Many towns and cities across the globe already recognise the importance and advantages of planting forage plants for bees and other pollinators. The result is carefully selected nectar- and pollen-rich plants in flowering plant patches in urban and suburban settings planted in such a way as to support honeybees.
Tree-lined streets, public parks, golf courses, urban food gardens, and privately owned gardens all contribute towards providing nectar and pollen (bee forage) for hungry honeybees. Bees are not the only ones who benefit from a bee friendly garden; the plants that attract bees are floriferous (which means they produce many flowers), making the garden even more enjoyable to the ones who planted it.
Overall, having a bee-friendly garden is not only important for the survival of this important species, it’s also easy to do. In this article, we share everything you need to know about growing a bee-friendly garden no matter where you live.
Honeybees prefer plants that produce both nectar and pollen. When they forage, they feed directly on nectar which provides energy in the form of carbohydrates. The pollen that they collect while foraging is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Many hybrid plants are selected to look spectacular to us, with bold colour and double or more rings of petals. However, this replaces the flower’s ability to produce the male flower parts that hold pollen, inhibits the access to nectar, and in many cases, the production of nectar.
Research suggests that bees prefer the following flowers:
Blue, purple, and yellow flowers. Although, there are exceptions, such as orange Aloe flowers, and the white flowers of the White Pear (Apodytes dimidiata), but this is a general rule.
Bees also tend to favour flowers that stand out from their surroundings, are planted in blocks of colour, or are available in a large group. This means that they can harvest more pollen and nectar without using up too much energy searching for flowers. It’s important that the hard-working honeybees reserve enough energy to get back to the hive.
Just like humans, bees also love flowers that smell pleasant. However, the kind of smell that a flower emits is important because bees are particular. They prefer sweet smelling flowers and not musty or spicy smelling flowers.
It is easier than one thinks to include plants in your garden that keep bees both happy and healthy. Indigenous gardens with a well-thought-out variety of flowering plants are well equipped to provide high quality bee forage all year round.
Here are some tips to help with choosing indigenous garden plants that are best for honeybees.
Include a variety of annuals, perennials (plants that live for longer than two years), shrubs, and trees that have flowers rich in pollen and nectar. In smaller gardens, trees and shrubs help to pack available bee forage into a contained space. Use a diversity of plant families and flower shapes.
Plant clusters, blocks, or swathes of a chosen species, rather than patchy planting or planting just one kind of bedding plant.
Avoid hybrids that have multiple layers of petals as these flowers produce little or no nectar and pollen. Check with your nursery if you are not sure about the plants you wish to buy.
Choose plants that flower for extended periods of time. One can extend bloom time by removing dead flowers before they form seed (dead-heading), as well as making sure that the plants are grown in an environment that is best suited to that specific species of plant. Sufficient water, sunlight and nutrients will optimise length of flowering period.
The quantity and quality of flowers on a plant is also affected by how well they are suited to the conditions in the garden where they are planted. Plants that don’t receive the correct amount of sunlight for their needs or are too dry or too wet will not bear as many flowers as they could if they were in ideal conditions.
Pay attention to what bees are feeding on around your garden. Bees can fly up to 2km looking for food, but the further they fly, the greater the reward needs to be for them to be able to make it back to the hive again. If possible, use your sidewalk to plant bee friendly plants, including shade trees. Then, take time to observe which plants bees are enjoying the most and plant more of those.
The above tips can also apply to larger tracts of land, such as managed by landscapers, landscape architects, golf-course managers, estate managers and even office parks. There are a vast number of indigenous plant species that are suitable for urban and suburban gardens, however, below is a list of plants that have been observed to attract honeybees at Random Harvest Indigenous Nursery.
Read more about each species by clicking on the plant name. This will take you to our plant information catalogue.
Acacia species, particularly Acacia karroo (= Vachellia karroo) – Sweet Thorn (tree)
Agathosma ovata and cultivars – Buchu (perennial)
Aloe species, esp. Aloe marlothii – Aloe ferox – Bitter Aloe (large succulent)
Anisodontea “Classic Cerise” - Pink Mallow
Apodytes dimidiata – White Pear (tree)
Buddleja saligna – False Olive (tree / large shrub)
Buddleja salviifolia – Sagewood (tree / large shrub)
Bulbine natalensis – Broad-leaved Bulbine (succulent perennial)
Bulbine frutescens – Stalked Bulbine (succulent perennial)
Combretum erythrophyllum – River Bushwillow (tree)
Combretum krausii – Forest Bushwillow (tree)
Crassula capitella 'Camp Fire' – Campfire Crassula (succulent perennial)
Crassula Morgan's beauty (succulent perennial)
Crassula multicava 'Purple' – Fairy Crassula (succulent perennial)
Cunonia capensis – Red Alder (tree)
Delosperma tradescantioides (succulent groundcover)
Delosperma versicolor (succulent groundcover)
Eriocephalus africanus – Wild Rosemary (shrub)
Freylinia tropica 'Blue' – Blue Honeybell Bush (shrub)
Gazania rigens var. leucolaena – trailing Gazania (Groundcover)
Halleria lucida – Tree Fuschia (tree)
Justicia petiolaris – Blue Justicia (shrub)
Lampranthus sp. (and most mesembs) (succulent small shrub and / or groundcovers)
Melianthus comosus – Feather Touch-me-not (shrub)
Mentha longifolia – Wild Spearmint (shrub)
Nymphoides indica – Blue Water Lily (Water Plant)
Oscularia lunata (succulent groundcover)
Papaver aculeata - Orange Poppy / Wild Poppy (perennial but sometimes annual tall groundcover)
Rothmannia globosa – September Bells (tree)
Scabiosa africana – Cape Scabious (perennial groundcover)
Scabiosa columbaria – Wild Scabiosa (perennial groundcover)
Scadoxus puniceus (including Tall Natal Form) – Paint Brush (Bulb)
Senecio barbetonicus – Succulent Bush Senecio (Succulent Shrub)
Tetradenia riparia – Ginger Bush / Misty Plume Bush (Shrub)
Zantedeschia aethiopica – Arum Lily (Bulb / Rhizome)
Ziziphus mucronata – Buffalo Thorn (tree)
Just like other bee species, honeybees need more than just flowers to survive.
Their early stages of development require protection from the environment as they are vulnerable and cannot fend for themselves. Honeybees need a sheltering hive or place to nest. Wild bees will nest in a hollow tree trunk, crack in a wall or even a chimney or pool filter box. Cultivated bees are kept in hives where beekeepers can access the honey and harvest it. Beehives also make it possible to move the bees to an area where they are required for their pollination services of commercial fruit or vegetable crops.
Bees also need a source of water, preferably not too far away from the hive.
The healthier bees are the better they will fare against diseases and toxins that can harm and, most often, kill them. Access to high pollen and nectar yielding flowers all year round, and an absence of pesticides are the most important considerations for a healthy hive of honeybees. If the use of pesticides is unavoidable, then take the time to read labels carefully. Select those that have the least amount of lasting toxic effect, make sure that spraying coincides with lowest insect activity and lowest pollen and nectar yield of flowers. Doing this ensures that the least number of bees possible are attracted to the flowers being sprayed.
There are many more indigenous plants that produce good pollen and nectar suitable for honeybees as well as other insect pollinators.
Pay us a visit at Random Harvest Indigenous nursery to choose South African Indigenous plants that will help you to provide forage for happy, healthy bees.
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