Your Garden and Bees

Most readers probably have a garden or even a bit of land. It’s always a balance (or battle) between encouraging life and dissuading pests. We all like a tidy colourful garden with lots of fruit & vege but this often means that we have to kill weeds, pests and fungi. It can be tempting to use a strong, effective herbicide or insecticide and then not have to worry about it. However, this could kill many beneficial or harmless insects and reduce the quality and quantity of life in your garden. I’m not suggesting stopping using chemicals, but there are ways that you can reduce the damage done. When I was kiddie, we still used DDT and 2,4,5-T; they were very effective at killing things but came with side effects that were unknown at the time. There are now concerns about the use of neonicinotoids and their effects on bees.  It appears the effects may be subtle and when combined with other chemicals could be quite harmful. Issues with flight and navigation, reduced taste sensitivity and slower learning ability have all been linked to neonics, which can have a cumulative effect on a bee colony’s ability to survive.

Some things that could mitigate your pest control in the garden.

For insect pests, try more targeted insecticides rather than broad spectrum sprays, try insecticidal soaps, neem oil, Maverik or Pyrethrin based insecticides. Choose an insecticide that has a low residual so that it does the job and doesn’t hang around. Most importantly, follow instructions carefully.

When killing weeds, try to minimise the indiscriminate use of glycophosphate, neonicinotoids and other systemic weedkillers. Maybe use organic sprays, torching weeds, manual weeding or planned planting. Never ever spray flowers, this will definitely kill bees and may destroy a whole hive. Try to avoid sprays drifting onto flowers, beehives and areas that insects may live. Spray in the evening after bees that have been foraging have returned to their nest.

Top Tips for a Bee Friendly Garden -

  • Plant seasonally, there is usually lots of food available for bees later in spring and throughout the summer. Bees often need lots of food in early spring and autumn
  • Unattractive flowers, some flowers aren’t attractive to bees at all. There are several reasons why – colour (bees can’t see red, to them it’s black or grey), long flowers (bees’ tongues can’t reach into long tubular flowers), frilly or double flowers (they’re too difficult for bees to get to the nectar source), smell (some flowers are have a scent that is a deterrent to bees, like geranium, citronella), some new flower varieties are bred solely for looks and are of no benefit to bees and other pollinators.
  • Wild areas, a neatly manicured garden looks awesome, but not much lives in it. Leave some areas to grow a bit wild. An area of meadow flowers can look attractive
  • Ground cover, weed matting and bark can deter ground nesting bees e.g. bumblebees and most native bees. Mulch may be a bit more friendly and still help with weed control. A bare bank is the perfect habitat for our native bees.
  • Water, all living things need water. Providing water will benefit bees, insects, arachnids, birds, and reptiles; it will encourage them into your garden. Bees can easily drown in a water bath, it’s a good idea to give them an escape ramp or steps e.g. pebbles, branch, moss etc. Note that rainwater is odourless, so bees will more easily find a swimming pool, dripping tap or washing on the line. To encourage bees, add a few drops of bleach, some crushed shells or allow the water to stagnate with some algae to help them find your watering station.
  • Open feeding, never feed honey to bees, it could contain spores of American Foulbrood which is very harmful to bees. Avoid feeding bees sugar water, this could help to spread contact bee diseases, and could incite robbing (this is a behaviour akin to a shark feeding frenzy, when a nearby hive could be raided and destroyed). Giving a drop of sugar water to a lone hungry bee is okay.
  • Get bees! - Getting your own bees will benefit your garden enormously. You’ll be surprised at how much more fruit you’ll get off your trees and vines and your plants will produce more flowers. You can learn how to keep bees or pay for someone to put a hive in your garden.


Some bee-friendly plants

Herbs - borage, rosemary, thyme, bee balm, sage, oregano, white clover

Trees – Pohutukawa, bottlebrush, eucalyptus, willow

Fruit – berries; stone fruit, citrus, apple & pear trees

Vegetables – fennel, squashes,

Perennials – lavender, dandelion, gorse (very good source of pollen), salvias

Annuals – phacelia, tansy, sunflowers (some varieties can be perennials), buckwheat,

Natives – flax, cabbage tree nikau, manuka, kanuka, pittosporum, karo,

Climbers – ivy, clematis, honeysuckle, wisteria, jasmine, cucumbers

Ken Brown

A passionate beekeeper who is a part-time Apiculture Tutor with Land Based Training in Kumeu.


Further Reading

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