With a few simple actions you can turn your garden into a haven for bumblebees. Here are some ideas, and suggestions for which plants to grow
Of the 24 species of UK bumblebee, eight are listed on conservation priority lists. And all bumblebees – as well as other pollinating insects – could do with a helping hand.
Our gardens are becoming increasingly vital habitats for all sorts of wildlife, including insects. And if you want to help the plight of the bumblebee on your own patch, there are plenty of simple actions you can take.
Here are a few ideas.
Say no to chemicals
Don't use weedkillers or pesticides in your garden – these can be fatal to bumblebees.
It may be tempting to spray crops and flowers to get rid of pests – but pesticides don't discriminate between beneficial insects and the pests that cause damage.
The good news is that there are other ways to keep damaging pests under control. Try companion planting to attract pest-eating predators, or use organic methods such as protective insect mesh to keep crop-munching bugs off your veggies.
Make a bee bowl
We all need water to survive – and that includes bumblebees! Many natural sources are too deep or fast-flowing for bees, and they can they drown in water bowls and birdbaths.
It's quick and easy to create a bee bowl for insects to drink from. Take a shallow container – a terracotta saucer from the garden centre works well – and fill it with small pebbles or marbles. Then fill with water, making sure that plenty of pebbles stand out of the water, to give the bees something to land on.
Check your bee bowl regularly, especially during hot weather, and top up with fresh water as necessary.
Let weeds grow – and don't be too tidy!
Plants like dandelions, daisies, thistles and teasels can often be seen as an unwanted nuisance – but for pollinating insects such as bumblebees, they can be a lifeline.
Dandelions are particularly good for bumblebees. They flower early in the spring when other nectar-rich blooms are scarce. So leaving a few dandelions in place around your garden will really help.
One way to give weeds a chance is to leave a patch of grass to grow long. Native wildflowers can appear quite quickly if you don't mow, and long grass is an excellent habitat for nesting bumblebees.
While some bumblebee species like to nest in long grass, others like abandoned rodent holes. Having an undisturbed weedy corner, which is allowed to go a bit wild, can provide the right sort of habitat for nesting bumblebees – so try not to be too tidy in the garden!
Grow nectar-rich flowers
Not all flowers are good for bumblebees. Some flowers have petals that form long tunnels, which are too long or narrow for bumblebees to feed from. And many showy, double-flowered bedding plants such as begonias offer little in the way of nectar and pollen.
There are plenty of superb, bee-friendly flowers, shrubs and trees to choose from, though. Flowers that are rich in pollen and nectar will provide an excellent source of food for bumblebees, and if you choose plants that bloom from early spring right through to autumn, the bumblebees in your garden won't go hungry!
Here are seven of our favourite nectar-rich bumblebee-friendly plants.
When bumblebees and other insects emerge from hibernation in early spring, they'll be looking for nectar-rich flowers for a quick breakfast. Unfortunately, there may not be much choice at this time of year – especially if an early warm spell brings insects out of hibernation when much of the garden is still asleep.
That's why planting some spring-flowering bulbs in your garden is so important. Snowdrops are usually the first to flower, and can be in bloom as early as January. Crocuses and grape hyacinths are also a good choice.
Ajuga reptans, or bugle, is an excellent plant for the front of flower borders, or anywhere you want quick and easy groundcover.
Producing attractive spears of purple flowers, it's a magnet for bumblebees and has a long flowering period throughout spring and summer.
Lavender and other herbs
Lavender is a popular cottage garden plant, with lovely lilac flowers and a wonderful, relaxing scent. Bees love it, and there's nothing like the sight of a bumblebee dangling upside down on a lavender flower to lift the spirits.
Rosemary, thyme and sage flowers are also attractive to bumblebees. Or try growing borage from seed – it attracts bees, butterflies and hoverflies. It's a good herb to plant alongside vegetables, as the pollinating insects that are drawn to its delicate blue blooms will then go on to pollinate the beans!
Buddleia is an easy-to-grow shrub that will tolerate most conditions – so it's ideal for “difficult” corners of the garden where little else will grow.
Buddleia is available in pink, white and yellow varieties, and is commonly called the “butterfly bush” – plant some in your border and you'll soon see why! But bumblebees love it too.
If you have space for a tree, why not plant an apple tree? In spring, bumblebees love to feast on the nectar produced by the blossoms, pollinating the trees as they buzz from one blossom to the next.
It only takes two or three years for an apple tree to start producing crops of apples. Homegrown apples have a wonderful flavour when picked fresh off the tree. And if you leave any windfalls in situ, you may attract thrushes, blackbirds or even fieldfares to your garden, as they love to peck at fallen fruits.
With their cheery, sunny blooms and sky-high stems, sunflowers are a stunning addition to any garden. And growing them is a fantastic children's activity – why not see who can grow the tallest sunflower?
Sunflowers are easy and cheap to grow from seed. Bumblebees and other insects are attracted to the bright flowers, and love to feed on the nectar. As an added wildlife benefit, goldfinches and other seed-feeding birds will visit sunflower stems to collect the seeds, so be sure to leave seed heads in situ over autumn.
Sweet peas are an excellent 'companion' plant. Grow some up a wigwam of poles in the centre of your vegetable garden, and you'll attract pollinating insects – including bumblebees – to your crops.
Sweet peas have a wonderful fragrance, and come in a range of beautiful pastel shades – so they're great for cutting to make flower arrangements. Frequent cutting of the blooms just encourages more flowers to grow – so by planting a few sweet pea seeds you could have a steady supply of cut flowers all summer – while providing a steady supply of food for bumblebees!
To find out more about bumblebees visit .
Little Green Space May 2019
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