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How to Attract Bees

When I see bees in my backyard orchard, I’m excited about fruit to come. If you’re a gardener, chances are you love to see bees buzzing around your plants too.  We rely on pollination for a good harvest of fruits and vegetables. Every gardener should know how to attract bees.

Why Attract Bees?

Bees Pollinating a Blossom
Honey Bees in Flight in Focus

Why attract bees to your orchard or garden? The answer is pollination. Bees carry pollen from the male anther of one plant to the female stigma of another. The plant can then form a fruit that contains seeds. We care about pollination because it’s the only way most plant species, including fruit trees, can bear delicious fruit and vegetables. 

Whether you grow colorful flowers or food crops, bees are essential to your garden’s health. We grow fruit trees, so bees are important in the late spring months for a good harvest of apples and plums and cherries later on.

Furthermore, pollinators like bees are a sign of ecological health. If your garden attracts bees, it has enough plant diversity to support insects. If you share a passion for honeybee preservation, you know that habitat loss threatens pollinators. Making a honeybee garden will help keep pollinators around long-term! 

What Is a Bee-Friendly Garden?

When you want to attract bees, chances are you’re thinking of a honey bee. Honey bees are scientifically named apis mellifera. While apis mellifera is a common species,  a wide variety of bees pollinate fruit trees and gardens. Bumblebees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, and even wasps can all be beneficial insects. 

A bee-friendly garden should focus on attracting native pollinators, including a range of bee species. I’ve found the key to attracting bees is simple: provide a food source. All kinds of bees need to find food for the colony. A bee’s natural food supply includes nectar from wildflowers and fruit tree blossoms

Here’s a brief list of what makes a bee-friendly garden: 

  • Food sources for pollinators: this is the most important factor to attract bees. Sources of nectar such as native wildflowers or fruit trees work well. A variety of plants is best. 
  • Nesting material: while honeybees live in a hive with a complex social system and won’t automatically move into your garden, that’s not the case for every bee. Bumblebees will make underground nests a few inches deep, carpenter bees like dead wood, and sweat bees burrow in direct sunlight or dead trees. A habitat for pollinators should include a variety of nesting areas – think of these like “bug hotels!” 
  • Drinking water: bees need to stay hydrated, too! A water feature like a shallow dish is a good way to attract bees. Avoid water from sprinklers that can soak bees and chill them, or a deep pool where bees can drown. 
  • No toxic pesticides: a bee-friendly garden should not provide exposure to pesticides that kill honey bee colonies. Look for bee-friendly pesticides to get rid of just the destructive insects. However, keep in mind that a honeybee garden is a pollinator partnership. Insects that hurt one plant might be an excellent pollinator for another plant. 

If your garden meets all of the above points, it’s a pollinator paradise! You’ll attract all sorts of effective pollinators – bees, butterflies, and maybe even hummingbirds. We’ll go through all of these factors in detail in the following section. 

How to Attract Bees

Now that we’ve gone over why bees are important and what a bee-friendly backyard is, let’s get to the good stuff! You’re ready for a beautiful backyard that’s a good food source for bees. How do you turn your garden into a pollinator paradise? 

Flowers that Attract Bees

Gardeners might provide sugar water as a quick way to attract bees. However, I’ve found that a productive garden should be filled with a range of plants instead. Sugar water doesn’t have all the nutrients bees need and can attract pests. For long-term success, fill your garden with native food sources that provide nectar for bees.

Why will native plants attract bees to your garden? Well, native species of flowers are an excellent source of nectar for native bees.  You’ll know that if these plant species provide a good source of energy to bees if they’ve already been thriving together. Furthermore, the flowering period of native plants will likely coincide with when bees are active. There’s no need for exotic flowers when you can plant wildflowers or fruit trees instead! 

Keeping those tips in mind, here’s a few ideas of what to plant to attract bees. 

Plant Wildflowers to Attract Bees

Plant wildflowers to attract bees
Plant wildflowers to attract bees.

Plant flowers that you see thriving locally. I’ve found that visible flower beds give our garden color to attract bees and butterflies. Purple flowers, white flowers, and yellow flowers are good options because bees can’t see red as well.

Don’t plant a single species of flower. A range of flower shapes will support different pollinators. Bees like different types of flowers depending on its tongue length! I would suggest that your supply of flowers include early spring, late spring, and middle through late summer blooms. 

Annual flowers attract bees and blossom throughout the year. 

  • Zinnias
  • Sunflowers
  • Alyssum
  • Pansies

 I like these perennial flowers to attract bees throughout various seasons. 

  • Anise hyssop
  • Wood anemone
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Wild bergamot
  • Butterfly bushes

Wildflower mixes tend to contain the largest variety of flowers that bloom through different seasons. Look for mixes that contain some of the following. 

  • Wild columbine
  • Wood anemone
  • Anise hyssop
  • Butterflyweed
  • Wild bergamot
  • Clover
  • Milkweed

Herbs that Attract Bees

I love planting herbs because the bees flock to the flowers, and I get fragrant spices to cook with! Adding an herb garden to your orchard or vegetable patch is a great way to draw in the bees. Honeybees and bumblebees love flowering herbs.

