A child waters plants in a bee-friendly garden, Christ Church CE School, Battersea, London, July 2014

Gardening for bees

Gardening for bees: what you need to know

Like us, bees need food, water and shelter.   They love plants which are rich in nectar and pollen. Nectar contains sugar for energy, while pollen contains protein and oils – forming a balanced diet.

Flowers are their food supply. Growing them is easy and enjoyable. It's one of the most effective ways you can help Britain's bees and other pollinating insects, such as hoverflies. 

As bees move between flowers of the same plant, they also pollinate them, helping our gardens to thrive. This is where you can find out about making your garden pollinator-friendly.

You don't need lots of space. It's all about having the right plants for bees to visit through the seasons, not just in the summer.

From window boxes and pots on the patio, to gardens and allotments, you can help bees to feed and thrive while taking pleasure from watching your plants grow, flower and attract bees.

Surprisingly, research shows that urban gardens, streets and parks are as important for helping bees and other pollinators as the countryside is – because they tend to have a bigger choice of plants for bees to visit all year round.

10 easy ways to help bees in your garden

What could be lovelier than a garden buzzing with insect life, colour and fragrance all year?

With bees in trouble, our gardens are vital fast-food takeaways for bees and other beneficial bugs. As well as serving up a varied menu of plants they provide the shelter and nesting places bees need.

What's more, bee-friendly gardening is more likely to be responsible gardening - growing the right plants, and avoiding chemicals in the garden

Read our 10 easy ways to help attract bees and other pollinators to your patch.


Grow 5 bee-friendly herbs

Herbs are easy to grow, and some are especially good for attracting bees and other pollinating insects.

Short of space? Try marjoram, thyme, chives and rosemary in a window box. Got more room? Go for flowering shrubs like winter-flowering honeysuckle – or even trees such as almond, apple or wild cherry.

Aim for a range of plants that flower at different times throughout the year. Ivy is a good food for bees in autumn; mahonia in winter; and snowdrops in spring. 

Not all flowers are bee-friendly. Generally speaking, avoid ‘double’ flowers – they obstruct bees getting to the nectar.

Plants with flower heads that are easy to land on – like fennel, angelica and cow parsley – are much better for bees. Long tubular flowers like foxglove and honeysuckle cater for long-tongued bumblebees, such as the garden bumblebee.

Colours can be a helpful guide – violet, blue and yellow flowers are often good choices. If you are shopping for plants in garden centres, look out for the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ symbol which marks bee-friendly plants suggested by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Build a bee hotel

A great way to help solitary bees in your garden is by providing for their needs, with a bee hotel, food - from nectar and pollen rich plants - and  a water supply.

Use our step-by-step guide to build a bee hotel - or bee house - for solitary bees. 

Do bees drink water? Yes, they need refreshment

Like humans, bees need water. Water is essential for honey bees to make food for their young, and keep their hive cool and humid. They collect water during the summer months.

Fill a bucket or tray with water – preferably rain water – and put a few stones in it that are large and stable enough to give bees a safe place to drink from. Floating old wine corks on the surface also gives bees something to land on. Got a pond? Try adding floating-leaved plants, wine corks or rocks to give bees a landing pad.

Think you can't help bees if you don't have a garden? Think again.

Want to help bees but live in a concrete jungle? Not enough space? No garden? No problem.

We spoke to some of the people who are turning grey to green and helping bees and wildlife in our cities.

Find out how these 6 inspiring groups are making havens for hungry bees.

Get your Bee Saver Kit

Let's cover the country with bee-friendly wildflowers!

Search our Bee Savers Map to discover how many nature-lovers are already creating habitats to help bees and other pollinating insects.

Our Bee Saver Kit contains all you need to get started and bring some colour to your garden, school or planters.

The kit includes wildflower seeds to provide valuable food for a range of bees, a bee identification guide, a garden planner and bee guide.


Make a wildflower meadow for bees

Wildflowers such as cornflowers, cowslips, and the common poppy are all brilliant for bees and other wildlife. Pick up wildflower seed mixes at your local garden centre, or by ordering a Bee Saver Kit from us.

Here are a few simple steps to get wildflowers blooming in your garden. The ideal time to do this is September or October because this mimics the natural cycle when flowers typically drop their seeds. You can also sow wildflower seeds in spring.

  1. Remove any vegetation or turf. Alternatively, use a strimmer or lawnmower to cut the grass as short as possible, and then rake the ground to reveal patches of bare soil.
  2. Wildflowers thrive in unfertile soil. Remove the topsoil, or dig the soil over to a depth of at least 15 cm to reveal the less fertile soil below.
  3. Scatter the seeds lightly. Use 3 quarters of a teaspoon of seeds per square metre. You can mix the seeds with sand first, to aid even sowing.
  4. After sowing, lightly rake the surface and firm down with the end of a rake or your feet. Water the soil if you're sowing during a dry period.

Bee-friendly tea towel

This stunning organic cotton tea towel features some popular wildflowers and garden plants that bees will love. The design by Stuart Gardiner shows plants by season – so you can help hungry bees through the year.