Gardening for bumblebees
What does a bee-friendly garden look like?
As a rule of thumb your garden should provide bee-friendly flowers that are rich in pollen and nectar which bees can easily access from spring until late summer. This will ensure that there is a good supply of pollen at all of the crucial times:
• When the queens are establishing nests.
• When nests are growing.
• When nests are producing new queens and males.
• When queens are fattening up ready for hibernation.
The greater the number of suitable flowering plants in your garden the better but you should aim for at least two kinds of bee-friendly plant for each flowering period. You can plant what you like in your garden so long as it doesn’t escape into the wild. You will find all sorts of exotic things in garden centres and catalogues which bees will enjoy.
Visit our Bee kind tool to see how your garden scores so far and to receive guidance on the best flowers to plant to make your garden even more bee-friendly.
Things to avoid
Some species have a habit of escaping from gardens and invading wild habitats nearby, for example, Rhododendron ponticum and Himalayan balsam. These are probably best avoided. Our conservation partners Plantlife (www.plantlife.org.uk) offer useful guidance.
Certain plants have flower shapes that bumblebees cannot use. For example, some flowers have petals that form long tunnels which are too long or narrow for the bees to feed from. Similarly, flowers with multiple tightly packed heads offer bees very little accessible food.
Other flowers may not be suitable because they produce little or no pollen and nectar, often as a result of selective breeding by horticulturalists for their pleasing appearance. Plants like pansies and double begonias offer little for bumblebees and other pollinators.
You should avoid using any pesticides in your garden. They are often labelled as 'bug killers' or something similar, but almost all of these can harm bumblebees, even if you don't intend to harm them. Some pests can be controlled by simply planting certain other plants nearby, and you can learn more about this on the BBC Gardening website by clicking here.
Sourcing plants and seeds
Bee-friendly gardening can be enjoyed on any budget. Here are a few ideas:
Garden centres and nurseries: Plants will typically be large and established, but more expensive. They are usually on display for sale when they are flowering, which means that you let the bees choose for you – just put plants in your trolley that have lots of bumblebees feeding from them!
Mail-order plug plants: A growing number of online shops sell trays of plug plants, including both garden favourites and wildflowers. The plants are well established with a good root system, but small. You will often need to wait a year until they flower, but this is a cost-effective option.
Seed packets: Available in garden centres, through catalogues and online. Only ‘annuals’ will flower in their first year. Very cost-effective.
Propagation: Many bee-friendly plants can be split at the roots or take well from cuttings. Why not make friends with other local bee-friendly gardeners through a gardening club, community group or the BBCT online forum?
Wild seed collection: There are lots of native bee-friendly plants that look great in a border. Local wild plants will be well adapted to your soil type and climate plus will often be resistant to pests. You should never dig up the plants themselves, but if you mark their location you can return later in the year and collect some seeds. Try publicly accessible areas such as road verges or riverbanks and avoid private land. Never collect seed from rare plants or from places where the species is scarce.
Opening your garden to the public
If your garden is a haven for bumblebees, why not share your passion with others by holding an open garden day? This is a great way to inspire and encourage fellow gardeners to tweak their practises and encourage wildlife.
We can offer advice and can provide resources for you to distribute or sell on the day. You could even charge a small entrance fee to cover your costs and raise money for bumblebee conservation. You could start small with friends and neighbours and gradually work up to a public opening or dive straight in and take part in one of the national open garden schemes.
If you are planning to do this then please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.