Bees may be small, but they pack a powerful punch–and we’re not talking about how they sting. Honeybees and many native species do important work in our orchards and gardens by pollinating up to one-third of every bite of food we eat. Unfortunately, many species are in decline from stress, disease and parasites. It’s vital to start thinking about how we can help bees and attract them to our gardens, so they can find food (pollen and nectar), and sheltered places to make their homes.
Although honeybees, mason bees, and other species are considered gentle, and seldom sting unless they’re trapped in your clothes, stepped on, or treated aggressively, there’s always a chance that some will sting. If you or your family members have allergies or other health concerns, check with your doctor to be sure it’s safe to attract bees to your yard.
How To Help Bees – And Attract Them to Your Fruit Trees and Garden Plants
- Use Organic-Approved Pesticides. Avoid pesticide use around plants that attract bees, and read the label on your products to learn the safest ways to use them. When possible, use non-toxic insecticides, pest barriers, or repellents.
- Grow Bee-Friendly Plants. Bees need nectar, which has sugars for energy, and pollen, a “food” rich in proteins and fats, so choose plants that provide these. Keep the bee buffet stocked throughout the year by planting flowers, trees, or shrubs that bloom in different seasons; for example, try crocus and hyacinths in spring, zinnias in summer, and asters in autumn. Native plants and wildflowers are also excellent. See our list below for suggestions, or visit our plant database for ideas.
- Grow Colorful Flowers. Bees are especially fond of blue, white, yellow, purple, and violet blooms. Plant in clumps, so they’re easier for bees to spot, and grow blossoms with different shapes. There are thousands of species of bees with differently shaped tongues, so this helps attract a variety. Go for single flowers; it’s harder for bees to get into doubled blossoms.
- Shrink Your Lawn. Lawns don’t have to be sterile carpets of grass. Try leaving part of yours natural, or plant shrubs and trees. Bonus: you get a break from all that mowing.
- Offer Water. Bees need drinking water. They’ll visit a shallow birdbath or other water feature, or sip drops of water from sprinklers or irrigation systems that you use in your garden.
- Build a Bee Box. Although honeybees live in hives, many wild bees take shelter in dead trees or branches, weedy hedgerows, abandoned animal burrows, or underground nests, so consider leaving a portion of your yard untended for them. Mason bees, which are especially helpful for pollinating fruit trees, use holes in dead wood left by beetles and other insects. They’ll also use a bee box you can make with our easy instructions. For a fun family project, make the box with your kids and let them help you put it up in the yard or garden.
- Plant a Patch of Wildflowers. Bees are drawn to native plants and wildflowers, which often produce much more pollen and nectar than modern, hybridized flowers.
Here are a few suggestions for wildflowers, natives, and garden flowers to grow. These attract butterflies, birds, and other pollinators, but they’re great for luring bees that can help pollinate fruit trees and orchards. Look for a wildflower seed mix formulated for your region of the country; it will probably include many of these flowers.
For Southern Gardens:
Purple coneflower, cornflower, clover, thistle, poppy, foxglove, aster, goldenrod, milkweed, Joe Pye weed, wild bergamot, African marigold, Black-eyed Susan, zinnia, lupine, Echinacea, agastache, liatris, gaillardia, sunflower, Rudbeckia daisy.
For Northeastern Gardens:
Purple coneflower, cornflower, coreopsis, foxglove, sunflower, poppy, Black-eyed Susan, aster, azalea, rhododendron, bee balm, goldenrod, hawthorn, lobelia, lupine, milkweed, wild indigo, wild mint, sunflower, turtlehead, wild geranium.
For Western Gardens:
Liatris, penstemon, gaillardia, California poppy, corn poppy, lupine, coreopsis, cleome, Clarkia amoena (Farewell-to-Spring), bluehead or blue field gilia, nemophila, California bluebell, sage, sunflower, Mexican hat, Shasta daisy, African daisy.
For Gulf Coast Gardens:
Purple coneflower, Shasta daisy, coreopsis, cosmos, larkspur, cornflower, California poppy, primose.
For Pacific Northwest Gardens:
Columbine, cornflower, Shasta daisy, coreopsis, larkspur, California poppy, lupine, corn poppy, Black-eyed Susan.
For Texas and Oklahoma Gardens:
Sage, Black-eyed Susan, Texas bluebonnet, cornflower, coreopsis, cosmos, Prairie coneflower, primrose.
For Mid-Western Gardens:
Black-eyed Susan, New England aster, coreopsis, purple coneflower, Indian blanket, lupine, primrose, corn poppy. for Bees:
Trees and Shrubs for Bees:
Tulip poplar, orange, sourwood, broom, alder, blackthorn, holly, rhododendron, willow, apple, pear, most fruit trees, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, oak, maple, roses, sumac, crabapple.