Our guest blogger this month is Cherisse Bown from Urbee, a company with an aim, not only to design and provide lovely products for people, homes and gardens, but to also raise awareness of how important bees and pollinating insects are to our environment and survival. Check out their website for lots more advice and information about bees here:
Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time learning about bees, observing them, watching which flowers they visit and growing plants that will help them to thrive.
Here are my top tips for a bee-friendly garden:
1. Garden organically
Removing toxic pesticides from your garden will improve biodiversity and eliminate the danger to bees and other pollinators.
Systemic pesticides can affect a bumblebee’s nervous system, by reducing the way in which they use their ‘buzz pollination technique’.
Watch a video on how bumblebees buzz-pollinate - https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bee-faqs/buzz-pollination/
Try making your own ‘safe’ spray from oil, soap and water (spray out of direct sunlight or your plants may scorch). There are other natural remedies available to try.
Other ways in which to manage garden pests include:
i) Companion planting (an organic way to help pest control and balance) -
Borage and Marigolds are great to grow alongside tomatoes, reducing attacks from pests. I have grown Borage in my garden, and it attracts aphids away from other plants. It’s also a pollinator super-plant, refilling quickly with nectar and although Borage is an annual plant, it will self-seed so you should have more plants grow the following year… The bees adore it!
Nasturtiums deter pests from beans and attract beneficial insects (like ladybirds) to help eat aphids and pollinate the flowers.
ii) Removing some pests by hand, or with a water spray. A fine jet spray from the hose works quite well on less delicate plants.
2. Grow a variety of plants, trees and shrubs that flower throughout the year
Bees have different lifecycles - some hibernate, some die off before the winter, some bumblebee species are now active during the winter in milder areas.
It’s good to grow a wide variety that provide forage throughout the year. When bees emerge in the spring, they need lots of fuel, so plants like Wallflowers, Snowdrops, Primroses and Crocuses will help. If you have the space, fruit trees provide an amazing amount of nectar and pollen when blossoming in the spring and the catkins of Willow, Alder and Hazel trees provide food for a variety of bee species.
Some of my best summer finds include – Vipers Bugloss, Borage, Hardy Geraniums, Lavender and Salvias. Flowering herbs, vegetable and fruit plants are fantastic sources of food. You can grow herbs in a sunny window box if space is limited.
Buddleja, Rudbeckia’s and Echinacea’s are great for late summer/autumn.
For winter, I have found Hellebores, Mahonia, Sarcoccoca and Erica’s (winter-flowering heather) to be great choices.
For larger gardens, creating hedgerow borders with shrubs/ trees like Ivy, Holly, Hawthorn and Blackthorn have huge benefits to wildlife.
For a detailed list from the RHS - https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/pdf/conservation-and-biodiversity/wildlife/plants-for-pollinators-garden-plants.pdf
3. Grow wildflowers
Native wildflowers are some of the best sources of food and shelter for bees and insects, also providing seeds for birds. Bees and wildflowers have evolved together, and specific wildflowers are often the main food plant of different insects.
British gardens are great places to replace the wildflowers that we have lost in the UK, so try growing a mini meadow if you have the space.
All you need is some bare soil and native wildflower seeds. Throw them down in the autumn (or spring) and see what grows.
My children have enjoyed making seed balls this summer, which are great to scatter now.
Another option is to stop mowing (or mow less often). Leaving your lawn or a patch of it to be wild can provide potential nesting sites for some species of bees. We left our lawn during ‘No Mow May’ this year and found Clover, Red-dead nettles, Crocuses and even a frog!
4. Try and resist the urge to 'tidy up' the garden excessively after the summer
Some bees and bugs overwinter in dry, hollow plant stems so by chopping down all spent perennial stems you may reduce wildlife habitats in your garden and many plants produce seeds that will feed the birds in the autumn.
The Small carpenter bee (Ceratina cyanea) nests and hibernates in dead bramble stems.
Fallen leaves will provide shelter for mammals and insects.
5. Provide habitats
Loss of habitat is a main cause of diminishing bee numbers. Help them to thrive by providing potential nesting sites in your garden:
Queen bumblebees may hibernate burrowed into loose soil, banks of earth or under piles of logs/stones. They look for places to hibernate after mating in the late summer. Try creating habitats in the form of log-piles, rockeries or banks of earth in a North-facing part of your garden (if the area receives too much sun or warmth they may wake early out of hibernation).
When they emerge in the Spring, they look for nesting sites, which can include holes in the ground, under garden sheds, in grassy tussocks, bird boxes and old mouse nests.
Solitary bees have different lifecycles depending on the species (there are over 250 in the UK). They nest in holes in the ground, wall cavities, bee houses, plant stems and some in empty snail shells! We’ve had a resident Leaf-cutter bee making a nest under a small plant pot.
Try making a bee house for the ‘Cavity nesting bees’ (these include Leafcutters, Red mason and Wool carder bees. You can use bamboo canes or wooden tubes.
For some bee hotel making instructions from the Natural History Museum – https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/how-to-make-bee-hotel.html
Solitary bees that nest in the ground are called ‘Mining bees’, which include: Tawny mining bees, Ashy mining bees and Early mining bees. A typical nest may look like a volcano shaped mound of earth in the ground. To help these species, avoid digging in your garden where you may have seen solitary mining bees during the summer as they may be nesting.
My final tip is to relax and enjoy your garden. Try not to worry about it looking too perfect – wild and natural is best for wildlife.