How to help the bees (and other pollinators)

van gogh flowering garden with path
Vincent van Gogh, Garden with Flowers, 1888

Plant as many nectar and pollen plants as you can, everywhere you can: in gardens, pots, medians, along pathways and roadways, on all land now in simple grasses (till and oversow with Pollinator Pasture instead, skip the mowing). Many of the mixes now incorporate grasses to hold the soil and complement the floral mixtures: they are quite beautiful!

A good pollinator planting will give season-long varied nectars and pollens, here are a few good season-spanning choices we can all add to our gardens and wild spaces:

  1. Spring-flowering heathers
  2. Maples and Hawthorns
  3. Dandelions (huge nectar and pollen resource in early spring)
  4. Clovers (can be succession sown to extend nectaring period)
  5. Sarcocca (a favourite landscaping shrub)
  6. Wild roses
  7. Fennels, dills, mints, garlic chives, herbs of all kind…let them flower
  8. Catmint…catmint is the single best source of nectar and pollen for honey bees in the urban garden
  9. Rosebay Willowherb (fireweed…a very pretty garden plant)
  10. Malvas (mallows)
  11. Lavenders of all sorts
  12. Joe Pye Weed…comes in a variety of heights now, long bloom period, appeals to a wide range of pollinators
  13. Sedums
  14. Fall flowering, single asters
  15. Caryopteris (Bluebeard, a pretty fall flowering shrub)
  16. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

Give plants to your neighbours, plant in pathways, untended vacant land, anywhere you can tuck in a plant or two! Lobby your municipal, state/provincial governments to plant all areas now in simple grasses in pollinator friendly mixtures. Ask them to stop mowing verges and medians so the wildflowers can bloom. Ask them to landscape with pollinator friendly shrubs and trees.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the first spring willows, alders and maples feed the spring colonies, helping them replace the old, work-worn winter bees with new spring bees, who will become the all important summer foragers. The hives must come to strength by early June, when the blackberry blooms, giving us our largest local nectar flow.

Without late summer plantings targeted at nectar production in late summer, a time when there is a natural nectar dearth in the best of landscapes, bees struggle. And in an age of large swathes of monocultures, where fields have nothing to offer after the crop spring bloom period is over, and equally large swathes of urban development which are empty of pollen and nectars, all pollinators find it hard to overwinter. They simply starve.

Invasives are often the only food out there! Japanese knotweed is now a critical source of late summer/early fall pollinator nutrition. Dandelions provide early spring nectar and pollen. Urban gardens, watered all summer by their gardeners, are often a richer source of bee and pollen nutrition than are the wild places, and certainly more than the cultivated fields.

The hives in my urban back yard, surrounded by mature gardens filled with flowering plants, gather more honey than the hives I keep on local farms.


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