Gardening - Plants for honeybees (Part 2)

By: Andrew Steens

Following on from my previous column, where I covered native plants for bees and other pollinators, there are many introduced species of trees which are excellent for bees on farms, lifestyle blocks and large gardens.

They include all the eucalypts, any non-invasive wattle species, tree lucerne (which is a valuable source of high protein pollen and nectar in winter and spring), any of the pipfruit family (apples and pears), including ornamentals such as flowering quince and ornamental pear, or the stone fruit family – again including the ornamental types, such as flowering cherry. Oak and walnut provide a good source of pollen in spring and the alders are valued for producing their pollen in autumn.

Ceanothus (Californian lilacs) are an excellent plant for poor soils with dry summers and produce copious pollen and nectar that is easy for bees to harvest. The large varieties are well suited to farms and lifestyle blocks while the smaller varieties of this plant are easy garden plants.

In the home garden, please get rid of your lawns. Lawns are typically mown before any reasonable amount of flowers can come through. They are next to useless for bees or indeed any other beneficial insects, plus there is the environmental cost and hassle of mowing.

The first step should be to replace some of the lawn with a decent sized veggie garden. Aside from the fresh veggies, you’ll also keep the bees happy with the copious nectar that some plants provide, such as those from the melon, pumpkin, onion, legume, brassica, lettuce and potato families. Let excess plants that you don’t harvest come into flower. You would be amazed at how many bees will work on a single rocket, lettuce or broccoli that has been left to flower.

Extend the veggie garden area with borders or low hedges of useful herbs and perennials. Echinacea, lavender, rosemary, fennel, zinnia, sunflower, daisies, alstroemeria and others are hugely desirable for bees and will also feed other beneficial insects that help keep your pests in check.

Consider the bees when you are planting your ornamental gardens as well; Bottlebrush, camellia, wisteria, butterfly bush, single roses, honeysuckle (non-invasive), Chinese lantern, fuchsia and Mexican orange blossom vine are all good for bees. Of course, most of the shrubs and trees already mentioned can be worked into your ornamental gardens as well.

Under and around your home orchard, replace your lawn completely with wildflowers and herbs. Keep in mind that citrus are one of the best nectar producing trees but don’t like root competition under the drip line. Plant species such as lemon balm and bee balm, cornflower, sage, borage, calendula, alyssum, phacelia, coriander, Queen Anne’s lace, nasturtium and many more with gorgeous flowers that bees love.

If you must have some lawn, try to reduce the amount of grass species and encourage flowering plants such as clover, daisies, buttercup, rather than spraying them out to get the perfect lawn. Try mowing in blocks or strips so some areas of lawn can flower before being cut back. Introduce other flowering species such as thyme, chamomile, marjoram, oregano, Veronica and violets.

Over time, your garden may look a little messier, but the colour, the hum of bees, the reduction in pests and the contribution to the environment will give you a distinct feeling of achievement and peace.

Andrew Steens


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