ARTICLE Clare Chapman
Bees have been a hot topic of late for this very reason. They are essential to our eco systems but globally, their populations have been in decline due to aggressive industrial agriculture, as well as the loss of biodiversity due to monocultures and pesticides.
In New Zealand, despite this global concern for bee populations, more recent studies suggest bee numbers are on the rise again, which is good news for our native plants and the crops that bees pollinate.
We can’t survive without bees, and they can’t survive without our help. Anyone with an outside area at their home can easily help to provide a plentiful source of food for bees, and in the process create a colourful, vibrant outside area to enjoy all year round.
What do bees need to thrive?
Bees forage on flowers for nectar and pollen, both of which provide carbohydrates and protein, which they need for growth and energy. There’s a reason the saying ‘busy bees’ was coined – a single bee can visit up to 5,000 plants every day, and the buzzing of a bee emanates from its four wings moving 11,400 times a minute as it flies. But this busy lifestyle requires healthy doses of the right food to help bees fend off disease and parasites and gain the energy they need.
What do I need to consider when planning a bee-friendly garden?
There’s a lot of easy and inexpensive ways to encourage an increase in bee populations in New Zealand, and it starts simply with planting the right plants.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider when planting a bee-friendly garden is the types of flowers you’re planning to plant. Ideally, you’ll need a selection of plants that flower at different times of the year so your garden becomes a year-round bountiful source of nectar and pollen. Not only will this make it the ideal habitat for bees, it will ensure your garden is awash with colour throughout the year.
Colour is important for bees, and to attract as many as possible, it’s a good idea to have a range of different coloured and shaped flowers as well as a selection of both annuals and perennials.
Pruning helps to create an abundance of flowers – lavender, which is very attractive to bees is especially good at responding to pruning and flowers well after some clipping. While pruning is good, bees generally thrive in gardens that are not perfectly manicured. For solitary bees that don’t live in colonies, it’s common to make their nests in the ground. To attract these types of bees, it’s a good idea to leave some areas of dirt exposed for nesting.
If you prefer a very manicured garden, bee houses can be placed in shady areas away from direct sunlight and protected from rain.
What are the best species to plant?
If you’re more of a kitchen gardener rather than someone who appreciates flowers, bees love basil, chives, echinacea, sage, pumpkin, sunflower and sweetcorn. Various trees and shrubs are also havens for bees, including apple and plum trees, lemon, orange and grapefruit as well as pear and peach trees.
Ornamental plants and flowers great for bees are extensive but some of the best include hollyhock, balsam, cornflowers, penstemon and michaelmas daisies. Wisteria is a beautiful climber and also attracts bees, while native trees including pohutukawa and rata provide a plentiful source of pollen and nectar.
Bees also need water and one of the easiest ways to provide a suitable drinking space for them is to place saucers of water around the garden with a couple of small stones or pebbles in them to allow bees to stand and drink without falling in.
If you’re unsure whether you’re planting the right mix, often the labels at plants sold in garden shops will detail if a plant attracts bees. If you have room, another way to attract bees is to plant generous clusters of the same variety of plant in one area to allow bees to dine in one spot for long periods of time. This creates areas awash with colour and will attract bees to the garden. It’s important to remember though, that bees need a variety of species so try to plant a variety of flowering or kitchen plants if possible.
And most importantly, try to avoid using pesticides if you’re creating a bee-friendly garden. Most pesticides work indiscriminately and will kill off the insects you don’t want, along with bees. If you do use a pesticide, it’s preferable to use a natural one and spray after sunset when the bees have retired to their nest or colony.
You might be interested in reading: Create your own vegetable garden.
This article by Clare Chapman featured on page 33 in Issue 025 of Renovate Magazine. New Zealand's first and only magazine solely dedicated to home renovations.
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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.