Creating A Great Bee Garden
most important element of a bee garden is the types of flowers it
contains. Not all flowers are attractive to bees, and some flowers
are much more attractive than others.
The more of these attractive flowers planted in
the same place, the better! One of the most interesting results
of our research is that bees have preferences, not only for the
flowers they pollinate, but for the gardens they visit. Gardens
with 10 or more species of attractive plants attracted the largest
number of bees. In these kinds of gardens, even those plants known
to be less attractive, received higher levels of visits.
composition of the garden is also important. The more attractive
gardens tended to be less manicured, allowing solitary native bees,
which make their individual nests in the ground or in trees, to
make their nests without disturbance. If you like, bee nests can
also be made. If they are placed in a shady area of the garden,
they may be used by the bees but they aren’t needed to have
a successful bee garden.
Bee gardens should not experience pesticides and
should contain large patches of like flowers planted in close
proximity to one another. For our purposes, it is necessary that
each patch of flowers (each species) is at least 1.5m x 1.5m (for
frequency counts). Ideally, the patches will be even larger,
allowing the observer to make counts on several different patches
(1.5m x 1.5m each) of the same species. Contrary to how it may
seem, bees are actually very shy. If an observer spends too long
in one place, hovering over the same patch of flowers, the bees
will gradually begin to move on to other flowers where they won’t
be bothered. To facilitate counts, it is sometimes a good idea
to create little paths through the garden so that all patches are
accessible to the observer.
Labeling each patch/species with their Latin scientific
name is extremely important. Unidentified plants can be taken to
a local nursery (the employees at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery
are especially knowledgeable) to be identified and then labeled.
If you like, you can begin your own collection of plant vouchers
but this is not necessary.
Finally, it is important to plant flowers that
bloom successively over the spring, summer, and fall seasons in
order to provide pollen and nectar resources to the native bees
of all seasons. As some attractive plants die out, others will
take their place to ensure ongoing attractiveness to seasonal bees.
It will be interesting to watch how the frequencies change in the
garden as new species bloom and others fade away!
We have found that the following plants will provide
a year-long supply of pollen and nectar for native California bees
in the San Francisco Bay Area. We use these plants in four experimental
gardens located at the University of California, Berkeley campus,
a Lucas Valley school garden (Marin Co.), the Randall Museum in
San Francisco, and the Livermore Community garden (Contra Costa