How to make your garden bee-friendly

Expert tips you and your kids can put into action at home to help save Irish bees

In case you didn’t know, Ireland’s pollinators are in danger. There is one species of honey bee in Ireland, being managed by Ireland’s thriving beekeeping community, but there are 97 wild species in Ireland. One third of those species of bees are at risk of extinction.

Two Irish women, Dr Úna Fitzpatrick and professor Jane Stout, came up with the All Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020. This includes simple actions families, communities and businesses can take to make their outdoor spaces more bee-friendly. Read here to find out how communities can make their Tidy Town a better home for the bees.

Here, read about some easy ways to encourage bees to make your garden their home.

HOW TO CREATE A POLLINATOR FRIENDLY GARDEN:

Preserve your garden

First, do no harm, as doctors say. Identify food and shelter for bees that are already present in your garden. Patches of wildflowers and ‘weedy’ plants and flowering hedgerows are all sources of food. Bare soil on flat ground or sloped ground such as at the edges of lawns, long grass or dry stones walls are sources of shelter for pollinators.

Go wild

We’ve been conditioned to think of some plants as weeds, like bramble, clovers, thistles and dandelions. Keep a small section of your garden as a wildflower garden, as a cost-free way to feed the pollinators.

Park the mower

The most cost-effective way to provide food for pollinators is to reduce the frequency of mowing in some areas of your garden. Allow wildflowers to grow naturally in the longer grass. Every six weeks is frequent enough to still allow flowers like clover to bloom.

Time it right

If you choose to mow as usual, one simple change you could make is to not cut your grass until mid-April. Dandelions will have flowered but it is before they set seed, and these are a vital source of food for pollinators in spring.

Food plan

Pollinators need flowers that produce lots of nectar for energy and pollen for protein. Plan your gardening so that there will be no ‘hunger gaps’, i.e. times at which there are no nectar or pollen rich flowers. Doing so will ensure there will always be pollinators in your garden to visit your fruit and vegetable patch, which is dependent on bees to do their job.

What to plant

Choose single instead of double flowered varieties, as double flowered plants have almost no nectar or pollen. Perennial plants are a better source of nectar and pollen than annuals. When shopping for plants, keep an eye out for the Royal Horticultural Society’s Perfect for Pollinators logo.

This June, try planting:

Ornamental plants and herbs: delphinium, lavender, globe thistle, oregano, poppy, stachys and thyme.

Flowering trees and shrubs: bramble, firethorn and rock rose.

Fruit and veg: blackberries, courgettes, pumpkins, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes.

No space? No problem

Window boxes and herb pots will work in homes with little outdoor space. You can try growing annuals like heliotrope and alyssum, and perennials like wallflower and trailing verbena, in window boxes. Herbs like chives, lavender, rosemary, sage and thyme are ideal for bees.

Bulb of choice

Daffodils and tulips aren’t the best for pollinators. While you don’t have to give them up, try planting pollinator-friendly snowdrops, crocus, allium and single-flowered dahlia too in the autumn for a garden that will provide more sustenance next year.

Find more tips here.

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