How to Create Your Own Backyard Bee Habitat
Whether you have hives of your own or are simply looking to make your backyard more bee-friendly for native bees, there are a few easy ways to create your own pollinator habitat that will have your garden humming with bees in no time at all. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some simple ways that you can make your backyard or garden more bee-friendly. By using these steps, you will increase pollinator activity in your space, which can have tons of benefits, including a more abundant harvest in your garden, more diverse flowers in your garden beds and the simple joy that comes with knowledge that you’re doing your part to help bees.
What are the benefits of gardening for the bees?
Creating a backyard bee and pollinator habitat has plenty of perks. At a time when bee populations are threatened by habitat loss and pesticide use, creating safe havens for bees and other pollinators is essential for their survival.
While honeybees get a lot of attention, there are over 4000 species of native bees in the United States. As specialists, many of these bees, such as the solitary mason bee, can be even more efficient pollinators than honeybees. As native bees are threatened by the same issues that affect honeybees, creating a backyard habitat that’s suitable for honeybees, is certain to help native bees and other pollinators too.
Even if you’re working with a small space, creating a bee-friendly yard can help native bees and honeybees find refuge as they travel from habitat to habitat. Even a small window box full of flowers bees love can provide enough sustenance to help ensure bees get to the next spot in their travels.
But beyond helping bees and other pollinators, if you have a garden, encouraging pollinator activity in your outdoor space can greatly improve the productivity of your vegetables. Thanks to the action of pollinators, you’ll have more fruit on your tomatoes, squash and pumpkin vines. And of course, who doesn’t love the sound of buzzing bees? It’s the music of summer after all! So read on for our favorite tips to encourage bees to visit your outdoor space.
Creating your own backyard bee garden
Designing your own bee habitat can be as simple or elaborate as you like, and you certainly don’t need a large backyard to get started. Even if you are only working with a small patio or balcony, adding a few bee-friendly elements to your space will do wonders for pollinator activity.
Choose plants that bees love
The easiest and most satisfying way to attract bees to your yard is to simply plant a few of the plants that attract bees. Bees feed on nectar and pollen, so choosing varieties that are rich in both is a good place to start. It is also a good rule of thumb to avoid hybridized plants, pollenless flowers and plants with double blooms as plants of this sort have been so genetically manipulated by humans that they are of little use to pollinators.
Instead, opt for native flowers, such as purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan, which native bees can pollinate more efficiently. Beyond native plants, choose heirloom flowers and try to select specimens that boast blue, purple, white or yellow flowers, as these colors are particularly appealing to bees.
Some of the best flowers to plant in your bee habitat include:
Cone flowers (echinacea)
Planting your garden with flowers that bloom at different times of the year is a great way to maximize your garden space and ensure that bees and other pollinators have a food source, regardless of the time of the year.
Try planting early blooming spring flowers, such as daffodils, flowering cherry and grape hyacinth, and then follow them up with later blooming summer and autumn plants, such as Agastache, comfrey, foxgloves, asters and sedum. You can even plant some very cold hardy plants, like crocuses and snowdrops, that can appear even before snow completely melts in early spring.
Succession planting will guarantee beautiful blooms in your garden throughout the growing season, but it will also help ensure that bees have something to eat, from the moment they first emerge in spring to the first frosts of winter.
Make your pollinator plants accessible
Some species of bees are not particularly great at flying, so it can make pollination much easier if you plant flowers in clusters.
For a particularly striking display, try planting three or more of the same type of plant together. This will not only make it easier for bees to pollinate your plants, but it will improve the visibility of your landscaping, helping to ensure bees can readily spot your flowers. Planting in this manner also lends a more natural, organic look to your landscape.
Grow some herbs
Most people love eating herbs as garnishes or flavor boosts in dishes like salads and sautés, but bees love herbs too. If you want to attract bees to your yard, consider growing an herb garden and allow your herbs to flower. Sage, lavender, marjoram, mints, thyme, oregano, chamomile and alliums, like chives, are all bee favorites. If you don’t have the space for a dedicated herb bed, consider potting up a few herbs and placing them on your back steps or hang an herb planter from your balcony.
Plant a bee lawn
Grass lawns are not useful to bees and, with their high watering requirements and fast growth rate, they can mean a lot of work for us too. Enter the pollinator lawn: a low-maintenance and pollen and nectar-rich lawn which bees will adore. Most commonly, pollinator lawns are seeded with white clover, which is a bee favorite. Clover lawns require less maintenance than grass, grow slower and lower so they need less trimming, and naturally enhance your soil with their nitrogen-fixing properties.
Clover lawns can be seeded onto bare soil, or you can simply throw clover seeds around your existing grass lawn and let nature do the rest.
Leave that leaf litter
While honeybees live in hives, most native bees are solitary bees and many of them live underground or burrow in old leaf litter and other organic matter.
When tidying up your backyard in autumn, try leaving some leaves or make dedicated debris piles by mounding leaves and twigs together to create a makeshift bee home. Additionally, it can be helpful to avoid using weed fabric and leave some areas of your garden space unmulched so that burrowing bees can more easily burrow underground.
Give the weeds a break
Common “weeds,” like goldenrod, milkweed and dandelion, are rich in pollen and nectar and extremely useful plants for bees and other pollinators. Try to resist the urge to mow down or pull out all of your weeds if you can help it. Or, if you don’t want to plant bee-friendly plants, just allow non-invasive weeds to flower in your yard for a zero-maintenance, zero-cost bee garden.
Add a water source
Bees, like every other living creature, need access to cool, fresh water, particularly when summer temperatures begin to soar. To help bees beat the heat, try adding a few saucers filled with small pebbles or marbles and a bit of water throughout your yard. Refill your saucers daily with clean, fresh water and you’ll soon find bees visiting your makeshift “bee pools” to get a quick sip.
Build some bee hotels for solitary bees
For the DIY-minded, creating a few solitary “bee hotels” and placing them throughout your garden can do wonders for native bee populations. And these bee hotels don’t need to be anything fancy either. Simply fill an old box with some pinecones or twigs, drill a few holes into an untreated block of wood or bundle some lengths of hollow bamboo together and hang them beneath a sheltering evergreen tree.
If you don’t feel like making your own bee hotel, there are plenty of great premade options as well. Some are quite simple, while others provide nesting space for additional species of pollinators, like ladybugs and butterflies.
Keep your garden pesticide-free
Of course, the single best way to create a bee-friendly yard is to avoid all chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Bees and other pollinators feed on nectar and pollen and anything you spray on your ornamental flowers or vegetable gardens has a risk of being ingested by bees which can cause death or entire colonies to collapse.
Instead of turning to synthetic fertilizers, opt for natural options like organic kelp fertilizers, organic compost and aged manure. For natural weed control, try using frequent weeding, preventative mulches or horticultural vinegar in a pinch. And beneficial insects, companion planting, floating row covers or properly applied organic insecticides, like neem oil, can be as effective as chemical pesticides.
Growing a backyard bee habit is super simple and incredibly rewarding to boot. Not only will you enjoy the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you’re helping local bee populations, but you’ll also end up creating a beautiful, colorful garden full of pollinator-friendly species in the process. So, whether you’re working with a large backyard, or simply a small patio with a few container plants, consider employing some of these tips to make your space more bee-friendly. From growing a more abundant garden to listening to the relaxing buzz of one of nature’s best pollinators, there are so many rewards that come from creating your own bee habitat.