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How bees can help your garden

How bees can help your garden

Is there an insect more wonderful than the humble bee? Nothing says summer like a cheery little bumblebee buzzing its way around your garden. You should be happy to see these little fellows too, as they are brilliant native pollinators to Britain.

Whichever bees you see bumbling through your garden, you can stay safe in the knowledge that your garden is being well cared for.

But how much do you know about the them?

So many bees!

There are around 250 species native to Britain, though you likely won’t see more than a few making their rounds in your garden. Most of us probably wouldn’t be able to name more than the bumblebee or the honeybee, but all of the buzzing insects we see among the flowers are vital to fertilising your flower beds and veg patch.

The key to attracting bees will be with which flowers you decide to plant throughout the year. You’ll want a variety of plants that will bloom from early spring to late autumn, especially ones that are rich in nectar. Think about dead nettles and wisterias in spring; bellflowers, comfreys and thymes in the midsummer months; and coneflowers, ice plants and lavenders in the late summer leading into autumn.

It’s important to use pesticides and herbicides sparingly when caring for your plants, as these can have a negative impact on the bee population. Bumblebees are already at risk of extinction because of certain pesticides, so it’s best to leave mother nature to handle pest control rather than exacerbate the problem.

Bumble bees

Bumble bee collecting pollen
Bumble bees are wonderful pollinators.
Image source: Thinkstock.

While there are 24 different species of the more well known bumblebee, only 7 of those are likely to be spotted in your garden. Did you know that they like to nest underground?

They tend to live in smaller colonies than honeybees, and scent mark flowers they have already visited. Bees in general are quite gentle creatures, so they are very unlikely to sting you unless provoked. The bumblebee will also not die if they do happen to sting you, despite what you may think. Only the females are able to sting, as the male doesn’t even have one.

Honey bees

Honey bee
This honey bee is hard at work, collecting pollen in the pollen baskets on her legs.
Image source: Thinkstock.

Perhaps one of the nation’s favourite bees! Honeybees are probably the most stereotypical bee that you know of - they live in hives, and can have anything between 20,000 to 60,000 bees helping out with the maintenance and daily tasks.

These bees can communicate with one another through pheromones, and through something known as the “waggle dance”. If a bee has discovered a new source of nectar and pollen, they will waggle in a figure of eight to show the direction their new food source can be found in.

The duration of the waggle indicates the distance to the flower, and the angle at which the bee waggles shows the direction her sisters need to fly in to find it.

Carpenter bees

Carpenter bees
These bees will only collect food for their own small family, rather than for a colony or hive.
Image source: Thinkstock.

Contrary to the bumblebee, this fellow will make his home in dead wood or bamboo, hence where they get their name from.They may appear aggressive, but this is more in an attempt to intimidate you away from their home, as the male bee can’t sting. Carpenter bees tend to live on their own rather than in a colony.

Mining bees

Mining bee
This tawny mining bee is distinctive from her red hair.
Image source: Thinkstock.

These are also solitary bees, who like to make their nests underground. You can rest assured that your soil will be well aerated, which will help plants to dig their roots in deeper. Mining bees make their homes by tunnelling into the earth, and then leave their eggs in different tunnel cavities.

Leafcutter bees

Leafcutter bee
Leafcutter bees will make their homes from cut sections of greenery.
Image source: Thinkstock.

Leafcutter bees get their name from how they create their homes. They will use their mandibles to cut sections off leaves - they particularly like roses - and use these to create the cells where they’ll make their nest. These homes will often use ready made cavities.

Leafcutter bees are even more efficient pollinators than the honeybee, as the pollen is dry when carried around. This means that it falls off easily when the bee moves from flower to flower, so your garden will be well fertilized with these fellows around.

Mason bees

Mason bee
Mason bees make their home in ready prepared cavities.
Image source: Shutterstock.

Mason bees earn their name from their use of mud to create their nests. These tend to be made in ready made cavities in walls, wood, or hollow stems. They may sometimes form a temporary group to protect their collective young, but this will be nowhere as many bees as you’d find in a bumblebee or honeybee hive.

Invite the bees to visit

There’s a variety of ways you can encourage bees to make your garden their home - ground bees will love it if you leave some soil unmulched so they can make their nest. It’s also a good idea to have a shallow puddle or water source to give them something to drink, and if you’ve got a dead tree in your outdoor area, leave it be. You never know, mason bees might decide to make it their nesting place.

A bee hotel will also be a good way to encourage solitary bees to come and nest near your garden. The key to ensuring bees are regular visitors will entirely depend upon what flowers, fruit or veg you choose to plant throughout the year!

Are bees a regular visitor to your garden? Or have you got a particular favourite you like to see buzzing around? Let us know about it on our Facebook page!

Lead image: Shutterstock

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