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Gardening for Bumblebees


By Arlene


~ just had this booklet in the post and some of the advice I hadn’t thought of~
like roses which have too tight petals which means the bees can’t get in to get the pollen~
I hope everyone fiinds it useful!

Wiildflowers have become scarce in the countryside because we’ve lost many traditional habitats like hedgerows, hay meadows and chalk grassland (learn more). The extensive use of pesticides in farmland has also drastically reduced wildflower numbers. As a result, many bumblebees species have declined dramatically, with two species already nationally extinct and several others giving us serious cause for concern. Wildlife gardens have become a stronghold for some bumblebee species. Wherever you live in the UK you should be able to attract at least 6 bumblebee species to your garden, and perhaps as many at 10.

Bumblebees need flowers throughout the Spring and Summer (March-Sept), and these need to be the right kinds of flowers. Exotic or highly cultivated garden flowers are largely unsuitable, as they either produce little pollen and nectar, or keep it hidden away from the bees. In particular, most annual bedding plants (e.g. Pelargonium, Begonia, Busy Lizzies) have little nectar to offer bees or other wildlife. Instead, why not try growing traditional cottage garden flowers and native wildflowers. Many of these thrive and look superb in the garden. They are also easy to grow, generally being hardy and much more resistant to slugs and disease. Bumblebee species differ in the length of their tongues, and as a result prefer different flowers, so it’s important to grow a range of different things.

Viper’s bugloss is perhaps the very best plant to attract bumblebees to your garden. Much loved by almost all species, and it looks great too. It flowers from June-August.

Below you’ll find a selection of both garden and wild flowers that will bloom throughout the year. They are all types that bumblebees love, and will cater for both long and short-tongued species. If you have room for even one or two of these they will attract many bees. Most of these plants will also attract a range of other interesting insects to the garden, including butterflies and honeybees.

Why not download a simple factsheet to print out and pass on to family and friends?
Flowers for bumblebees
March – April

Erica carnea (heather)
Flowering Currant
Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

Pussy Willow
Red dead-nettle
White dead-nettle
May – June
Birds-foot trefoil
Bush vetch

Everlasting Pea
Everlasting wallflower
Kidney Vetch

Red Campion
Roses (singles)
Tufted vetch
Meadow Cranesbill
White Clover
July – September
Black horehound

Lesser burdock
Purple loosestrife
Red bartsia

Red clover
Sea Holly
St. Johns Wort
Viper’s bugloss

Want to know more?

Gardening for bumblebees book~Why not order a copy of the BBCT book ‘Gardening for Bumblebees’? Packed with all of the information you need to turn your garden into a haven for bumblebees. Yours for a suggested donation of £2.50 plus 50 pence for postage and packing.

Written by BBCT Trustee and bumblebee expert Prof. Dave Goulson, this little book is guaranteed to get your garden buzzing! If you’d like a copy of this book but don’t want to join BBCT then click the link below.

One of the simplest things you can do to help your bumblebees is to leave an area of your lawn uncut during the summer. If you don’t mow between late-June and early-August, your lawn will burst into flower with clovers and birds-foot trefoil. This needn’t look untidy – make it an interesting shape, and border it with a mown path so that you can enjoy watching your bumblebees foraging away.

When you do finally cut, in August, remove all of the clippings and put them on the compost heap. Over time, this will allow the soil fertility to drop naturally, which will encourage the wildflowers to flourish – they actually prefer nutrient poor soil. Click for more information

Many wildflowers have become scarce in farmland. If you make space for them in your garden the you’ll be helping conserve both the flowers themselves and the creatures they support. Many of these native wildflowers are extraordinarily beautiful – it’s not all about nettles and brambles! We often forget that many conventional garden flowers such as foxgloves are native wildflowers.

Seeds of some wildflowers like foxgloves and cowslips can be bought in most garden centers, but the range is usually limited. A far greater selection are available by mail order from specialist companies. However, there is a lot to be said for collecting the seeds yourself from the wild. Most plants produce thousands of seeds, but there is nowhere near enough room for them all to germinate and grow. Collecting a few seeds will have no impact on the plant population in most cases. There is a very strong conservation argument for using local seed as you are helping to propagate and conserve the local race of the plant species, so if possible gather your wildflower seed from close to home.

Before going out collecting, remember that collecting from private land or nature reserves is illegal. However, this is generally not a problem because many wildflowers can be found along road verges or riverbanks. Secondly, do not collect seed from rare plants or from places where there are only a handful of parent plants.

