bee on flowers

As a garden designer, Kate Frey judges the vitality of her creations not by the appearance and performance of the flowers but by the variety of bees, butterflies, and other beneficial critters that visit them. Planting gardens that attract and sustain bees is especially important because they pollinate food crops, but are facing worsening pressures including habitat loss and lack of forage. Frey urges homeowners to do their part to ease these pressures by providing flower-rich, bee-friendly landscape features.

“Without a lot of effort we can really make a difference, but it matters what we plant,” says Frey, co-author with Gretchen LeBuhn of “The Bee-friendly Garden.” “Luckily for bees and humans alike, we tend to be drawn to the same flowers. A lot of the traditional favorites are bee-friendly.”

There’s more to a bee-friendly yard than a profusion of flowers. Incorporate these seven elements and practices to create a space that’s as pleasing to pollinators as it is to people.

1. Replace part of your lawn with flowering plants

Bees need pollen and nectar from blooms produced by trees, bushes, annuals and perennials, vegetables, and herbs. “Lawns – unless they have flowering weeds in them – don’t provide for bees,” says Lois Berg Stack, sustainable agriculture professor and extension specialist in ornamental horticulture at the University of Maine.

Seed remaining grass with bee-friendly clover, and give a section of lawn over to dandelions each spring because they are the first abundant food source for bees emerging from winter hibernation.


2. Plant native flowers for peak performance

Native plants are uniquely adapted to your region’s soil and climate. Hybridized plants, though not harmful to bees, are bred to produce scant amounts of nectar and pollen, according to the Honeybee Conservancy.

The USDA’s online Plant Hardiness Zone maps indicate which trees, shrubs and perennials will survive year-round climate conditions in your region. You can also check with local nurseries or master gardener programs for plants suited to our climate (Southeastern Minnesota is located in zone 4).

3. Stagger bloom times for a constant food supply

Bees need food from early spring through late fall. Provide resources throughout the…