'Bee’ Friendly in your Backyard
Bees are one of the most important pollinators in the world and they play a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity and food production. They often get a bad rep for their sting, but they are utterly marvelous creatures and deserve recognition for the wealth of benefits they bring to our ecosystem, as well as a friendly space in our gardens to buzz in.
Why your garden needs buzzing bees
- Without bees, our food supply would be in big trouble. Bees are responsible for pollinating a wide variety of plants, including many of the fruits, vegetables and nuts we eat. Bees can increase the productivity of your garden by pollinating your plants, resulting in bigger and better yields. So if you’re growing your own, you need these buzzing workers to ensure your garden thrives.
- Bees are an essential part of an ecosystem, and they play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity. They are also indicators of a healthy ecosystem and their presence in your garden can indicate that your local environment is healthy and thriving. By pollinating plants, they help to create habitats for other animals and insects.
- Apart from anything else, having bees in your garden can be a great way to educate yourself and others about the importance of pollinators and the role they play in our ecosystem.
- Creating a garden that bees will love is an excellent way to support the local bee population and promote biodiversity in your area.
How to ‘bee’ friendly in your garden
Start off by choosing native, or indigenous/endemic, plants, which are well adapted to the local climate. These will provide bees with the nectar and pollen they need. Some good choices include wildflowers, fynbos varieties, aloes, and herbs like borage, rosemary, lavender, basil and thyme.
Plant a variety of flowers, as bees are attracted to a range of flower colours, shapes and sizes. A mix of flowering plants that bloom at different times of the year will provide a consistent food source.
Trees and shrubs for bees
When it comes to choosing trees and shrubs to plant in your garden, choose those that not only work best in your area, but will also benefit insects by flowering at different times of the year. Hibiscus and September Bush (Polygala myrtifolia) are lovely floriferous medium sized shrubs that will bring the bees swarming in spring and summer, but it’s mostly in winter that bees really need our help. Early flowering trees and shrubs, such as Forest Elder (Nuxia floribunda), Sweet thorn (Vachellia karroo), Weeping sage (Buddleja auriculata), Wild pear (Dombeya rotundifolia) and Buffalo thorn (Ziziphus mucronata) are great for inviting bees in winter.
There are so many flowers and plants that are bee-magnets, some of the most popular choices being wildflowers, such as African daisies and Gazanias, Felicia amelloides (Kingfisher daisy, or blue marguerite as it’s also known), Cape marigolds, Salvia, Echinacea and Scabiosa. As bees don’t see colour the same way we do, they are attracted to certain flower colours, usually favouring yellow, blue, white and purple as they can easily perceive colours on the blue and yellow end of the colour spectrum. So, make sure you plant a generous amount of those in your yard. If you’re wondering why you often see bees hurrying over to white flowers, it’s because the white flowers appear bluish-green to bees as they absorb ultraviolet rays. In fact, many flowers have ‘nectar guides’ – they reflect ultraviolet light -- which are invisible to our eyes, but directs bees to the source of food and drink!
Aloes generally flower during the winter months, so will provide a much-needed food source for bees during the colder months. In the Fynbos regions, proteas are an important food source during the winter months, and there are now many varieties that are able to handle conditions elsewhere in the country. Sunflowers produce loads of nectar and pollen and are really easy to grow (just check on the height the variety you choose gets to, to help you decide where to grow them!). Cosmos, which flower mostly on the Highveld from March through May, are also low maintenance annuals that produce large lovely flowers, and a great food source for bees.
By incorporating these plants and flowers into your garden, you’ll be creating a bee-friendly environment that will not only support local biodiversity, but also promote sustainable gardening practices.
Bee-friendly garden tips
- Don’t forget to provide water, as bees need to drink water to regulate their body temperature. A shallow water source, such as a shallow bowl filled with stones, or a bird bath – anything that they can land on and take off from again - can provide a place for bees to drink without drowning.
- Avoid using pesticides in your garden, and rather look into using natural pest control methods such as companion planting. Rather get up close and personal in your space by handpicking pests as opposed to spraying them, even with something organic.
- Bees also need places to nest over winter, so leave some areas of your garden wild, and maybe get hold of a bee hotel to provide a nesting habitat for solitary bees.
Overall, having bees in your garden is essential for supporting the health and well-being of our planet. What’s not to love? Contribute to a healthier, more sustainable environment now and share the importance of bees with everyone, everywhere. The future of bees begins in our own backyard.
World Bee Day is 20 May.