10 tips for creating a bee-friendly garden

Author Lori Weidenhammer's tips include staying away from bee-toxic insecticides, and having a variety of plants, vegetables and herbs in one's garden.

Author Lori Weidenhammer's tips include staying away from bee-toxic insecticides, having a variety of plants

Since April 2014, U.S. beekeepers have lost 42.1 percent of their colonies, the second highest loss rate in nine years. (Andy Duback/Associated Press)

Concerned about dwindling bee populations, Vancouver-based educator and artist Lori Weidenhammer has written a book advocating for making habitats for native bees and having gardening habits that are bee-friendly.

"My book is basically a Canada food guide for bees — what you can plant in your garden to feed yourself but also to feed the bees," said Weidenhammer, the author of Victory Gardens for Bees: A DIY Guide to Saving the Bees.

Here are Weidenhammer's 10 tips for creating a safe garden space that will provide bountiful benefits for bees:

1. Shun bee-killing pesticides, especially neonicitinoids

A high percentage of nursery plants have been treated with bee-toxic neonicitinoids (a type of insecticide). Choose organic plants and learn how to grow your own plants from safe seeds and plant stock.

Weidenhammer's father kept bees when she was a child in Saskatchewan. (Lori Weidenhammer)

Over 70 per cent of bee species are gentle non-stinging pollinators that nest in the ground. Treating chafer beetle larvae infestations with neonicitinoids poisons and kills these important bees.

I recommend sowing West Coast Seeds' low growing wildflower mix onto at least part of your lawn to provide food for bees. Let the woodpeckers take care of the chafer beetle larvae.

2. Embrace variety

Essential to successful organic gardening is increasing the number and variety of plants that attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden.

Everything you do to strengthen biodiversity will also make your garden more hospitable for bees.

Provide small, medium and large flowers that provide nectar and pollen for bees. (Victory Gardens for Bees contains a series of charts that will help you choose the best bee plants for your garden.)

3. Plant a succession of blooms

As well as having a variety of plants flowering simultaneously, a bee garden should travel well through time, from early spring to mid fall.

Water flowers when they are in bloom to ensure optimum nectar production. Long-blooming shrubs like snowberry and perennials such as catmint, yarrow and blanket flower help fill in bloom gaps.

4. Leave some weeds

News flash for busy folks and "wanna-be-lazy" gardeners: gardens without weeds are less attractive to bees.

Dandelions, false dandelions, clover and English daisies are great weeds for bees. Create a "no mow zone" in your lawn or boulevard.

5. Plant in large drifts

 Large groupings of bee-friendly flowers, at least one meter square will attract and feed more bees.

Visit some of the amazing Green Streets boulevard gardens for inspiration.

6. Consider pollen and nectar payback

Evaluate the ecological function of each plant in your garden. Does it act as architecture but lack food for bees?

Do the bees visit your flowers and cover themselves in pollen?

Do they spend time glugging down nectar in each blossom? Or are they heading to healthier bee pastures?

7. Let some vegetables and herbs bolt

Kale, basil, cilantro, radishes, carrots, and leeks all provide food for bees when left to blossom and repay you by pollinating your food crops.

8. Plant medicinal "beepothacary" herbs

Bees use select aromatic herbs to boost their health. Lavender, oregano and thyme help bees fight disease-spreading mites.

9. Avoid planting frilly flowers lacking reproductive organs

These are called "doubles" and though loved by prudish Victorians, they are time-wasters for bees.

10. Choose bee gardens over honeybee hives

Instead of hosting a honeybee hive in you back yard, invest in gardens to feed many species of bees.

Relying on one species of bee is not a safe strategy for a resilient ecosystem and loading the city with honeybee hives will compromise the health of native bee populations.

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: How to make a bee-friendly garden, from author of 'IY book 'Victory Gardens for Bees'