Far too few gardeners seem to take seriously the welfare of bees in their gardens. This is unfortunate, for not only do honeybees produce honey for someone else, but bees of all types (together, of course, with many other types of insects) play an essential role in pollination.
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Save garden bees
All insecticides are just what their name implies – killers of insects – and with few exceptions will annihilate the creatures of beneficial effect as readily as the pests. So if you use insecticides in your garden (and this applies as much to the more natural products like derris and pyrethrum as it does to the modern purely synthetic materials), there are certain precautions to observe.
The main rule is: never spray flowers of any sort while they are being visited by bees and other insects. For some plants, this could mean avoiding the flowering season altogether.
Alternatively, spray very early in the morning before bees become active or wait until late in the evening before spraying to ensure that most bees have returned to their hives or nests. This practice will limit the harm you cause the bees, but it won’t eliminate the harm entirely, because the effect of most sprays lasts about a week, during which it can still affect bees visiting the flowers. Some bees will probably die, but you will not be wiping out entire populations as you might by spraying when the insects are actually on the plants.
Whatever insecticide you use, never spray on windy days, even if you’re spraying non-flowering plants which are never visited by bees. No matter how careful you are, if the wind is up at all. the chemical will drift onto other plants which are being visited and pollinated. Less expensive than chemicals, and held by many gardeners to be as effective, is the old-fashioned remedy of dousing the plants with soapy water. This washes off the aphids – the slippery soap makes it more difficult for them to cling on. Otherwise, it hurts nothing.
Plants that attract bees
Mints and thymes are among the plants which are especially attractive to bees, and they will positively hum with life in the early summer. Heathers and lavenders also make good bee plants. Others which, between them, flower for several months are Colon-easier horizontalis (which flowers in June). Mahonia aquifolium (March-April), geranium species (May-August), Sedurn spectabile (September-October), brooms (April-May), flowering currant (April) and michaelmas daisies (September).
Many native flowers also bring bees in by the dozen. So even if you don’t want a wholly wild garden, you can still draw in plenty of bees with a patch set aside as a conservation corner.
You could also take a leaf, or rather a flower, out of the commercial honey-maker’s book. They have found that bees will fly to the brilliant yellow flowers of oilseed rape in preference to any other plant, though the flavour of the honey is thought by some to be inferior to that obtained from heather or clover. But if you merely want to attract bees, then a clump of the plants in a corner will certainly bring them buzzing.