and vegetables growing alongside pines, oaks, and crepe myrtle trees. It’s an odd assortment, to be sure, but we figured that bees would fit right in.
With our vegetable plants, in particular, we want to make sure that plenty of pollination occurs since we’ve hand-pollinated our tomatoes this year. It’s never too late to begin adding plants that attract bees.
How can you make a more bee-friendly backyard or garden?
What makes a yard friendly to bees? According to the University of Maine Extension Service, bee-friendly areas:
- shelter and feed native bees
- support honey bees
- ensure good pollination of vegetables and fruits
- provide season-long beauty, diversity, and interest
For our own backyard, we immediately realized the need to add flowers. We have plenty of trees, grasses, and shrubs but very few flowers.
When I visited a local nursery, looking for pollinating plants, I zeroed in on plants that will do well in our growing zone, 9A. There are so many different and beautiful plants that it was hard to choose just a few.
Select plants that are compatible with your zone
The first rule to developing a bee-friendly backyard is to plant varieties of flowering plants that will thrive in your growing zone. However, in every backyard, front yard, garden, or homestead there are also microclimates, and it’s important to keep those in mind. Microclimates are very small areas that have a different climate from the surrounding areas.
When we lived in Phoenix, I was occasionally amazed to learn that one friend or another could grow something that I had thought would never grow in that hot, arid zone. One friend had an enormous bed of calla lilies on the side of her house where they had plenty of shade and the soil held its moisture.
Your property also has microclimates and you may, too, be surprised by what you can grow once you figure those out. Just look for areas that have more/less shade, slope, exposure, and wind. One clue to look for is any native vegetation growing where it’s not “supposed” to. Are those areas drier? Wetter? Shady? Those answers can help you know what other plants to try, outside those specified for your zone.
The daylilies and the purple Lily of the Nile do well planted alongside our driveway where there is some shade for the hottest part of the summer and the soil is very rich. I could also have planted them in pots, which is an option for anyone without a yard.
Bees are attracted to certain colors
Just as you and I have favorite colors, it seems that bees do, too. They can’t see colors in the red end of the color spectrum, so good color choices are yellow, white, purple, orange, pink, and blue. Both of the flowering plants I bought from fill the bill — bright yellow daylilies and a gorgeous, deep purple Lily of the Nile.
There are so many gorgeous blooms and colors to choose from and doing a bit of research online helps before you venture out to the nearest nursery.
A few flowers to consider for your own bee-friendly backyard are:
- Purple Coneflower
- Goldenrod (also good for seasonal allergy sufferers)
- Sweet alyssum
It’s best to choose native plants. And make them sun-loving flowers that grow in clumps, rather than single blossoms on long stems. Plant them close together in 3’X3′ or larger plots. Bees are more attracted to clusters of blossoms and having them close together makes it easier for them to do their pollinating job.
Flowers with a nice landing area are also helpful. So is bloom size that accommodates the varying sizes of bees.
Avoid double-flowered plants which are bred for show and produce minimal or no nectar and pollen.
There are many other colorful plants, but as you can see, both flowering herbs and food-producing plants make bees quite happy and it’s a win-win if you’re trying to grow your own food! I’m adding different varieties of mint to my garden but will grow them in pots since they can be very invasive.
Plant a medicinal herb garden
Surprise! There are some herbs bees adore, such as mints marjoram, and lavender. Grow them and let them flower. The bees will thank you. Read more about planting a medicinal herb garden here.
Trees and Shrubs are also options
We already had these but if you don’t then plant pollen and nectar-producing trees and shrubs. It’s an effective way to extend the food supply throughout the year. They also create a microclimate and increase shelter. Some possibilities are:
Think year-round, if possible
Your backyard or garden can provide pollination opportunities for bees year-round since bees need pollen and nectar throughout the year.
As you begin to narrow down the types of plants that do best in your growing zone, also check when they will flower. Ideally, you’ll want to have plants that flower in the spring and summer, along with those that produce blossoms in the fall and winter. My daylilies and the Lile of the Nile are both perennials and will be ready to produce blossoms again next year.
If you live in zone Frozen-to-Death-from-October-through-April, this may not be possible!
Along with helpful insects like bees, butterflies, and ladybugs, there are also mosquitoes and other insects that we definitely do not like! However, the overuse of insecticides poisons bees. Before reaching for an insecticide, do some research and try a natural remedy first.
Our plan this summer is to plant multiple pots of lemongrass, citronella, and lemon balm around our back patio to ward off mosquitoes.
Add a simple water-feature
When my husband and I took a beekeeping class last year, we were surprised to learn just how much water bees consume. In fact, during long, dry seasons, beekeepers have to make sure there is plenty of water in the form of a pond, fountain, pool, bird bath, or other water feature. Even bowls or jars of water are better than nothing for helping keep bees hydrated.
Two key requirements:
- It’s vital the water moves and doesn’t stay still. Still water attracts mosquitoes and that’s the last thing you need when creating an inviting garden area. Our local birdwatching store sells a battery-powered Water Wiggler that creates continuous ripples. This not only attracts birds since they can more easily see moving water as they fly overhead, but it also prevents mosquitoes from landing and laying their eggs. I highly recommend using a Water Wiggler in your bird baths or any outdoor water feature that doesn’t have continual movement.
- The water should be shallow. Bees can drown if the water is too deep. Also, use stones or something that floats to provide landing pads in the dish. They can’t swim, either. Not even dog-paddling.
Create nesting areas
Most native bee species aren’t hive dwellers. Their home is soil or dead wood. Consider how you can incorporate habitat for these, the majority of our bee pollinators.
Take it one step further with a bee lawn
This isn’t something I’ve done, but you can read all about how to make your grass pull double duty as a bee lawn here. A bee-friendly landscape can be part of a more comprehensive edible landscape, too.
Consider taking up beekeeping
Our beekeeping class was one of the educational highlights of our year. We were already interested in becoming beekeepers, but the class generated more information than we had expected. Some resources we’ve found very helpful are:
This could eventually be a side gig that brings in some extra income, either by supporting your green thumb business or from the sale of honey.
How do I get rid of bees in my yard?
It’s possible that your home or backyard may end up with too many bees in the form of an unwanted swarm. Now, just because they’re unwanted by you doesn’t mean that a local beekeeper might welcome them!
The National Honeybee Swarm Removal project is run by volunteers who remove swarms for free in an effort to help both the bees and the home or property owner. Give them a call before resorting to deadly methods.
According to The Center for Biological Diversity, 347 native bee species—that’s 1 in 4—are in danger. We rely on them for so many reasons, and it’s relatively simple to make a few changes to our backyards and gardens to provide a bee-friendly space for them to thrive.
Add colorful plants that attract bees. Plant a variety so you’ll have blossoms year-round. Avoid the overuse of insecticides and use organic, natural remedies instead. Provide water for them, especially during droughts or dry seasons of the year, and learn more about becoming a beekeeper.
Share the steps you’re taking to help our bees. I’d love to know!
Originally published June 14, 2018; updated and revised by Team Survival Mom.
I’m the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I’ve been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.