Everything your Need to Know to Grow an Amazing Bee Garden

Whether you keep your own bee hives or count on wild bees to pollinate your homestead plants,  most people have a certain respect for the job of a bee.  As gardeners, we rely on bees to pollinate our crops and we benefit from the surplus of their honey production and can promote even more pollination by building a bee garden.  More than 100 food crops rely on bees to pollinate their flowers, and the recent decline in honeybee populations means less of those crops are getting pollinated. 

While honeybees are incredibly important, they aren’t the only ones out there helping to pollinate our crops, around the world there are about 20,000 species of bees, many operating in colonies and still others operating individually.

You can help encourage bee populations by becoming a beekeeper, buying local honey, reducing pesticide use, or simply creating a habitat that encourages and strengthens bee populations.  A well planned bee garden can include edibles and can also become an attractive part of your yard.  If you are concerned about getting stung by bees, remember that bees sting as a defensive measure, and keep in mind the statement ‘live and let live.’  You should also be careful if you or a family member is allergic to bees.

Keep reading for more information on how to design a bee garden, the best flowers for bees, and other ideas on how to create a bee friendly backyard farm.

Learn more about Beekeeping 101 and the Best Bee Hive Start Kits.

Last year we started to build a bee garden around our hive, as a way to encourage pollination, create a barrier around the hive, and also add some color to that side of the yard.  Our bee garden also attracts butterflies and other beneficial insects to our yard.  If you don’t have space for a bee garden, consider incorporating bee friendly plants into your existing garden spaces.  Here are a few thoughts to consider in planning your bee garden.


Types of Pollinators to Attract to Your Bee Garden

When we first think about pollinators to attract to our garden, we usually think about honey bees and butterflies, but there are many other types of pollinators that can help your garden including bats, birds, flies, moths, and wasps.  These pollinators visit one flower and head off to the next flower sharing the pollen between the plants – over 3/4 of flowering plant rely on pollinators and there has been a decline in the overall pollinator population.  When you are deciding on the best plants to attract bees, you will want to consider the different types of pollinators that will visit your bee garden.

With such a variety of pollinators, it is best to focus on creating a number of diverse plantings in your bee garden.  Here are some of the most common pollinators you should attract to your yard:

Honey Bees – both native and managed honey bees are pollinating power houses.  Due to mites and colony collapse disorder honeybees are in decline.  Providing food sources is not only good for your vegetable garden, but help maintain the honey bee population.

Bumblebees – these cute, round bees help with pollination and are needed in your garden in addition to honeybees since bumblebees continue to visit flowers when other bees won’t (like when it rains or is overcast).

Mason Bees– these solitary, gentle, tunnel-nesting bees can be incredibly effective pollinators and more are native.  You can attract these bees with special housing (see more below)

Butterflies – these may not provide as much pollination as bees, but many species help provide pollination and they are a beautiful addition to the garden.

Moths – like butterflies, moths are less effective at pollinating than bees, but since they are out at night when other pollinators are not they are an important part of the pollination puzzle.

Wasps – many types of wasps are helpful pollinators including paper wasp, yellow jacket, and sphecidae wasp.

Birds – the most common bird that helps with pollination is the hummingbird.  You can attract these fun birds with brightly colors, tubular flowers.

There are several other types of pollinators that may impact your garden based on where you live including other insects, bats, and even small mammals.

Select a Site for Your Bee Garden

The ideal location for a bee garden is somewhere that provides some shelter and protection from the elements.  If you can help it, don’t place your garden in the middle of a windy field.  Make sure that the plants or other elements in the garden provide wind barriers.  This also means that you don’t need to change everything since bees love small spots to hide like logs and under rocks. If you use a lot of mulch, consider keeping some areas mulch-free to encourage ground dwelling bees.

You will also need to decide what plants you are growing at the same time as your site selection.  If you plan to grow tall plants (such as sunflowers) or fruit trees you will want to plan accordingly with the taller plants in the back so that everything gets sun.  Ideally your bee garden is part of a you entire backyard farm plan.

Once you’ve selected your site, you will want to make sure you prepare the soil.  You can get the soil tested and amend it or use a method to clear the weeds.  Especially if you plan to grow perennials you will want to do a lot of up front soil work before you put in the plants.  We purchased some compost to mix into the soil before we started planting.

The two images below show our initial site for our bee garden with one bee hive in it and another image with garden coming in a few months later.  


