Turn your landscape into a hive of buzzing busybodies with our advice on how to attract bees to your garden. In return, you’ll get more flowers, fruits, and veggies on your plants — with the added bonus of doing your part to save some of Earth’s most important pollinators.
6 tips to attract bees to your garden
When bees bumble around, the main thing they’re looking for is food: pollen and nectar, which they get from flowers. They also need water and shelter to live. Provide these bee-ssentials, and you should see an increase in your garden’s pollinator population in days.
1. Choose bee-friendly plants
Which flowers do bees like best? Your area’s native plants are your local bumblebees’ old familiar favorites, and they’re the most likely to attract the little buzzers.
Bee-friendly flowers that are native to North America include:
- Black-eyed Susans
- Lemon bee balm
- New England aster
- Purple coneflower
For more native flowers that attract bees in your region, see our list of the best plants to attract bees.
If you veer off the course of native plants, just remember that single flowers are better for bees and other pollinators than double flowers. Double flowers have more petals, which makes them a lovely sight, but it also makes them produce less pollen. Even when double flowers produce pollen, bees have a hard time getting to it because all the petals get in their way.
2. Plant a variety of flowers
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s also the key to a successful bumblebee garden. Lots of different colors, flower shapes, and bloom times will bring in more bees and make them stick around.
Plant an array of bright colors. Bees know that colorful flowers mean nectar is nearby. Because of how their eyes work, the colors they see best are:
Plant a variety of flower shapes. This allows more bee species to feed amongst your garden plants. Different species of bees have different tongue shapes, and they extract nectar and pollen in their own ways. The more flower shapes you have in your garden, the more bee species you’re accommodating.
Plant a wide range of plants with different blooming seasons. This will bring bees to your garden year-round. If you only have flowers that bloom in spring, bees will lose interest in your garden plants once those flowers fade. Make your garden a mix of flowers that bloom in early spring, late spring, summer, early fall, late fall — even winter if that’s possible in your climate.
3. Arrange flowers in clumps
Bees are more likely to take notice of a big group of flowers clumped together than one flower on its own. Plant flowers close together to make your garden easier for bees to navigate because they have to travel only a short distance between one food source and the next.
Generally, bees only visit one flower type at a time. Group plants of the same species together in the same area to encourage bees to visit more than one flower in your garden. Large shrubs or flowering trees are especially good for creating an extra-large group of one flower type.
4. Provide drinking water
You may not be able to picture bees drinking, but they need water just like any other living thing. If you want a thriving bee population, give them safe watering stations where they can quench their thirst with no threat of drowning (bees can’t swim).
There are a few easy ways to create drinking stations for bees:
- Add pebbles or floating corks to your birdbath so bees have plenty of places to stand and sip without falling in the water.
- Use a hummingbird feeder and fill it with plain water instead of sugar syrup.
- Fill a shallow container, such as a saucer, with water and add pebbles or marbles to the bottom for the bees to stand on.
- Leave out a self-filling pet water bowl with large rocks in the bowl for the bees to stand on.
Remember to change out the water and clean the container regularly so your bee buddies always have fresh, bacteria-free water to drink.
5. Create bee shelters
Many of the native bees that pollinate our plants don’t live in the iconic beehives we picture. There are lots of solitary bees who travel alone, nesting in wood or in the ground. Consider providing nesting sites for these bees in the form of man-made shelters of dead wood.
What is a bee hotel?
Bee hotels, also known as bee boxes, condos, houses, or nest blocks, provide nesting tunnels where solitary bees can shelter from weather and predators. They are made of hollow tubes of dead wood placed inside a small structure often similar to a birdhouse but can take on many different shapes.
How do you make a bee hotel?
You can purchase a bee house at most garden centers. But where’s the fun in that? Why buy it when you can make it a DIY project instead? The two main ingredients to create the perfect bee shelter for your garden are hollow tubes and a container for the tubes. You also can drill holes in a block of wood to create a nesting area for your bumblebees.
The exterior can be made from untreated wood, cinder blocks, plastic buckets, or cut PVC pipe. Some gardeners like to incorporate the design of their bee hotels into their garden design. For instance, a wood container in the shape of the first letter of your last name is a great way to combine a design element with a bee habitat.
Nesting tubes can be created from bamboo or dried hollow stems from sunflowers, fennel, brambles, raspberries, and elder. Cardboard tubes, paper straws, and tube liners also can be used. The key is to use only natural, breathable materials.
Note: Do not use plastic or glass for nesting tubes.
Where do you place a bee hotel?
