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4 April 2014

Attracting Bees to Your Garden

There are some insects that you don't want in your garden, but others - bees for example - which you definitely need. Wherever you live in the UK you should be able to attract between six and ten bumblebee species to your garden, although bee numbers have fallen by an estimated 10-15% in the UK in recent years, and we need to reverse this trend. There are things that us gardeners can do to help increase their numbers.

Bees visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen, which they use as food for themselves and the larvae in their hives or nests. By moving from flower to flower, they are important pollinators of many garden and wild flowers. Insect pollination is essential for the cropping of most fruits and some vegetables.

If you garden organically you won't be using chemicals on your plants which can be harmful to bees. Insecticides which are used to control plant-eating insects are also poisonous to bees. Try not to use these chemicals unless you really have to, and look for natural solutions first. If you can attract ladybirds to your plants, for example, they will eat the pests but won't harm the bees.

Plant the type of flowers that are most attractive to bees. Single-flowered plants are their favourites as they are easy to get in and out of, while flowers that have a lot of petals may be ignored by bees. If you want to grow roses in your garden, single-flowered types such as the field rose or dog rose are the best for bees.

Bees need a succession of flowers to get them from early spring to late autumn, to ensure that there is enough pollen and nectar. Flowers known to attract honeybees include dahlias, crocuses, hyacinths, geraniums, and tubular flowers such as foxgloves and snapdragons. Herbs such as thyme and mint are also attractive to bees, as is lavender.

Bees are also attracted to certain colours so try planting flowers in various shades of pink, purple, orange and yellow. Clumps of bee-friendly plants in sunny places will be more attractive than plants that are scattered or in a shady position.

Some of our rarer bees tend not to visit exotic garden flowers, preferring native British wildflowers, so plant some native species with single flowers to attract bees. These are easy to grow and thrive in the average garden, being hardy and much more resistant to slugs and mildew than other garden flowers.

Bumblebee species have tongues of different lengths, and therefore prefer different flowers. The longest tongued species, Bombus hortorum, for example, loves deep flowers such as foxglove, aquilegia and honeysuckle. If you don't want to plant wildflowers choose cultivated varieties of native species

You donít need to have a neat and tidy garden to attract bees; they like having lots of different heights to fly to, which will save you lots of work. And bear in mind that weeds are only weeds to us - they are a feast for bees, which love dandelions and white clover. You could leave them there just a little bit longer and still remove them after the flowers are spent but before they go to seed.

You could make a bee house to give them somewhere to live in your garden. There are lost of places selling them these days, but it is easy to make your own. You will find instructions on the Buglife website. Solitary bees, such as mason and leafcutter bees, may visit if your bee house is hung in a tree, though bumblebees prefer to be closer to the ground.

Some bee species nest in the ground so using mulch or weed-supressing sheets can stop them from nesting. Think about using natural plant cover instead.

If you are very keen, you could have your own beehive to keep honeybees in your garden, though you would need proper training and the necessary equipment. The British Beekeepersí Association will supply all the information you need.

We all need bees, so let's all make an effort to help them out.
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