YEG top 10: Garden Plants for Bees

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Earlier this year, I got a bit preachy on Facebook about that Cheerios campaign to save bees where they were mailing out packages of seeds. While planting pollinator mixes like that is probably better than doing nothing (or maybe not? – see this article), there are lots of things gardeners can do to attract bees to our yards that are probably more effective.

  • Try to have a plant or two in bloom throughout the growing season, from May to September. This can be tough to arrange as it’s hard to know, precisely, when a plant will bloom in your yard. This year, I am trying to keep track of weeks where there’s nothing in bloom so I can try to fill in those gaps.
  • Have a source of water for bees. Even a little dish will do. A low spot that collects rain is good, too. They can’t land on the water, so they need a rock, a marble, or a miniature dock to help them get down to the water.
  • Grow native plants in your yard. Our native pollinators evolved along with native plants and native plants are their natural food. Native plants attract native bees.
  • Get rid of lawn. Replacing even a small area of lawn with flowering shrubs/trees and/or flowering plants will create a little habitat for animals, including bees. Areas where multiple plants are clustered together will help attract bees and other pollinators as they’re more visible from the air. Clumps are better than spaced-out rows or the classic Edmonton “single shrub in a sea of landscaping rock” look.
  • Reduce or eliminate pesticides in your yard. This is a big one. And when you do have to respond to a pest problem, start off with lower-impact pesticides and then escalate rather than going straight to the nuclear option.
    • Especially watch for plants that are grown with neonicotinoid pesticides. In some larger garden centres they’re labelled. In smaller independent greenhouses (where they grow their own plants) you can always ask.
  • Create habitats for native bees (which are not honeybees). They don’t live in hives — they live alone, in little crevices or bee hotels lovingly constructed for them at various workshops.
  • Plant bee-friendly plants. Although any flowering plant will help (including fruit trees! And many vegetables!), there are some that are bee-favourites. Which brings me to my main point. Here are ten great plants for bees you can plant in your Edmonton garden. In no particular order…

Note: these plants are all perennials unless otherwise noted, because I don’t believe in planting new plants every year unless those plants are also gonna grow cucumbers I can eat.

  1. Borage — boragio officialis. Borage is a wild-looking, unruly plant with delicate purple flowers. It’s probably the most reliable bee plant I grow. It is not a perennial, but it’s a self-sowing annual. It will make more little borages every year, and they’re very easy to spot (they have huge round leaves) and pull if they’re in places you don’t want them.
    non-native; self-sowing annual
  2. Golden Bean, aka Buffalo Bean — thermopsis rhombifolia. One of the earliest plants to bloom in my garden in spring, this native species is a welcome source of pollen for bees before much else is flowering. Be aware, it will spread via long runners under the ground, even out of raised beds or under sidewalks.
    native; pods and seeds are poisonous
  3. Giant Anise Hyssop — agastache foeniculum. I don’t have this plant in my garden, but I would like to get one.
  4. Beebalm (also known as Wild Bergamot) — monarda fistulosa. IT’S LITERALLY IN THE NAME YOU GUYS. Also, this one is so pretty.
  5. Goldenrod — solidago canadensis.
  6. Yarrow — achillea millefolium. Yarrow will spread, but not aggressively, and it will grow in the shade.
    native; shade tolerant; tendency to spread
  7. Fireweed — Epilobium angustifolium. This is another plant that’s on my wishlist to find and plant this summer, or possibly grow from seed next year. I had some in my garden before, but it died. Don’t let that deter you, though! We must garden with optimism.
    native; tendency to spread

These three plants I’ve never grown, but they’re on my wishlist to find this summer.

  1. Meadow Blazingstar — liatris ligulistylis.
  2. Heart-Leaved Alexander — zizia aptera.
    native; somewhat shade tolerant
  3. Flodman’s Thistle — cirsium flodmanii.

More info:

Do Your Part To Help Bees – Edmonton Journal
Pollen and Nectar Plants Table – Edmonton Native Plant Group
Especially see the last section – top plants for native pollinator gardens
WILD spaces

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