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

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Blurry bee on May 10

Went outside to snap a couple pictures and saw this guy buzzing around.

The wind over the last couple days blew all the flowers off one of my cherries. I’m worried that it bloomed and went before the pollinators could get to it. (It’s SO EARLY! Have I mentioned that?) So I was happy to see this guy – hopefully there have been more that I just haven’t been noticing. Come on, cherry! Work your sexy fruit magic.


The garden is still a mess, but these buffalo beans are great early forage for bees before much else is in bloom. I have to cut them back to make room for some other stuff.

I’m apparently obsessed with bees

Oslo creates world’s first ‘highway’ to protect endangered bees – The Guardian

Oslo’s “bee highway” aims to give the insects a safe passage through the city, lined with relays providing food and shelter – the first such system in the world, according to the organisers.

This is an awesome idea. The whole notion of a bee highway is so cute I am almost having trouble thinking of it as a serious idea, but it is. A similar plan is in place to create safe migration paths for monarchs.

Hug a pollinator

Hug a pollinator

Happy pollinator week! Even though we don’t live in America, and I’m not sure if this is a legitimate Canadian “week,” I’m still celebrating it 🙂

There are lots of good reasons to attract pollinators to your garden, bee-cause (ha!) these species are important to agriculture, as many recent articles have pointed out. (They’ll also help pollinate your vegetables and fruit trees, of course, which can improve yields quite a bit. Also, many pollinators are also predatory animals who will eat other insect pests in your garden.)

Much of the focus has been on colony collapse disorder among imported honeybees, which serve a very crucial role in our food system. But native bees are also in decline, as are many other pollinators like butterflies and bats. These native pollinators suffer from habitat loss, among other problems.

World-at-large issues aside, another reason to attract pollinators to your yard is that it’s legit fun. I still get excited every time I see a bee bumbling around trying to get stuff done. Think of your garden as an office tower, and the pollinators as your tiny workers. (Full disclosure: I’m not claiming this metaphor makes any sense. I’m just saying, I like watching them toiling away.)

Gardeners can do a lot to help native pollinators by:

  • planting pollinator-friendly plants, including native plants
  • making sure that there’s something in bloom for them throughout the season
  • providing open water sources and insect habitats in their yards
  • not using chemical pesticides.

Even a single flowering plant can make a difference, but a larger area planted with multiple flowers is more likely to attract pollinators. Include a little water feature of some kind (it can be a puddle, or a shallow bowl of water) and turn your yard into a pollinator spa! Optional: Leave tiny vegan meals out for them! Offer yoga once a week!

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