Place your bee condo in a sunny area with the nest entrance facing away from prevailing winds. Make sure the entrance is protected from heavy rain but not hidden by vegetation. Ultimately, you want a warm, protected place for your bees to shelter and nest.
6. Limit pesticide use
One of the biggest problems with pesticides is that they kill indiscriminately. They take out beneficial insects, such as bees, butterflies, and ladybugs, along with the pests. This is the case even with most organic pesticides.
So, if you want healthy bees in your yard but don’t want to let pests overrun your garden, what can you do?
Here are some options for limiting your pesticide use:
- Use only targeted pesticides, which use chemicals that kill a certain type of pest but don’t harm other organisms.
- Apply pesticides in the evening, when they’re the least likely to come in contact with bees and other pollinators.
- Avoid spraying pesticides on flowers, as the flower is the part of the plant bees are most interested in.
- Introduce predatory or parasitic insects such as assassin bugs, parasitic wasps, or dragonflies to take care of pest insects instead of applying pesticides.
The fewer pesticides you use, the fewer bees you’ll inadvertently kill. Avoid using pesticides whenever possible for a thriving bee population.
Benefits of bees in your garden
What’s the point of attracting bees to your garden anyway? More bees are good news for both your garden and the world at large.
More bees = more flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Pollinators like bees are necessary for flowering plants to reproduce. As they feed on nectar and pollen, they spread the pollen from flower to flower, fertilizing the flowers, which then turn into fruits or vegetables. The more flowers that are fertilized on a plant, the more flowers that plant will produce in the future.
Other important benefits of bees:
- Vital for plants like peppers and tomatoes
- Increase crop harvest
- Vital to growing stronger and healthier plants
- Encourage biodiversity
- Contribute to a healthy ecosystem, which is better equipped to handle environmental changes
Boost the dwindling bee population. You’ve heard cries of “save the bees” for years now, but bees are still dying at high rates. Because we couldn’t produce important food sources without them, bees are vital to our ecosystem. Providing a safe haven for bees in your yard is one way to help your local bee population thrive instead of nosedive.
Important note: According to a Yale Environment360 article: “One of every three bites of food eaten worldwide depends on pollinators, especially bees, for a successful harvest.”
FAQ about attracting bees
How do you attract bees to a vegetable garden?
Plant flowering vegetables and fruits to bring bees over to your edible garden. Some flowering fruits and vegetables include:
- Broad beans
- Gourds (squash, pumpkins, etc)
- Runner beans
Why are bees not coming to my garden?
If you’ve planted bee-friendly native plants and taken other steps to make bees at home in your garden and they still aren’t showing up, a few different factors could be the cause:
Declining bee population: Your local bees may have suffered from colony collapse disorder, disease, pest infestation, or another issue causing mass death.
Competition: There might be other flowering plants nearby (in your neighbors’ yard or in the wild) that your local bees prefer to the plants in your garden. Different bees have different favorite foods, just like humans.
Nectar quality: Various growing conditions, such as sunlight, rainfall, soil chemistry, or temperature, may have negatively affected your flowers’ nectar flow or the quality of their nectar.
Long story short, there are many environmental factors outside of your control that may be keeping the bees away from your garden this year. Try again next year, and you might get better results.
Does sugar water attract bees?
Yes, sugar water or sugar syrup attracts bees, but that’s not a good thing in this case. Bees will go for the sugar water instead of the nectar in your flowers, which defeats the purpose of attracting bees in the first place.
What kinds of bees sting?
The question isn’t so much which bees can sting but which ones are more likely to sting. Bees and wasps that live in a colony — a nest or hive — are the most likely to sting because they’re protecting the rest of the colony. Solitary bees are less likely to sting.
In the U.S., most stings come from honey bees, paper wasps, and yellow jackets. But even these are more likely to fly away than to sting you if they’re far from the nest or hive. Stinging takes a lot of energy, and for some bee species (including honey bees), it results in instant death.
Basically, if you want to avoid a bee sting, just stay away from the hive.
How to attract more pollinators to your yard
Bees are the primary pollinators of the whole planet, but they aren’t alone. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and even wasps can help pollinate your flowers, fruits, and veggies.
Above all, for a successful pollinator garden, avoid using pesticides unless absolutely necessary. A pesticide-free garden is better for bees, butterflies, and birds, along with all other pollinators and beneficial insects.
Need help setting up or maintaining your bee-friendly garden? Reach out to Lawn Love’s local gardening pros.
Main Photo Credit: Pexels