Spring and summer are long gone and the colder grip of winter is here, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to do our bit for pollinators. Now is the time to plan ahead and ensure that your garden or outdoor space is ready to help our important pollinating insects. Why not make it your New Year resolution to make your garden, window ledges or local green space more pollinator friendly?
Bees, and other pollinators, are an essential part of a healthy environment. They make a significant contribution to our economy by pollinating fruit and vegetables, with a considerable amount of the food we eat relying on pollination. On top of that, they increase our enjoyment of the outdoors, and contibute to our health and well-being by creating higher quality greenspace (pollinating many of our favourite plants) while helping to bring people closer to nature.
A key way in which we can help pollinators is to ensure we have a variety of flowering plants, including trees and shrubs, in bloom at different times of the year. This takes a little planning, but isn’t difficult to achieve. What’s more, you don’t need a garden to contribute as window boxes, planters or pots can be equally useful. By providing food for pollinators, you will also be helping other wildlife such as birds and small mammals. Most plants beneficial to pollinators often benefit other animals through seeds and fruits as a result of pollination.
Bees prefer not to travel too far for their food, so a landscape made up of ‘corridors’ and ‘stepping stones’ of feeding stations can work well for them. That’s where a network of gardens can have a huge impact.
Plant now, enjoy later
There are many things you can have in your garden to support pollinators and we’ve got some suggestions and tips below. The more different kinds of flowers, trees and shrubs you put into your garden, the more different types of pollinators you’re likely to support. If you can, try to include a source of water e.g. bird bath, and some wilder bits of vegetation, log/wood piles and bare ground to allow different pollinators to nest, shelter or simply soak up the sun.
The first queen bumblebees and early butterflies are likely to emerge around March or April. Plants, trees and shrubs that you could have ‘lined-up’ for them to enjoy are lungwort, crocus, rosemary, rowan, apple and pear trees, hawthorn, and blackcurrant. These all bloom early and therefore provide a valuable food source for hungry emerging insects, particularly bumblebees.
Moving on into summer and of course the options are much wider – and planning what to plant now will ensure you provide really good food sources. Thyme, lavender, cosmos, alium, and sunflower are among those you should consider. The list of options to consider is much greater than just these however, and there are many resources across the internet which provide further pointers, and we have provided a handy table towards the end of this blog.
It’s important not to forget autumn when the last remaining pollinators are still flying about. Autumn flowering plants include honeysuckle, yarrow, sage and ivy, and having these in your garden will ensure you provide really useful help during these later months.
The role of urban areas in providing valuable resources for pollinators and other wildlife is clear. Since the 1930s, Britain has lost an estimated 97% of our wildflower meadows. This throws the efforts we make in our parks, gardens and allotments into sharp focus.
If you grow pollinator-friendly plants throughout the year our pollinating insects will be mighty glad of your efforts.
Your at-a-glance plant guide..
The following suggestions are not exhaustive; there are indeed many other flowers we could have added to this list.
Wherever possible, we encourage planting of native species. Although some non-natives can be very good for pollinators, planting native species contribute to the creation of a natural system which is what we should be aiming for.
The Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) provides further sections on how to plant for pollinators. Search their garden plants or wildflowers lists or look for the bee symbol when searching their database.
Visit Friends of the Earth plant list for bee friendly plants in every season