Learn about Life in the 1920s

Making a Garden Attractive to Bees

In the Old World the so-called bee gardens are common. There is much interest in bringing together the plants which are attractive to the honeybees. There is a very long list of plants which are important sources of nectar, but many of those which are most copious in their yield of sweets are undesirable in other ways. Some are noxious weeds and are hardly to be included in a cultivated garden.


The gardener who is also a beekeeper will often wish to include as many things as possible which will provide pasture for his bees, even though the area be insufficient to make a great deal of difference in the amount of honey secured. The greater part of the surplus honey which goes to market in the Northeastern States comes from cultivated crops. This is also true in the Middle West and the Rocky Mountain region. The Clovers are the source of a large portion of the total crop. Alsike Clover, White Dutch Clover, Sweet-clover (Melilotus), Alfalfa and Crimson Clover are all important farm crops which yield honey. Buckwheat also yields nectar freely in the region of the Great Lakes.


Among the weeds which add something to the wealth of the bees may be mentioned Dandelion, Sow Thistle, Canada Thistle, Mustard and Milkweed. In some cases the Milkweeds may well be included in the ornamental garden, but the others are hardly to be encouraged anywhere.

The reason that most of our honey comes from farm crops and weeds rather than from gardens, is because these plants are present in so much greater numbers. Whole fields of Clover or Buckwheat offer unlimited pasture for the bees. However, the period of bloom for any one plant is usually short and it is desirable to have something for the bees during the entire season. Even though our gardens are too small to offer a large amount of pasture, they may be of substantial help during periods when no major honey plant is yielding. At such times the scattering flowers of many kinds are eagerly sought.


Some of the garden flowers are very rich in nectar. Catnip, which has escaped from the old-fashioned herb gardens and become widely naturalized, is an example. Borage, Chicory and Lavender are other good honey plants of similar origin. Horehound and Motherwort also came from abroad, but although good sources of honey, they are too much inclined to spread as weeds to be desirable to include in the bee garden. Rosemary is a famous bee plant.

Here and there we find someone who revives an old-fashioned herb garden, and a surprising number of the plants included are attractive to the bees. Majoram and Hounds-tongue are bee plants which would be included in such a garden. Nearly all the Mints are good for honey.

Among the purely ornamental flowering plants the Mignonette has received much attention as a bee plant. Much space has been given it in the bee papers and large plots have been planted for the bees. Mere mention of all the important ones would take more space than is here available. Cleome, Globethistle, Thoroughwort, Bachelor Button, Heather, Goldenrod, Giant Hyssop, Gaillardia, Buddleia, Heliotrope, and a host of others from the Scilla, which blooms as soon as the frost is out, to the Dahlia late in Autumn.


In passing the vegetable garden, let us mention Asparagus, Melons, Pumpkin, Squash, Cucumber, Onion, Celery and Parsnip, among those which yield nectar freely.


Among our Northern trees, we must include Linden, Buckeye, Catalpa, Tuliptree, Black Locust and the Maples, all of which are valuable sources of nectar. In warmer places we add Holly, Mango, Orange and other citrus trees, Peppertree and Eucalyptus.

The list of shrubs is a long one. Among them we may select the Indian-currant, Snowberry, the Buckthorns, Barberries, Button-bush, Pea-tree, Cotoneasters, Sumacs and Privets.

Then we must not overlook the many good honey plants among the vines, especially the various species of Ivy. Nearly all the species of Hedera and Ampelopsis are rich in nectar and are swarming with bees during their period of bloom.

In closing, it should be pointed out that the environment in which a plant grows has a great influence upon the nectar which it yields. Some plants are abundant in their nectar flow under some conditions, while yielding very little under others. One must not be surprised if some famous honey plants prove disappointing in a particular garden.