There are many reasons why you want to help bees but if you don't know why should and how you can (other than the reason of them being amazing creatures) check out my article “Save the bees”. The effect bees have on the environment is tremendous and we should all take time to help them however we can. A very easy and great way to do this is by growing a selection of plants that the bees can collect nectar and pollen from. This can include a number of flowering, druit, nut and vegetable plants. Unfortunately, not all plants are suitable for bees. This is the case with most ‘grains’ that make up a large part of humans and animals diet. Yet to have a thriving wildlife and avaried diet we need bees in our life. To help the bees I am recommending you plant some of following top plants for bees. I will also detail how to grow them and take care of them, so here are my top five plants to grow for bees:
Botanical Name: Lavandula
This should be one on the top of your list. You can’t walk past a lavender shrub without seeing at least half a dozen bees buzzing around it. This plant is renowned for its strong fragrant smell it omits but also for its rich purple look. One of the most common in the UK is the English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), which is a very hardy plant and commonly grown throughout.
To grow lavender:
Usually, you can purchase lavender as a small bush but it can also be grown from seed. You should plant this preferable in the ground but it can also be in a large pot between April and May. Place it in full sun with free draining soil, ideally with chalky or alkaline soils. However, this is hardy plant and can do well in most soils.
Once you have done the above and the plant is establish you don’t need to do much more. As this plant is very hardy you only need to water it in extreme drought or if potted.
This often flowers in early May and then blooms again in June and often lasts to late summer or early autumn (fall). Great for the bees.
Botanical Name: Dahlia
This is a bulbed plant that is also incredibly beautiful, usually single but you can also get semi-double flowing variety. However, be warned that the double flowering variety is often bred without the pollen-producing part making it not very useful for bees. This plant is again hardy, low-maintenance and produce incredible geometric flower.
To grow Dahlias:
Dahlia is a bulbed plant often planted between May to June in full sun with well-draining, light, slightly acidic rich soil (lighter soil helps them survive through the winter). They preferably need a warmer climate, as they do struggle when it is colder but the bulbs can be dug up and stored over winter and replanted the following year. They ideally should be planted around 10 inches apart
Dependant on the weather and climate this plant should be kept well- watered once it has established and is flowering. However, as always be careful not to overwater.
They bloom from early to mid-summer to autumn.
Botanical Name: Digitalis purpurea
One of the pinnacles of English cottage garden is the Foxgloves. They are one of my favourite due to their unique bell-shaped flower, which is ideal for the bees to climb into. They come in a variety of colours and if you haven’t seen these in flower they consist of a couple dozen flowers at once that is truly beautiful. If you can get a couple of these in your garden you surely won’t be disappointed when they flower.
To grow Foxgloves:
Plant in the spring or autumn in moist and warm soil. If flowering plant straight away in summer. Avoid planting small plants in the autumn, instead keep in a sheltered spot in a pot over winter. The planting requirements can also depend on the foxgloves you have, so make sure to do a check before you plant. They prefer light shade and well draining soil with plenty of organic matter.
Like usual, frequently water newly planted foxgloves until they are well established then they should only require watering when in summer after long dry spells. If kept in a container water regularly as the compost dries out. As mentioned above keep plenty of organic matter and then mulch over the soil and if in a poor quality soil add a balanced granular fertiliser. Deadhead foxgloves as soon as they have finished flowering (unless you want them to produce seeds).
Foxgloves produce stunning flowers from June to September.
Botanical Name: Wisteria sinensis
Another magnificent plant that stands out among the college gardens and British countryside cottages. It is another one of my favourite plants that takes multiple years to grow but can last for hundreds more. This beautiful plants grows a strong woody stem, growing thick and spreads out often over cottage walls and produced beautiful mauve and white flowers. Thought It can take several years until you begin to see it flower and it does not always flower every year but due to its stunning appearance I had to add it to my list.
To grow Wisteria:
Plant between October and April in fertile and well draining soil. Plant theme where they will receive lots of sunlight if you want them to produce more flowers. Also, give them a trellis or wall to climb on (bearing in mind they can climb to over 10m). If you are planting into a container make sure to give it at least a 45cm wide pot. Give the plant a good watering while the plant gets established.
Keep well watered, especially in soils that quickly dry out, also when newly planted or in dry spells. To help your Wisteria you can feed it in the spring and depending on your soil add the relative supplements. To help flowering you can prune five to six inches in July/August and in February by two to three buds to help the plant flower.
Wisterias typically flower between April and June with a potential second flowering in August.
Botanical Name: Dianthus Barbatus
A beautiful flower bed plant that comes in a wide range of beautiful colours. You can get them in red, white, pink, scarlet and in either patterned or monochrome. They are loved by most pollinators including bees, so make a great bedding flower. Another great plant tha suits cottage gardens and perennial beds but just at home in a container.
To grow Sweet Williams:
Sow in late spring (after the last frost) straight into the ground and keep the area weed-free (use a trowel as it is much better for the environment). If dry, water the soil before sowing but allow it to drain. Also, be aware that they don’t bloom in their first year. In the autumn transplant 30cm apart into their flowering position. They prefer to be in full sun but can tolerate light shade (but too much shade can make the plant become leggy and floppy). Keep them in well-draining, fertile, loamy and does best in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.
As mentioned you will need to transplant the plant in autumn to 30cm apart into their flowing position and wait until the following year to flower. Keep the Sweet William well watered during dry spells and throughout the growing season. However, be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to disease. You can also fertilise while they are growing to help produce a lush bloom. Deadhead any dead flowers but avoid pruning in the fall. Add mulch to protect and insulate the roots over winter and If in a pot, move away from areas of wind, snow and ice.