5 gorgeous garden strategies that will keep the bees buzzing

Hard-working bees deserve our admiration and encouragement, so why not say thanks with pollen-rich plants? Their showy flowers will enhance your garden’s design and provide bouquets to bring indoors.

When thinking bee plants, think sun. These frenetic creatures prefer fields to forests. Find a spot that receives sun for at least four hours each day, preferably from midday through the early afternoon.

Remember too that double flowers – such as stunning tutu-like cherry blossoms or fully double roses – generally do not produce the nectar and pollen needed to support bee life. Keep your eye out for simple flowers. If you can see pistils and stamens (located at the centre of most flowers), you know it’s bee-friendly.

Classic bee-friendly trees include those in the rose family (apples, pears, cherries and plums)and the pea family, such as Laburnum, shown here with yellow flowers draping the rustic fence.

Most sun-loving perennials are bee-friendly. Many are native to the prairies, so they are also cold-hardy. Autumn is an ideal time to plant them. As winter approaches, you might find some bargains as the gardening season winds down. Of course, the array of bulbs that are only available in the fall is delightful. Single flowers, from the early crocuses right through to summer-blooming alliums, are best.

When planting in fall, enrich the soil with well-rotted compost. Add a handful of dolomite lime and a slow, low-nitrogen fertilizer (such as bone meal). Water well so that your plants have put down deep roots before winter frosts hit. In about March, apply an all-purpose organic fertilizer to boost root and foliage growth.

Images: Leigh Clapp/Gap Photos; iStock

Create a Sensation

One of my favourite plants is Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ (zone 4), pictured above. While the bulbs are an investment, if the soil is well-drained, plants rebloom year after year. I watch out for the skinny seedlings that fall when the flowers mature, and guard them carefully when weeding. Because this bulb’s leaves wither as it blooms, disguise its base with a low-growing, evergreen perennial.

Think Texture

Combining round and spiky flower forms creates an interesting textural contrast. Here, top to bottom, are spiky purple English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, zone 5); rust and orange Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susan or gloriosa daisy, zone 3); and spikes of purple Salvia x sylvestris (zone 5), ornamental sage. The slate pavers show off the bright colours, make a neat edge and direct reflected heat towards the border.

Plant Bee Balm

Rudbeckia hirta (in foreground) merges into a drift of red bee balm (Monarda, zone 4). Keep bee balm deeply watered during summer, for it does not like to dry out. Behind is a dramatic clump of Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ (zone 4), with its erect yellow spires.

Spike It

Many bee plants are composites. Each inflorescence is made up of dozens of individual florets, some in the centre and some surrounding the centre as colourful ray florets. Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ (zone 3), which features purple rays framing mounding, rust-coloured discs, is one example. In this border, a mass of goldenrod hovers in the distance. Many wild goldenrods (Solidago) are too vigorous for the home garden, but cultivars ‘Golden Baby’, ‘Crown of Rays’ and ‘Fireworks’ (zone 5) are appropriate. Goldenrod provides bees with pollen and nectar to build up their winter stores.

Contrast Colours

Named for the Feast of Saint Michael on September 29, Michaelmas daisies (Aster novi-belgii cultivars, zone 4) are quintessentially autumnal. The contrast between their yellow discs and rays of purple, red or white is charming.

Originally published in BC Home & Garden magazine. For regular updates, subscribe to our free Home and Garden e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the magazine.