Choosing the Best Flowers for a Bee Garden

Evidence shows that not only are bees attracted to certain types of flowers, but they are attracted to a garden that has a variety of flowers.  You can focus on specific bee friendly plants, but it is just as important to include a number of different types of flowers with a variety of colors, shapes, size, and blooming time, and you are guaranteed to attract bees to your garden. You can check local resources for plants that grow in your area.  In general, the best flowers for pollinators in your area will be native plants.  

It’s important to think about your bee garden throughout the entire year.  Annuals typically bloom for a long time and make a good choice for most bee gardens and perennials planned to bloom throughout the year make excellent foundations for a bee garden. 

Annuals for Your Bee Garden

  • Cosmos
  • Zinnias
  • Alyssum
  • Sunflowers
  • Petunias
  • Lantana
  • Daisies
  • Cornflower
  • Calendula
  • Blue Salvia
  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Borage

There are many more annuals that can be added to a bee garden to attract pollinators, but remember that your best solution is to plant a variety of blooming flowers, specifically ones that include native species to your area.


Perennials for Your Bee Garden

Most perennials bloom for just a few days to weeks each year, but some back year after year.  My bee garden uses perennials at the foundation with annuals interspersed for long term blooms.  The list below includes some perennials that are favorites for pollinators:

  • Astilbe
  • Bee balm
  • Bellflower
  • Black-eyed Susan, coneflower
  • Blanket flower
  • Butterfly bush
  • Butterfly weed
  • Clematis
  • Common poppy
  • Common yarrow
  • Cornflower
  • Fennel
  • Foxglove
  • Globe thistle
  • Hosta
  • Lavender
  • Lemon balm
  • Lupine
  • Mints
  • Oregano
  • Peony
  • Purple coneflower
  • Rosemary
  • Russian sage
  • Salvia
  • Thyme

Early Season Blooms

It’s incredibly helpful to have some plants or trees that bloom early in the growing season right when bees are emerging and search of flowers.  Late winter and early spring is a critical time for these pollinators.  Fruit trees such as cherry, apple, plum, peach and bushes such as blackberry, raspberry and blueberry are all great choices.  Other trees/shrubs that are great for early pollinators include maple, willow, serviceberry and redbud.  Flowering bulbs also are first on the scene in the spring or early season perennials such as larkspur, dianthus. lupine, chives and wild columbine.  

Don’t forget to include edible plants in your garden so you can get some of the benefit from increased pollination.  Herbs are especially good choices when looking for plants that are likely to attract bees and many herbs are listed in the perennial and annual lists above.

Bee on Chive Flowers

Beneficial Weeds for Pollinators

When you’re planning a garden, it’s easy to overlook the benefit of weeds.  Native weeds are often a favorite for native bees, so don’t overlook this valuable resource growing right in your yard.  Even if you don’t want to leave weeds in your garden, consider letting them grow along the edge of the woods or in other areas around your yard.  Those dandelions growing in your yard are one of the bees favorite plants as are clover.  In our not so tidy yard, we usually let the dandelions bloom a few days before we mow them down.

A garden is a thriving ecosystem, and bees play a crucial role.  Consider creating a space to attract bees in your own backyard, and you will shortly see the benefits of increased pollination.  

Provide Water

Pollinators need water as much as they need a food source. Depending on your climate pollinators can often get water droplets after rain or morning dew. If you live where it is dry, or you are having a dry spell, keeping a small, shallow water source in your garden is an added bonus for attracting bees.  This can be as simple as a bird bath or as elaborate as a small pond.  If you are adding water with bees in mind, keep it shallow or add pebbles to keep the bees from drowning.

Keep Your Bee Garden Natural 

Using pesticides on a garden intended to attract bees is simply contradictory.  Don’t lure bees to your garden simply to poison them! Even small doses of pesticides can harm a bee and travel back to the hive to harm the whole colony.  Your goal should be to attract a large number of beneficial insects to your garden. Organic gardening practices will benefit your pollinators. A great resource for improving your bee garden is to visit the NRCS’s Be a Friend to Pollinators page.

Housing in Your Bee Garden

Adding some housing options to your bee garden is another way to attract pollinators. We decided to put our bee hive right in the center of your bee garden. This helped the bees, but also kept a barrier for our young kids from forgetting the bee hive and wandering too close. If you aren’t keeping your own honey bees, you can also provide housing for mason bees and butterflies. You can either build or buy these housings and while they aren’t necessary, they also add a decorative element to your bee garden.

