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Upper Midwest Gardening: Attract Honeybees to Your Garden

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Attracting bees to your upper Midwest backyard can be a sweet deal for your garden: You can grow more produce and more flowers.

 Busy with bees ready to work in the garden.
  A honeybee's first flight.

We all love to eat, right? Well here's something to think about: Every third bite of food you take is the result of a busy bee flitting from flower to flower, gathering pollen and nectar, and pollinating in the process. That's why it makes sense to help the bees as much as we can to keep them alive and healthy.

If you build it, they will come: I love honeybees so much, I finally built them a home in my backyard. But even if you don't have a hive for them, they are always there, working tirelessly. They are docile if left alone (I've never been stung), and unlike yellow jackets and similar wasps, they aren't aggressive whatsoever. You leave them alone, they'll leave you alone. It's that simple.

Not only do bees pay me riches in golden nectar called honey but also they are great companions to have in the garden. They help plants set more fruit and vegetables (which is why I always intermix flowers with my vegetables), and my flower gardens have never looked more floriferous since I've concentrated on creating habitats for bees.

 A bumblebee works amid rhododendrons.

My vegetable gardens are never without these bee-friendly plants:

  • Marigolds
  • Bachelor's buttons
  • Cosmos
  • Nasturtium
  • Sunflowers
  • Sweet alyssum
  Dandelions are early-spring bee treats.

In early spring Mother Nature feeds the bees. Blooming trees and shrubs are like lottery winnings for a bee. Thousands of flowers bursting with nectar and pollen make collecting easy.

Bees aren't interested in single flowers. Instead they look for massive plantings of similar flowers. (They work smarter, not harder!)

Dandelions are excellent sources for pollen, which is why I'm not eager to kill off the yellow flowers. These golden gems are loaded with protein (pollen) that bees need to feed babies (brood) and create royal jelly for the queen. The hind legs have pollen baskets that compress and carry the pollen back to the hive. 


 Delivering dandelion pollen to the hive.

Once the growing season is underway, a kaleidoscope of flowers (especially blue, violet and white) attract bees and native plants. They provide more pollen and nectar than most hybrid flowers.

Some favorites:

  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Lupine (Lupinus)
  • Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
  • Aster
  • Buttercup
  • Crocus
  • Geranium
  • Hollyhock
  • Foxglove
  • Rose

Don't forget annuals:

  • Marigold
  • Zinnia
  • Cleome
  • Cosmos
  • Sunflower

Or herbs:

  • Mint
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Blooming chives
  • Lavender

Keeping bees healthy starts with housing. If you don't have a hive, don't worry. Most bees are ground nesters - they find suitable pieces of paradise in sunny spots. If you notice them, leave them be. Also many find homes in holes, cracks and crevices in trees - they won't harm the trees.

One other thing: Bees and other beneficial insects are extremely sensitive to toxic chemicals used in the garden. When in doubt, leave them out.