Specialist wildflower seed suppliers:

Herbiseed, Naturescape,
Emorsgate, Scotia Seeds,
Really Wild Flowers,
Scotts Wild Flowers,
Wild About Wildflowers,

Collecting your own seed requires patience, as it is necessary to wait for the right time of year. Try to spot the location of flowers and then return when the flowers have set seed. Most wildflower seed is very easy to collect. For larger seeds simply pick them up with your fingers; for example tufts of knapweed or thistle seeds are readily plucked from mature seed heads. For others, the best approach is to place a bag over the flower head and shake. Once collected, keep the seeds dry and cool until you can sow them. Generally it is best to sow the seeds immediately, since this is the time at which they would naturally be scattered. Place in seed trays outside since some seeds will not germinate without passing through a cold winter (or a simulated cold period).

Why not make space in a corner of your garden for a beautiful wildflower meadow?

More blog posts by Arlene

Previous post: Potatoes!

Next post: Days out with snowdrops~



Lots of useful info. there, Arlene. Thanks. :o)

3 Feb, 2010


A Brilliant Blog Arlene :) As u know im Wildlife Friendly & have grown A Long Grass Area 4 two yrs on the Trot & this Yr im adding more Bumble Bee/Butterfly/Moth Friendly Flowers :) I leave it un-Mown until September & the Insects love it :)

3 Feb, 2010


~good for you Jacque!~lots of things that I hadn't thought of~I always have foxgloves etc but will be trying to get more flowers from the list this year!

3 Feb, 2010


I really enjoyed this blog as it reminded me of the bees buzzing in and out of Cosmos, Foxgloves and Cranesbill flowers last Summerin my back garden.

3 Feb, 2010


very interesting thankyou-- one question is white clover not suitable as we get masses of that in the field?

3 Feb, 2010


~I think white clover is just fine~just that apparently bees seem to like blues and purples best!

3 Feb, 2010


Arlene...we have Vipers Bugloss in our borders and the carver bees that made their nest in our grass clippings absolutely loved it.!

3 Feb, 2010


~that sounds a real success story Ray/Jane?~good for you!~will be looking into that!

3 Feb, 2010


Need to plant more bee friendly plants this year Arlene ! Take it as a kind of new year resolution.They need all the help we can give them.Have lots of 1 year old foxgloves which should flower for the first time this summmer !

3 Feb, 2010


I'm already on this bandwagon but like Bonkers I am going to try some more of the plants on the list. I am just off to see if I can order the little book you suggest. Thanks for all the info Arlene.

3 Feb, 2010


I have just ordered the little book. Thanks again Arlene.

3 Feb, 2010


Well done Arlene , if it promps a few people into trying to grow some Bee loving plants it will have been well worth it ... :o)

3 Feb, 2010


Help required please ! I found the website, clicked on just about everything but can't see how to order the little book. Where am i going wrong ? I'll not be beaten by a computer !

3 Feb, 2010


~there is a site called Ectopia which is selling a butterly feeding house and butterfly food whilst Really Wild flowers is selling 50 plugs for £37.50 includ ing Vipers Bugloss,Ladies fingers,Daisies Bugle and Foxgloves but I am really fancying some wild red poppies~

3 Feb, 2010


If you go onto the website, on it's homepage it mentions membership. Click on that and when the page comes up there is a section which says that if you just want to order the book, "click here".
Good luck.

3 Feb, 2010


~ go to the main site and click on 'support us' and when the page loads ~down on the left 'click here" to buy today for £3~

3 Feb, 2010


~ Great minds Alan~ I renewed this year as a "Friend" and got the book free plus an ID chart, packet of seed and sticker for the car~ and a little bee pin badge!

3 Feb, 2010


My thanks to Toto and Arlene, success !

3 Feb, 2010


~ well done Megan!~
~ found this site of wild flower plugs~ everything you could possibly want! my list now!

3 Feb, 2010


I've made a copy of the plant list to make sure I add to what I already have. Thanks for an invaluable blog, Arlene.

3 Feb, 2010


~ Thanks everyone~ it's lovely to know that so many people care and want to make a difference~ thinking of getting lots of lavender which will also smell lovely!as well as help the bees~ so many different types and a nursery not too far away~

3 Feb, 2010


great blog arlene must have took ages, lots of usefull info, will look to this when buying new plants, i started with some wildflower seeds last year and it did help. :o))

3 Feb, 2010


Lovely blog! I must be one of the only GoYers needing to do nothing about bees! Our roadside banks and meadows heave with a lot of the wild flowers mentioned all summer long .... and longer. The mountain slopes are already showing pale green patches where Hellebores are growing and I've seen a few stunted cowlips where I know there will be hundreds as soon as the temperature warms up. We always have many types of bee visiting our garden - the air on a summers' day is always buzzing. I hope the British bees have a good summer and produce many little ones to keep their number up!

4 Feb, 2010


Interesting blog,Arlene.Luckily,I have quite a few plants they like,so feel happy about that.I would never have thought about polemoniums,as haven't particularly noticed the bees on them.Will watch out this year...

4 Feb, 2010


I have a few cottage plants and flowers in my garden but i'm going to put some wild flower seeds near my wildlife pond this time round, thanks for this very interesting blog.

4 Feb, 2010

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