Gardening to help save our bees in 2020

January 16, 2020

Gardening to help save our bees in 2020

Bees and Gardens
It’s a new year, it’s a new decade and time for a new start. Time for each of us to do more than we did in previous years to help our struggling pollinators many of whom are in serious trouble.

A recent report by the European Commission tells us that 1 in 10 bee species in Europe are under threat with 0.4% critically endangered (Could go extinct any time), 2.4% endangered, 1.2% vulnerable and 5.2%  threatened.

A UK study published in 2019 showed that since 1980 a third of the UK’s wild pollinating insects had declined. The results of the study show that a small minority of pollinators including honey bees continue to survive whilst the vast majority are in long term decline.

We can all do our bit in 2020 and beyond to help ‘save the bees.’


How to make your garden ‘bee-friendly’

Plant flowers that bees and other insects actually like. Many modern gardens are full of very attractive flowers that have a long flowering season and provide colour all summer long but are often poor for bees and other insect’s because they are highly bred with double blooms. They are basically all petals and no pollen or nectar for insects to eat. Avoid annual bedding plants, frilly double-flowered perennials and instead, go for cottage garden type plants with simple single blooms.

For some good suggestions download these planting guides

Plant the best of the best plants for bees to attract the most variety of species and provide them with the most food possible out of your space. Some plants are better for insect’s pollinators than others. They may be more attractive because they flower longer, offer more pollen or nectar or because they are easier for the bees to collect the food from. Knowing what to plant to make the most out of your garden space can be daunting but there are some really good evidenced-based suggestions available on the internet. Start by watching this excellent video by the University of Sussex Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects which covers some of their best plants for bees findings.

  • Another good starting point is Rosybee Plants a bee-friendly nursery who have spent 6 years researching the best garden plants for bees and have published some really useful tables highlighting the best plants for bees in your garden
  • Reduce your reliance on pesticides. Practice integrated pest management which means exhausting hand weeding, handpicking off pests, using natural remedies and biological control measures first and only using pesticides as a very last resort. It’s not just insecticides which harm bees. Weed killers and fungicides don’t just kill the unwanted weeds and fungus, they can also combine with insecticides multiplying their lethal effects on insects and should be avoided. One of the biggest causes of insect decline is the overuse of weed killers reducing the numbers of flowering weeds which bees rely on. Try using mulch to keep weeds at bay instead of spraying weed killer and encourage natural insect pest predators to make your garden their home by erecting lady birdhouses and lacewing homes.
  • Design the layout of your garden to help bees. Bees prefer to forage on blocks of flowers of the same type so plant your bee-friendly flowers in large blocks or drifts. Singular plants are not as attractive and more likely to be overlooked.
  • Get rid of peat-based compost. Peat is unsustainable and its harvesting damages bogs which take tens of thousands of years to develop. Bogs are our best and most efficient habitat for locking carbon and preventing flooding in the lowlands as they absorb vast amounts of rainwater. Peat extraction, therefore, exaggerates climate change that is a major threat to wild bees. Instead, ditch the peat and use peat-free composts. Some of the best peat-based composts around include Petersfield ‘peat-free supreme’ which is coir (coconut fibre) based, Dalefoot compost ‘bracken and sheep's wool’ compost and Melcourt ‘peat-free multipurpose.’ I’ve used all these composts in my planting for bees projects and they are all great growing mediums.
  • Erect a bee hotel to give wild bees a place to live. Many wild bees will nest in burrows underground in our lawns, among the cracks in paving slabs and bare earth but some like to nest off the ground in hollow plant stems and timber. You can cater for these by erecting a bee hotel. There are many available in garden centres or you can look online for instructions on how to make your own. Erect on a south-facing fence or wall unobstructed by vegetation so that bees have a clear flight path in and out of the box.
  • Pots to parks. Even if you don’t have a garden you can still help bees by planting up some window boxes with bee friendly plants and bulbs, hanging baskets or tubs and containers on your balcony. Even small areas of planting can attract bees. Herbs like Thyme and marjoram, Alpines and maritime plants will cope well even on windswept balconies at height.


Plant of the Month: Viburnum tinus.


An evergreen shrub Viburnum tinus flowers October to spring and on warm winter days will attract bees and butterflies to its sweetly scented blooms. It's an easy plant to care for and suffers few problems. It can be pruned in spring once it has finished flowering to keep its shape or allowed to grow into a large specimen shrub.


Bee of the month: Buff Tailed Bumblebee

Buff Tailed Bumblebee

This large bumblebee is active 12 months of the year in southern England and will form new nests in autumn rather than enter hibernation like many of its cousins. By now the nests will be starting to reach their peak and up to 200 workers may be present in the colony. On mild winter days, workers can be seen visiting the blooms of Mahonia, Viburnums, Winter flowering honeysuckles, winter cherry and Hellebores.


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