How to help bees all year round

We are most likely to see bees buzzing in our gardens from spring through to autumn, depending on the weather, but your choice of planting can make a difference through all the seasons.

Michael Perry, aka ‘Mr Plant Geek’, has come up with a four-season planting and flowering calendar to try to get gardeners to replenish vital nectar sources for bees.

“Nectar is not just for summer. Bees and other pollinating insects will be on the hunt at other times of year too,” says Mr Perry. “Spring nectar sources can help pollinators to refuel after their hibernation period, and in autumn it can help them build energy reserves for the winter months. Be sure to plant with the widest range of blooming periods in mind, so the wildlife never goes hungry.”

The calendar is designed to help gardeners of all abilities turn their outdoor spaces into a pollinator paradise all year round, buzzing with a riot of colour, texture and scent.

Bees, like humans, enjoy diversity. Include flowers of different sizes and shapes and plant in clumps to make foraging a breeze.

Read more: Convert your manicured lawn into a wildlife retreat

We have more than 1500 species of native bees in Australia, ranging from larger bumblebees to smaller native bees.

Some live in colonies, while many work and live a solitary life. There are both ground and twig nesting varieties. Not surprisingly, many native bees prefer native plants.

These are some of the plants recommended to help bees through all four seasons.

Pulmonaria. With the rather unattractive common name of ‘Lungwort’, Pulmonaria plants and species are widely grown for both the foliage and the tubular flowers. The flowers grow low to the ground, and bloom early to bring food to the first pollinators of spring. They grow best in containers, so they’re great for planting in a small space.

Magnolia. Our buzzing buddies are drawn to the magnificent magnolia’s saucer-sized blooms, and love to snack on their sweet nectar. Magnolias love sun and acid soil with lots of moisture. Most magnolias flower on bare stems in late winter/spring.

Peony. These pink beauties are rich in pollen, and pollinating insects love their single blooms. Plant your peonies in rich, dry soil in the sun.

Foxglove. Honey bees and bumblebees work together to pollinate this classic cottage garden favourite. The bumblebee creates holes in the side of the flower to make it easier for the honey bee to swoop in and access the flower’s pollen.

Marjoram. Marjoram is a favourite of humans and our pollinating pals alike – these nectar-rich flowers are actually a perennial herb and close relative of oregano.

Lavender. At home in a Mediterranean style garden and also in pots or as a low hedge for potagers, lavender produces both pollen and nectar, making it a great food source for honey bees. They even create lavender-flavoured honey from the plant. Lavender does well in full sun in sandy or chalky, well-drained soil – nothing that’s too rich.

Aster. These pretty perennials with daisy-like flowers varying from purple, violet, and lavender to pink with orange-yellow centres, need lots of water. It’s worth adding a mulch to retain the moisture, but they’re worth it to keep the bees happy and help honey

bees build up reserves of pollen for winter to get them through the cold months. Plant asters in full sun for them to shine.

Single-bloom dahlias. If you’re wanting to attract bees, go for the single bloom types of dahlia over the other varieties such as pompoms or balls, which are less accessible to insects.

Read more: Keen on cut flowers? Here’s how to grow your own

Sedum. Their pretty flowerheads are full of nectar, which makes these low-growing perennials perfect for the front of a border or in prairie plantings. Sedum flowers are perfect for honey bees as a late source of pollen and nectar, helping to build up honey stores for the colder winter.

Winter aconite.
These low-growing small tuberous perennials from the buttercup family produce bright yellow cup-shaped flowers that are good for ground cover and provide a burst of winter and spring colour under shrubs and roses.

Mahonia. Underused in Australian gardens, this plant offers texture through the foliage, and colour in winter.

Clusters of highly scented bright yellow flowers appear in winter on these tough, spiky evergreen shrubs that are easy to grow, produce lots of nectar and also provide purple to black berries in the autumn, a feast for the birds.

Helleborus. These grow best in southern Australia, in cool, elevated regions, from Sydney to Perth and further south. The main species grown here are Helleborus orientalis.

They provide sugar-rich nectar and high-protein pollen to help keep the bees energetic and strong through the middle of winter. They thrive in alkaline soil and their subtle shades ranging from cream to deep purple will bring life to a darker area, as they are tolerant of shade.

Snowdrop. These need a cold winter to grow well so they are only suited to the southern states of Australia.

While their flowering period is limited and they die down before the hot weather arrives, they do provide an abundance of contrast to the garden in early spring. Plant different varieties that flower at different times in winter to give the bees a longer foraging season.

Crocus. These hardy flowers can break through ice and snow to bring food to winter honey bees. Plant them in the sun so that the flowers will fully open and make it easier for the bees to forage on the nectar. Crocuses naturalise well so can create carpets of colourful flowers in winter.

Read more: How garden trends are changing post-pandemic

Tips for bee-friendly gardening
1. Plant flowering plants in bountiful clumps so bees don’t have to search far for forage and can work more efficiently.

2. Avoid pesticides. Companion planting is the way to go if you want to control pests. Pesticides are one of the reasons bee populations are in decline.

3. Plant several species to ensure you have forage for every season.

4. When selecting your garden blooms, make sure to include some local native plants in a variety of different colours.

5. Maintain multiple water sources around your garden.

What do you do to help the bees? Do you already have any of these plants in your garden? Why not share your gardening tips in the comments section below?

– With PA

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Written by Hannah Stephenson