Five easy ways to make your garden bee-friendly!

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

This week’s blog is all about bees and how we can make our gardens more friendly for these little critters! More and more of us are waking up to the importance of bees for us and for the wider environment. As biodiversity in the UK has declined, bee numbers have also been declining, with two species of UK bees already extinct. So, what can we do about it you ask? Luckily there are some solutions for adapting our gardens to help the bees and I’m going to cover five easy ways here!

Why are bees so important?

As well as producing delicious honey, bees play an extremely important role as pollinators. Globally, there are 100 crops which account for 90% of the world’s food - 70 of these crops are pollinated by bees according to the UN. If you were wondering, this includes (deep breath): avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, sunflowers, cucumbers, citrus fruit, peaches, kiwis, cherries, cranberries, melons, blueberries and almonds (phew!).

Bees also pollinate clover and alfalfa which are vital fodder crops for livestock. To further add to their importance, they also pollinate non-food crops like cotton. Clearly, bees are making a big contribution to our food system and beyond. If you're wondering what this looks like quantified, the University of Reading have estimated that bees contribute approximately £651 million to the UK economy annually. Can you bee-lieve it?!

Recently the importance of bees has become a popular topic and unfortunately it is because their numbers are in rapid decline. There are lots of reasons for this. Urban encroachment is one: as populations rise we need to build more infrastructure that transforms natural habitats for bees. We often replace these high biodiversity habitats with ones which are not bee-friendly. This is the same for modern agricultural practices, not only because they are often monocultures with only one species of crop grown (reducing biodiversity), but also because of pesticide use. In particular, neonicotinoid pesticides are contributing to the fall in numbers of bees across the world.

5 Ways to Make Your Garden More Bee-Friendly

1. Avoid using chemical fertilisers and pesticides in your garden

The first way that we can our gardens more bee-friendly garden is to stop using harsh chemical based products! Commonly sold pesticides and weed killers can be very detrimental to bees because many of them are indiscriminate in what they kill. Switching to a natural, organic approach is far more beneficial.

Nature’s method of pest control is beneficial predatory insects like ladybirds. Unfortunately, they are sensitive and often the last to join the party! As many people use pesticides, we generally have low biodiversity in our gardens, which means we're not providing enough nesting sites for the different species such as the ladybirds.

Using natural methods of pest control like removing them by hand or natural soaps and insecticide sprays is the first thing we can do. Picking weeds by hand or using weed control matting are other ways we can avoid using unnecessary weed killers.

You can also make natural fertilisers at home, 'nettle teas' (not for human drinking!) are great ways to use scraps from the garden. All you have to do is place cut up nettles and other weeds into a bucket with water and make an airtight seal, in 3-4 weeks you’ll have a fantastic fertiliser for the whole garden.

2. Plant a wide variety of flowering plants all year

The next step is to grow plants that attract bees (and other pollinators). These should have a supply of pollen and nectar for bees to continue doing their job year round. Bees are sensitive to the colour purple so they should always be some purple flowers in your garden. Tubular flowers like foxgloves and honeysuckles are great for long-tongued species like the garden bumblebee.

Below is a guide on what to grow for different seasons, these also include trees, perennial and annual plants.

Spring: Alliums, Bluebell, Crab Apple, Crocus, Flowering Cherry and Currant, Forget-me-not, Hawthorn, Hyacinths, Pansies, Peonies, Primrose, Pulmonaria, Rhododendron, Rosemary

Summer: Apple, Aster, Borage, Buddleja, Cardoon, Campanula, Chives, Comfrey, Cornflower, Dahlia (single-flowered), Delphinium, Foxglove, Globe Thistle, Geranium, Heather, Hollyhock, Ivy, Lavender, Marigolds, Mint, Nasturtiums, Oregano, Penstemon, Potentilla, Scabious, Sedum, Snapdragon, Stachys, Sunflower, Teasel, Thyme, Verbascum, Zinnias

Autumn: Asters, Borage, Nasturtium, Oregano, Goldenrod, Red Valerian, Sedum, Thyme, Witch Hazel

Winter: Hellebores, Mahonia, Snowdrops, Winter Clematis, Winter Heather, Winter Honeysuckle

3. Grow a wildflower patch

Another reason for such low biodiversity where humans live is the prevalence of neat lawns! Our lawns are often just one species of grass. To make our gardens more bee friendly we can grow a wildflower patch to mimic meadow habitats. If you can sacrifice a patch of your lawn you can provide more pollinating flowers for your local bees but also nesting sites. Meadows are associated with longer grass and this is a perfect place for ground nesting bees to live!

If you don’t have a garden or a patch to grow wildflowers don't worry, you can also use pots and containers to achieve this goal. Wildflower seed packet mixes are widely available. Scatter these into a pot, window planter or in your garden to grow a high biodiversity wildflower patch!

4. Build a bug hotel

Sometimes called bee hotels, these little DIY projects not only provide a nesting site for solitary and mason bee species, but also for all sorts of beneficial insects like the predatory ones we already mentioned.

You can buy these online but they are also really easy to make yourself. The general idea is to upcycle old wood, sticks, dry grass/straw, cardboard and bricks to create a habitat with lots of little holes and cavities for insects and bees to nest.