Build a Butterfly House

A butterfly house can provide shelter from the elements or predators right in your garden. Put your butterfly house in your bee garden in the sun and protected from the wind. You will want to build your butterfly house with rot resistance wood such as cedar. You can find plans here, or look at the options below for purchasing a butterfly house.

Build a Mason Bee House

Mason bees don’t fly far from their home so providing a mason bee house right in the bee garden means more mason bees in your garden. Mason bee houses include tunnels where they can nest. There are any number of materials you can use to build your mason bee houses usually including reeds and stems. Many of these can be found from the plants right in your garden including Asters, Bee Balm, Honeysuckle, Raspberry/Blackberry, Sunflower, and Wild Rose. There are lots of directions for building mason bee homes if you look online and you can find options for purchasing a mason bee home below (these make great gifts)!

Supplies for Your Bee Garden

Here are the best supplies I rounded up to help you complete an amazing bee garden!

Build your own bee garden to attract pollinators to your backyard farm.  Find flowers that attract bees and more.
Create your own Bee Garden

19 thoughts on “Everything your Need to Know to Grow an Amazing Bee Garden”

  1. Meredith/GreenCircleGrove

    Thank you! This was just the post I needed to read this morning to take my mind off the minus nothing weather. I don't keep bees, but I plan beneficials around my gardens. Thanks again for thoughts of spring!

    I shared this, by the way, with the Green Circle Grove community.

  2. Great tips! My husband is just finishing up "Beekeeping for Dummies" and can't wait to start beekeeping! I need to read the book next because I have very limited knowledge of bees. This will come in handy for the future when we actually do get bees. I'll have to show this to my husband!

  3. Inspiring pictures! Thank you! Made me think I could grow a garden like that and I really will conquer the Bermuda grass this year. (Aren't we all optimists in January?) I have spent this week going over all my bee equipment, fixing and building new frames and painting the hives I hope to expand into this spring. I am going to transition to foundationless frames this year. Optimistic and rebellious! I love January! So many possibilities!

  4. We dont keep bees YET!!!, but would love to venture off into that someday. I do plant beneficials in and around the garden. The bees love the zinias, cosmos, sunflowers,and lots of marigolds. I also have a wisteria planted as a backdrop to our garden. Loved your article, how long ago did you but in your bee garden, love that it looks so natural, and the squash plants mingle in beautifuly.

  5. Thanks for this post, and the link to the list. We're in the process of planting lots of flowers around the property. Right now our bees are loving the broccoli that has bolted…

  6. I can't convince my husband that we should keep bees in the city, but I have planted what I call a "meadow" which is full of plants that attract bees and other beneficials to our yard. This year, though, I think I am going to dig them up and move them within my vegetable and fruit garden rows to spread them around the yard instead of having them all in one cluster.

  7. I am planning to start a beehive soon. We will be setting it up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California where there are black bears. Do I need to put a metal cage around the beehive, or perhaps put it up on a very tall pole, or is it a myth that the bears will tear apart the beehive to get to the honey?

  8. I enjoyed your post! It's a great article to promote growing for bees in general. I grow loads of herbs and flowers in our very small backyard space to provide food for the wild bees and other pollinating insects. They really love mint the most, or at least the mint is covered in pollinators when in bloom. It's great to encourage people to plant for bees as so many native meadows and flowers are not available plus they help to pollinate our garden as well…it's a win-win situation! 🙂

  9. Thank you for sharing. I'm planning a community garden about a block away from my house and my brother just built me a top bar hive. I'll be picking up the bees as soon as it's practical. This is exactly the kind of info I need to share with the city folk who want to work in the garden!

  10. Beautiful! I especially like what you say about native weeds. we've been growing bee wildflower blends, borage and sunflowers every year in our garden (and it's lovely as poppies and borage find themselves randomly all over our garden!). we also leave weeds in certain areas of our garden, which may sound weird, but many of them are edible (lambs quarters, nettle, burdock, dandelions..) we also leaves the masses of wild thimbleberries that grow rampant over the acreage as they flower all summer long and we let many spring harvested veggies go to flower and seed just so there are more flowers for the bees!

    It makes me sad this time of year as it just got very warm and all the bees came out and then we got a cold snap and a dump of snow.. sadly from word of mouth I hear most people lost most of their hives..the poor confused bees

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