Gardening with Bees by Michael Jenkins

Bumblebees working on lilac flowers, sunny day.

Just as a note to readers, links in this article will take you to external websites :)

It’s springtime all over the US and Canada, and for many of us that means the beginning of a joyful gardening season. After a long winter, signs of life in our yards, our gardens, and on our patios can be a wonderful celebration. With all that new plant life blossoming, the bees are emerging from their winter rest to start collecting pollen and nectar. For both beekeepers and gardeners, this is a critical time of the year and by working together a bit we can both attain better results. Bee-friendly gardens, filled with the kind of plants that bees like and maintained with gardening practices that are good for bees and the plants they feed on ultimately benefit us all.

So who am I and why am I talking to you about bees and gardening? My name’s Michael, and I’m a gardener and professional writer. Among other things, I write the blog for Gardzen, a garden supply company that strives to make gardening available to everyone. We’ve written blogs about creating gardens that are friendly for bees, birds, and native plants, and now we’re collaborating with The John Russell Honey Company to help promote bee-friendly gardening practices and spread the word about the best ways to garden with bees and other wildlife.

So, as we say on our Gardzen blog, let’s dig in!

What Do Bees Need in the Garden?

Bees are living creaturesβ€”along with silkworms, they’re one of only two domesticated insectsβ€”and they have all the needs that living beings do. So, a good place to start in designing a bee garden is to look at what bees need in a bit of detail:

Bees need food. Like all living beings’ bees have to eat, and bees live on the pollen found in flowering plants. As such, pollen-rich plants are a must if you want your bees to thrive or if you want to attract bees to your garden.

Bees need water. Just as they need food, bees need water. A safe supply of clean fresh water is best for both healthy bees and a healthy bee garden, and there are easy ways to build this into your garden space.

Bees need shelter. While there are many cultivated plants that support bees, they also like some wild spaces. If you have a bit of room in your garden space, some untrimmed, un-mowed, and/or un-manicured spaces can help support both domestic and wild bees. Even a bit of shade can help!

Bees need healthy spaces. In particular, bees need spaces that are free of chemicals which are harmful to themβ€”and this unfortunately includes many popular herbicides and insecticides in garden use. Speaking with the beekeepers at The John Russell Honey Company, they strongly suggest a more natural, holistic approach to gardening to avoid inadvertently stressing or even killing bees.

So, with all that in mind, how do we put it into practice in our gardens? As it turns out this is a bit easier than it may seem at first, and we’re here to guide you through getting started.

Garden Plants for Bees

The good news for gardeners is that many well-loved garden plants are also supportive of bees. There are a number of popular ornamental and vegetable plants that provide the pollen and nectar bees need to thrive, so there’s likely already something in your garden that attracts bees. It’s fairly easy to find something bees enjoy that will grow in your soil and climate conditions as well, making bee-friendly gardening fairly easy to implement for most of us.

This is just a partial list of common garden plants that bees like!

Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs for Bees:

  • Mint
  • Sage (bees love sage of all types, and sage honey is delicious!)
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Tomatoes of all varietals πŸ…
  • Strawberries πŸ“
  • Squashes, pumpkins, and cucumbers (including zucchini)
  • Broccoli πŸ₯¦
  • Beans and peas
  • Raspberries and blackberries

Flowers and Shrubs for Bees:β€―

  • Daisies of all varietals
  • Hyacinth
  • Lilacs
  • Marigold
  • Pansy
  • Peony
  • Lavender (a favorite of many bees!)
  • Yarrow
  • Poppies
  • Cosmos 🌌

In addition to supporting bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators love many of these plants and including them in your garden helps support biological diversity and a healthy environment. Speaking from a gardening perspective, we’d like to point out that many of these plants do very well in containers and are thus ideal for patio gardens, porches, or even just window boxes. No matter how big or small your garden, you can grow plants that help both you and the bees! For the most part, they’re also easy plants for beginning gardeners, so if you’re just getting started you can likewise grow things that are helpful to bees and to your learning curve.

Water for Bees

Watering bees is pretty easy; a simple birdbath provides much-needed water for both the birds and the bees as long as you keep it full. However, there are a few simple things you can do to make your water supply a bit easier for bees to utilize. Wine corks floating on the surface of the water provide a resting place for bees to perch while they gather the water they need. If you want to go the extra mile, a deeper birdbath filled with clean gravel or river stones and then topped off with water can make it very easy for bees to land and collect the water they need. Just use a relatively large grade of gravel so that there’s enough water to be worthwhile and then fill it so that some of the gravel is above the surface.

Bees are the Future

Bees are more than wonderful, interesting insects and a source of honey. They’re necessary for our entire system of agriculture and for the health of the natural world as we know it. By planting a garden that supports bees and using gardening practices that help keep bees healthy, we also help ourselves, our food supply, and the overall health of the world in which we live.

If you have any questions about bees or gardening with bees, get in touch! Likewise, reach out if you have tips to share about living and gardening with bees. At Gardzen we’re all about community, and we’d love to hear from and connect with you!