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Sustaining our Bees: Planting Year-Round Nourishment in the UK Garden
Buzzing in the verdant sanctuaries we call gardens, bees play a crucial role in our ecosystems. Acting as vital pollinators, bees not only support the growth of trees, flowers, and other plants but are also a key cog in the production of most fruits and vegetables we consume daily. Unfortunately, changes in land use, climate conditions, and the widespread use of pesticides have been significant factors in the decline of bee populations worldwide. One way to help support these industrious pollinators is to cultivate a bee-friendly garden, providing a steady food source throughout the year. Here, we will delve into the best plants to cultivate in UK gardens for year-round bee nourishment.
Spring is the start of the busy season for bees. After a long winter, bees emerge from their hives in search of food. During this time, plants that bloom early are essential.
- Crocus: Crocus bulbs produce some of the first flowers of the year and are a valuable early source of pollen. Planting a mixture of species will extend the flowering season, giving bees a good start to the year.
- Hellebore: Also known as Christmas rose, hellebores provide bees with nectar and pollen from winter to early spring. They’re hardy and cope well in the shadowy areas of your garden.
- Bluebell: A native British wildflower, bluebells provide early pollen and nectar for bees in the spring. Plant them in a shaded or woodland area for the best results.
Summer is when bees are at their busiest. Gardens should be a riot of colour, buzzing with activity. Aim for a diverse range of plant species.
- Lavender: An incredibly bee-friendly plant, lavender is rich in nectar. This hardy, drought-tolerant plant blooms in the summer months, providing bees with food during the season’s peak.
- Foxglove: This towering beauty is loved by bees, especially bumblebees. The bell-shaped flowers are filled with nectar, making them a must-have in your summer garden.
- Buddleia: Also known as the butterfly bush, buddleia is equally loved by bees. Its nectar-rich, vibrant flowers are a feast for many pollinators.
As summer ends, many plants stop blooming. However, late-flowering plants can provide essential food to help bees prepare for winter.
- Ivy: Often overlooked, ivy is a key plant for bees in the autumn. It provides nectar when many other plants have stopped flowering, helping bees to stock up for winter.
- Sedum (Stonecrop): Sedum is a nectar-rich plant that flowers well into autumn. The flat, wide flowers offer an easy landing pad for bees, making it an attractive food source.
- Michaelmas Daisy: These late bloomers offer vibrant colour and rich nectar sources for bees in autumn when food starts to become scarce.
While bees are not usually active during the winter, warmer winters due to climate change see some bees, particularly bumblebees, remaining active longer. Winter-flowering plants can provide a lifeline.
- Mahonia: Mahonia’s bright yellow flowers are a common sight in winter gardens. They provide bees with a vital source of winter nectar.
- Winter Heather (Erica): This hardy plant is an excellent source of nectar during the colder months. Its bell-shaped flowers are ideal for long-tongued bees.
- Snowdrop: Flowering in the depths of winter, snowdrops can provide crucial food sources for bees on warmer winter days.
Cultivating a diverse array of plants that flower throughout the year is the best way to support bee populations. Remember to avoid using pesticides in your garden, as these can be harmful to bees. Providing water sources and bee hotels can further support bees in your garden. Through our collective efforts, we can ensure our buzzing buddies continue to thrive, enriching our gardens and our lives.