Attracting Bees with Plants and Flowers

When I moved back to Seattle Aug. 2014, I drove around Leschi and Mt. Baker looking at yards. I was pleasantly surprised to see many new, more sustainable yards and gardens. Those yards that may look a little disheveled and unkempt are actually the types of yards that pollinators love. Well-manicured lawns are a thing of the past, although it is sometimes difficult to convince our families and loved ones of that. As a compromise I’m leaving my front yard as is (for now), but the backyard is mine to do as I please. And I plan to let it get a little wild with plants that attract pollinators, especially our native bees.

These little guys need our help! They are losing their homes and their food supply is getting scarce. They are disappearing. This is due to many factors, including commercial and residential development, pesticide use, use of non-native plants, which our pollinators won’t eat, and which further destroy habitat by crowding out the native plants that have evolved with native pollinators.

Why do we care? These insects pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat. Without bees, there would be no apples, pumpkins, strawberries, or many other fruits and vegetables that we love. Canada and the U.S alone grow more than 100 crops that need pollination.

How can we help? The solution is easy. Plant flowers. Plant flowers that are native to your region and that attract pollinators. A small sunny spot in your backyard or front yard is all that you need. Plant a large variety of nectar and pollen-rich flowers. Color matters; bees like bright blue and violet. Planting large groups of flowers of the same color or kind attracts bees much better than single, individual flowers scattered throughout the garden. Include a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the season. The flowers of certain trees, vines, shrubs and herbs attract pollinators.

Plants for bees

When choosing plants to attract bees, the first choice is native plants. Native wildlife and native plants are adapted to each other and to our climate. Also native plant species from local gene stock are adapted to our summer drought conditions and can thrive without fertilizer, pesticides (a no-no), pruning and other maintenance. When you buy native plants, ask for local stock.

Some native plants to consider: Aster, Goldenrod, Penstemon, Sunflower, Rose, Clarkia, Nootka Lupine, Thrift, Yarrow, Common Camas, Columbia Lewisia, Trillium, Wood Sorrel. These are only a few.

Other garden plants and non-natives that attract bees: English Lavender, Blue Columbine, Hellebore, Purple Coneflower, “Autumn Joy” Sedum, Bee Balm, Sea Holly, Globe Thistle, Russian Sage, Daffodil, Crocus, Cosmos, and many more.

Herbs that bees love: Thyme, Borage, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Lemon Balm, Mint.

Helpful resources

Real Gardens Grow Natives, by Eileen Stark

Attracting Native Pollinators, by the Xerces Society (www.xerces.org)

The Pollinator Partnership (www.pollinator.org)

The Washington Native Plant Society (www.wnps.org)

Urban Bee Project (www.urbanbeeprojectseattle.com)

This is truly gardening to save a planet, one backyard, one container, one p-patch and one community at a time.

~Ruby Holland

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