Planting bee friendly plants in your garden will attract bees and encourage them to return, they pollinate plants and flowers just by going through their own routines. Bees eat nectar and pollen and will travel in an average radius of about two miles from their hive foraging for it. Bee friendly plants are especially helpful when they flower in late Autumn, Winter and early Spring as there is generally plenty of nectar and pollen available to bees in the Summer. It is in these leaner months that the bees start to venture farther from their hives in search of better food and a well planned flower garden or patch of wild flowers will make all the difference. Growing flowers that have a longer flowering period is more beneficial to bees as, like us, when our weather turns bad bees tend to stay inside more and might miss a smaller feeding window. A lot of people might be put off the idea of inviting bees in and around their garden for fear of getting stung, but it is very rare for a bee to sting someone when they are collecting pollen and nectar. Greenpeace released a study finding that 70 out of our top 100 food crops worldwide are pollinated by bees and other insects so by helping bees we are helping ourselves.
A pollinator is something that moves pollen from a male plant to a female and brings about fertilization. Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, ants, and beetles are among out top pollinators but rodents, birds, and bats also carry out this important service. Pollen and nectar are the two main staples of a bee's diet and both come from flowers. Pollen is a powder that makes up a bee's protein requirement and nectar is a sweet liquid that provides the ideal energy and nutrition for them. They will, however, eat fruit and nearly anything sweet when there is no nectar available. Bees are the ultimate pollinators, they have fuzzy legs and emit a weak static, both of which allow pollen to stick to them while they are feeding on a flower. The bee moves on to the next flower to gather more food and some of that pollen falls off and hopefully starts pollinating. There is also mechanical or hand pollination, used where natural pollination isn't required or just isn't working. This process of doing it manually by ourselves can be time consuming and costly. Lack of natural pollinators can lead to this method being used, but it can also be used very successfully to control cross-pollination of varieties and for creating hybrids.
In commercial gardening, millions of hives of bees are rented out by bee keepers and bee keeping companies for pollination purposes. The perfect storm of naturally occurring pollinators in severe decline coupled with an increasing population's demand for more and more fresh produce means we are relying more on managed bee hives. These large scale bee keepers move with the growing season and their bees are constantly on the move. An extreme example of how commercial gardening affects bees is the Callifornia almond industry, California almonds make up eighty percent of the world's total supply every year, and every year the market expands while bee populations remain in decline. Almond farmers are struggling to source or keep the numbers of bees they need to pollinate their crops yearly. While this is a problem far removed from our front lawns or back gardens it is emblematic of our struggle to save the bees.
Planting some bee friendly varieties of flowers will attract more bees to your area by providing pollen and nectar. Ornamental plants may produce the most attractive garden but they do not produce enough nectar for bees. A wild garden or area full of local wild flower varieties tend to work best at inviting bees and other insects to stay. Single flower top varieties are the bee's favourite as they produce more nectar that is easier to get to. Bee beneficial flowers include crocus, sunflowers, black eyed susan, alyssum, borage, cosmos, poppies, forget-me-not, hardy geraniums, catmint and aster. Good trees to plant include willow, holly, lime, magnolia, yelow poplar, and sycamore apple and most fruit trees. Herbs including rosemary, thyme, marjoram and chives can also be very valuable to bees when allowed to flower but nearly all herbs will be useful to some degree.
Don't forget to add water; bees need water to survive too and when they get thirsty they are likely to fly off in search of it. They also collect water in the leaner months to dissolve crystalized honey so they can eat it and having a little water source close to your plants will encourage them to remain in the area for longer periods in the summer and come back more frequently in the winter. Bees need a water source that doesn't dry up in the summer and prefer one that is not used by pets and other animals. They find their water by using their sense of smell so water with an outdoorsy scent will be used more. Bees are terrible swimmers and will drown in the shallowest of water sources. Placing pebbles, stones, or aquatic plants that breach the surface or almost do in their water will help them rest while collecting it.
Avoid using chemical based pesticides and other sprays, even if a garden chemical says it is safe for use around pets and wildlife it can still act as a deterrent to or be harmful to bees. There are natural and organic alternatives available for nearly everything that is required in the garden and making the eco friendly choice when it comes to sprays and fertilizers will pay dividends down the line.