Bees, birds and butterflies are reducing in numbers and whilst the cold weather is contributing to their reduction, there are so many things we can do to help increase their numbers.
By growing more pollinator friendly plants, you can provide food for our pollinating insects. Simple right? However, not all flowers are pollinator friendly, so it is important to do your research. Sow half hardy annuals in early spring and move outside once the risk of frost has passed. You can sow hardy varieties directly in the garden from April.
What plants are pollinator friendly?
Plants for bees
There are 24 species of bumblebee living wild in the UK. They are easily recognised by their characteristic fluffy bodies. If you are encouraging bees into your garden then it is important to avoid using insecticides as these will kill helpful pollinating insects (including bees) as well as the target insects. It’s best to aim for a good variety of pollen rich flowers that have different flower shapes and a range of flowering periods from early spring to late summer. You can also view our guide on encouraging bees to your garden for more information.
Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Sonata Series Mixed’ – half hardy
An award winning variety in a superb mixture of colours. This beautiful dwarf Cosmos reaches a maximum height of 60cm (24”) making it perfectly proportioned for sunny borders and containers. Sow in March, April and May. Flowering period; July, August, September and October.
Calendula officinalis ‘Neon’ – hardy annual
One of the most eye-catching varieties in our flower trials, with glowing orange, double flowers edged in burgundy. The edible flowers of Calendula ‘Neon’ add height and interest to annual borders, and make a stunning cut flower. Sow in March, April, May and August. Flowering period; June, July, August and September.
Plants for butterflies
Plant some suitable nectar plants for butterflies and they will visit your garden, however small it is. If you’re looking to create a container garden for butterflies there are many smaller nectar plants which are suitable for growing in containers and window boxes. Herbs left to flower such as Thyme, Oregano, Lavender and Mint are excellent plants to try. For more information on view our encouraging butterflies to your garden article.
Buddleja ‘Buzz’™ Collection – Hardy shrub
A new twist on a much-loved garden favourite, ‘Buzz’™ is the world’s first patio buddleja! These attractive, compact plants are loved by bees and butterflies, but won’t take over your garden. Buddleja ‘Buzz’™ is easy to grow and problem-free with a super long-flowering period. Flowers June – October.
Verbena bonariensis – Hardy perennial
Tightly clustered florets form glowing lavender flower heads that float atop stiffly upright, branching stems. The long lasting blooms of Verbena bonariensis attract clouds of bees and butterflies. In autumn, apply a dry mulch of bark chips or straw to protect the crown of the plant throughout the winter months. Flowering period; July – October.
Birds are among the most welcome garden visitors. Not only are they interesting to watch, they eat aphids, caterpillars, slugs and other grubs, keeping the pest population under control. Plants can be used to provide shelter or nesting sites for birds, protecting them from cats and other predators. Trees, shrubs and hedges are excellent ways to encourage birds into the garden and by choosing a few evergreens you will ensure there is shelter all year round. For more information including shelter, water and nest boxes take a look at our encouraging birds to your garden guide.
Lavender – Hardy shrub
Flaring petals from compact bracts crown slender stems. Very attractive bushes of aromatic grey/green foliage. Favoured by citizens of the Roman Empire for fragrance. Easy to grow and trouble free. Sow in March – October. Flowering period; May, June, July and August.
Crab Apple ‘John Downie’ – Hardy Tree
One of the most popular crab apples for jelly making! Pink buds open to reveal pretty white cup shaped blossom in April and May, followed by large orange and red fruits in autumn.Crab apples are self fertile and if planted near orchard apple trees make excellent pollinators.
Of all the garden plants which give high value for a small financial outlay, one of my favourites has to be Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’. For the price of a packet of seeds, you are unlikely ever to be without this plant as it readily self-sows, although not so much that it seems if its progeny are outstaying their welcome. How could they? With evergreen glaucous leaves and deep plum bracts, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ is a quiet low cost plant which attracts attention for its gentle beauty and high value to bees.
It grows in ordinary, well-drained soil in full sun, although I have found it seeds into gravel and flowers perfectly well there. At 30-45cm high, it makes a good ground cover plant, but it also looks wonderful with its bracts cascading gently over the side of a container.
Sow indoors between February and May and plant out after the last frost; although Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ is quite accommodating and can also be sown outdoors and between September and October. It will flower all summer long – or at least it is supposed to, but we see flowers as early as March at Le Grys Farm.
Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ can be cut for indoor arrangements as it lasts well if the stems are seared in boiling water for around 30 seconds. I prefer to leave the flowers on the plant though as they are such a valuable source of nectar. Sow now and within 12 weeks you and the bees should be enjoying blooms all summer long. Deadhead any faded flower stems, then as autumn approaches allow some flowers to go to seed and you could be enjoying this high value, low outlay plant in your garden for many years to come.
Sarah Shoesmith is a garden designer with a passion for wildlife and conservation who is on a mission to grow crops beautifully. When she isn’t gardening, writing about gardens,designing gardens, visiting gardens or reading about gardens, she can be found eating chocolate and drinking coffee (probably in a garden).
Sarah has two blogs:
It’s been quite a week for gardening news, read our update here…
New Facebook game aims to get to the bottom of ash dieback
New Facebook game aims to protect ash trees from ash dieback
A new Facebook game has just been launched, in which players have to match coloured leaves that represent genetic ‘letters’. Scientists are hoping that by using the power of social media, Fraxinus will help them to understand more about ash dieback and the genetics of the fungus, enabling them to identify resistant ash trees to grow in the future.
