Gardening for Bees


An excellent way to help all pollinators (including honey bees) thrive and survive is to assure they have a diverse and plentiful diet. You can help by selecting plants that have high nectar and pollen content and that bloom throughout the year. The following is a list of specific ways that you can help. If everyone incorporated even one of these suggestions in their life, we would all benefit.

Eliminate or Reduce Pesticide Use

Eliminating the use of all pesticides, herbicides and insecticides is one of the most important actions that one can take to improve the health of bees and all life forms, including yours! When purchasing plants at a nursery or garden center, ask whether the plants have been cultivated using neonicotinoid pesticides.
Vote with your pocketbook!
Concentrate on feeding your plants and amending your soil organically and you will be rewarded with strong healthy plants and a dynamic, balanced ecosystem.
If you must resort to spraying, try to spray at dusk or early morning when pollinators are not out foraging. Always spray when there is no wind as the spray doesn’t always stay where you put it. Avoid systemic products completely. Read the label before spraying. Be sure to safeguard your children and pets. If you are hiring a company for pest control spray, please assure that both you and the company properly notify all neighbors. There are regulations as to what type of weather, season (bloom seasons of many plants and trees are protected) and amounts are permitted.

Consider replacing your weed killer with the following recipe:

“Roundup” Substitute

Mix the following ingredients and on weeds early in the day for best effect. Repeated applications may be necessary.

• 1 gallon distilled white vinegar

• 2 cups Epsom salts

• ¼ cup Dawn dishwashing detergent (the original Blue)

Plant a Variety of Flowering Plants for Year-Round Blooms

Bees gather nectar and pollen from flowering plants. Some plants provide nectar, some provide pollen, and some both. Bees need year-round access to food, not just the spring and summer seasons. The online resources listed on this page will help you determine which plants provide what type of food for the bees and when.

Plant in Large Groupings

Honey bees will only collect pollen and nectar from one type of plant at a time. If you can plant wide swaths of the same plants, this will assure that the bees will optimize their gathering of food and avoid flying unnecessarily long distances.

Diversify Your Plantings

Planting a variety of diverse height, shapes, and colors attracts all types of pollinators. Other beneficial insects, such as hummingbirds and butterflies, also appreciate a varied garden. Not only do bees forage on flowers, but they also visit trees, vines, bushes and ground covers.

Provide a Water Source

Bees need water, but can drown very easily. Provide a very shallow source of water that includes rocks or sticks that they can land on and move to the water’s edge without being submerged. If you have a deep water source, such as a pond or pool, provide a floating piece of wood that has holes punched in it. The bees will land on it and drink the water without drowning. Also, when you water your garden, do so in the early morning or early evening hours when the bees are not foraging.

Native Plants are a Proven Benefit

Most native plants provide good food for bees and have the added benefit of being disease resistant and drought tolerant. In Sonoma County, we are blessed with a wide variety of specialty nurseries, including several that specialize in native plants.

Best Practices

Letting your vegetables and herbs such as lettuce, kale, mint and parsley go to seed is an excellent way to help the bees. Plus your garden will be reseeded for the next year!

Deadheading flowers can also cause repeat blooms in many plants.

If you have a shrub that is hollow-stemmed, resist “tidying” it up as many native bees make their home in those hollow stems.

Don’t use mulch on your entire garden. Many native bees dwell in the ground and cannot burrow through mulch. Leaving a part of your garden untended is a great way to help the native bee population.

“The Foolproof Five”

These five plants are easy to grow for the beginning bee gardener:

  • Borage – Three season flowering herb
  • Lavender – Many varieties that bloom at different times during the year
  • Salvia – Many varieties, sizes, colors
  • Rosemary – Evergreen, bushy herb, spring through fall bloom
  • Thyme – Low growing herb, spring to summer bloom

Online Plant List Suggestions

Drought tolerant plants for Sonoma County pollinator plant list