  • Lavender
  • Bee balm
  • Chamomile
  • Sage
  • Anise hyssop
  • Basil

Fruit Trees that Attract Bees

We benefit from the bees as much as they benefit from our fruit trees! Almost any type of fruit plant will have shallow blossoms full of nectar. Plant whatever variety of fruit tree works well in your area. 

Do Weeds Attract Bees?

Weeds:  Believe it or not, common lawn weeds can actually be a great source of nectar for bees. I promise, it’s okay for a garden to be naturally messy! Leave a few weeds and flower patches in your garden beds to attract bees. Furthermore,  plant diversity in a garden or orchard leads to healthier soil. 

  • Dandelions
  • Clover
  • Milkweed
  • Creeping primrose
  • Chickweed
  • Willowherb

Water Sources for Bees

After bees have been foraging for food in your garden, they need a drink of water! Access to nectar is not the only key to attracting bees. Provide shallow pools of water for bees to drink. This will keep bees from going to a swimming pool where they could drown. 

Bowls of sugar water work well to attract bees and hydrate them as well. However, sugar water has negative effects like spoiling or attracting other insects. The best option is a dish of plain water. 

How to Make Nesting Areas that Attract Bees

Beekeeper working with beehives in an orchard
Bee hives in an orchard

Now that you’ve filled your garden with plants that attract bees, it’s time to give them a place to rest. Bumblebees, carpenter bees, and sweat bees all nest near their food sources.

Should You Put a Bee House in Your Home Orchard? 

Some gardeners put a bee house, bee box, or wooden nest blocks in their home orchard. Providing a nesting place can be a good way to attract bumblebees to your orchard or flower gardens. They’ll come for the food and then take up residence. 

How To Attract Bumblebees

Most bumblebees make tunnel nests about 6 inches into the ground. They’ll make nesting tunnels in dry, dark areas. If you want to give bumblebees a nest site, you can provide good areas for tunnel nests. However, nesting boxes aren’t foolproof because the queen bumblebee will choose nesting tunnels she deems acceptable. 

  • Find an undisturbed, dark corner that is not in full sunlight
  • Provide nesting material like dry grass or leaves
  • Provide a cover to keep rain out, like an overturned bowl
  • Make an entrance underground and about 6 inches deep using a pipe or some tubing 

How to Attract Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees and sweat bees like to nest in dead wood. Carpenter bees don’t live in a colony like honeybees but are solitary wanderers. I’ve found carpenter bees in all sorts of soft wood. They’ll live in old trees, dead logs, or even old buildings that are in partial sunlight and not too damp.

You can provide wooden nest blocks with any old logs or wood you have lying around. Some gardeners provide a 20-hole nesting block that serves as a bee house for carpenter bees and sweat bees. These nesting blocks provide refuge from strong winds and a place to rest. 

How to Attract Honeybees to Your Orchard: Understanding Swarm Season

Bee hives in an orchard pollinating tree blossoms in the spring

Honey bees live in hives with thousands of other bees. They will not nest in the ground or dead wood. It’s unlikely they will make a hive in your orchard, with one exception. Spring is honeybee swarm season. Bees outgrow their hive and lay a new queen to lead the existing hive, while the old queen leaves with about half the bees.

It is possible to lure a swarm of bees into a new hive you’ve set up for them. It’s not foolproof, but putting some sugar water and lemongrass extract in a new hive might lure honeybee colonies in during swarm season. If they decide they live in the surrounding area, they may take up residence in the hive and you’ll be a beekeeper

If you have a bee-friendly garden, the nectar sources in your backyard are likely to attract bees during swarm season. Don’t panic if you see large clusters of bees land in your orchard. They’re just looking for a place to rest while they search for a new home. 

Maintaining a Pollinator-Friendly Backyard

Honey bee pollinating citrus blossom

You’ve done it! Pollinators are in your backyard garden or orchard even more than you are. How do you keep this up for year after year of good harvests? 

First of all, make sure you support pollinators throughout the growing season. Home orchards are usually filled with fruit trees that bloom in spring. Look for fragrant flowers that bloom at different times of the year to support pollinators throughout the seasons. Hybrid flowers and heirloom varieties will look pretty, but find a balance between what works best in your garden and what bees love.

Second, maintain nesting areas. Don’t mow or weed too often, and consider designated weed areas to let those dandelions grow. Leave some dead wood for carpenter bees and sweat bees to nest into. Keep a water source full in the dry season of summer. 

Third, embrace some messiness! Manicured lawns look nice, but they aren’t a good food source or nesting habitat for bees. Natural growth of lawn weeds will attract bees more than sterile carpets of grass. 

Finally, be careful with pesticides, not just in the garden or orchard but in surrounding areas where bees might be nesting. Use this guide to find bee-friendly pesticides

Now you know everything you need to attract bees to your garden or orchard.  Bees do so much for us that it’s fun to make our orchards a better place for them. Enjoy making your orchard a bee-autiful place for pollinators! 

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