Provide food for bees
Keeping bees? Make sure there’s a good food supply
The plight of the UK’s bee populations is almost constantly in the news at the moment and with good reason. Nearly 34% of Britain’s honeybee colonies have been lost because of last year’s bad weather. Many homeowners and businesses have turned to beekeeping to help restore populations, but new research shows that there isn’t enough food to support the new colonies. Growing wildflowers helps and the advice is, if you have space, to grow bee-friendly flowers such as borage, lavender, cornflowers and catmint to provide forage for bees.
The furthest travelled T&M plants?
Furthest travelled T&M plants?
We occasionally hear stories of postcards and letters making their way around the world and being delivered years later. But what about plants? Some time ago we received a letter from a customer in Perth, Scotland advising us that her plants were in a terrible condition. The 36 begonia postiplugs she had ordered were very dry and she didn’t expect them to survive.
However, she then noticed that there was a letter attached to the parcel – from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Western Australia! The plants had somehow been delivered to Perth, Australia and the DAFF was returning them to her. Considering the long journey the plants went on, our customer thought it was marvellous that 26 survived and grew on!
Bumper berry crops expected
Bumper harvest for berry plants
If you’re growing blackberries and are wondering if they’ll ever bear fruit, then fear not! The late start to spring is likely to cause a delay in fruiting, but the recent heatwaves should mean that a bumper crop is just around the corner! This is great news, not just for those of us looking forward to freezers full of tasty berries, but to wildlife too. 2012 saw a dismal crop, but this year fruit-eating mammals and birds will be able to enjoy an autumn feast.
How to encourage bees into your garden
Bees play a key role in pollinating many fruits and vegetables. 35 per cent of our diet depends on pollination of crops by bees! Bees are active between February and October and it is crucial they have enough food during this time to help them through the winter and early spring. By introducing a few spring, summer and autumn-flowering plants to your garden you will help to extend the foraging period.
To attract bees, you needn’t leave your garden to go wild – many cultivated garden plants are just as valuable to bees for food and shelter. If you only have a small garden or balcony why not try planting up a container with some bee-friendly plants? Lavender, skimmia, heliotrope, herbs, hardy geraniums, agastache, buddleja ‘Buzz’, single-flowered dahlias, single-flowered fuchsias, sedum and dwarf sunflowers are all suitable for a container and provide nectar and pollen for bees. Site your container or border in the sunniest position possible to make it more attractive to bees.
Hardy geranium ‘Rozanne’
Try making a ‘bee hotel’ for solitary bees to over-winter in, using hollow plant stems (such as bamboo canes) cut into piece about 10-20cm long. Tie 15-20 pieces of hollow stem together in a bundle and hang in a sunny but sheltered area such as the side of a shed or trellis.
Top tips to encourage bees into your garden:
- Choose single-flowered varieties of plants. Bees and can’t access double flowers for pollen and nectar. Flowers with petals that form long tunnels are also inaccessible to bees.
- Leave some of your culinary herbs to flower – they are a rich food source for bees and will leave your garden buzzing on warm days!
- Try not to spray your plants with insecticides as these will kill beneficial insects too. Be patient and the pests will often be eaten naturally by ladybirds, lacewings, spiders, small mammals and birds.
Other flowers to include in your bee garden:
Gardening news – read our summary of the latest news in the gardening world here
EU votes on neonicotinoid ban
Bees – pesticides
EU states are due to vote today on a 2-year ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which threaten the survival of bees and other pollinators. Should the ban be approved, it will only apply to crops that are attractive to bees – professional growers will still be able to use the pesticides on other crops, including winter cereals. Research indicates that neonicotinoids affects bees’ brains in such a way that they are unable to find nectar to bring back to the hive.
Update: The EU has banned three neonicotinoid pesticides – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam. The moratorium is due to be in place by 1st December.
Can culling badgers save songbirds?
From June, 5,000 badgers will be culled in a four-year trial to try to control the spread of tuberculosis in cattle. What’s that got to do with songbirds? Badgers are known to kill and eat small songbirds such as blackbirds, yellowhammers and skylarks. Defra is hoping to carry out research to find out whether the badger cull will have a positive effect on songbird populations, which have fallen by more than 40 million in the last 4 decades.
Ivy – food source for honeybees
Grow ivy to feed honey bees in the autumn
Despite its somewhat bad reputation for damaging brickwork and smothering trees, ivy is an important food source for honeybees. Mature ivy plants produce small green flowers that homey bees feed on in the autumn, when flowers are scarce. Many gardeners are keen to cut ivy down, but if you’ve got ivy growing on a fence, it’s well worth leaving the plant to mature for honey bees to feed on.
New hybrid grass may reduce flooding
UK researchers have developed a grass that may help to reduce flooding caused by water run-off from grazing areas into river systems. The roots of the new grass, a hybrid of perennial ryegrass and meadow fescue, improved the structure of heavy clay soils. This means that the soil is able to hold more water and reduces run-off by 51%.
The Archers comes to Afghanistan
The Archers… in Afghanistan
A British soldier and farmer by trade who is currently on tour in Afghanistan has created a local equivalent of The Archers. The show, ‘Crops and the Farmer’, aims to help farmers to grow alternative crops to opium and is proving to be a real hit.