As Australia’s favourite honey brand, it goes without saying that we love our honey bees! That’s why over the last three years, we have invested over $1.5 million in research and industry support for bee welfare.
Bees pollinate one third of the world’s crops and over 80% of flowering plants, making them incredibly important to the environment. By creating your very own bee garden you can help look after these wonderful creatures, who do so much for us!
We have endeavoured to create a useful guide below, on how you can help support Australia’s honey bees AND our native Australian bees.
Why do bees need flowers?
We all know flowers provide bees with food, but did you know they need a diverse range of flowers to be healthy. Just like humans, bees need a range of elements to satisfy their nutritional requirements for normal growth and development. These elements include proteins (amino acids), carbohydrates (sugars), minerals, fats/lipids (fatty acids), vitamins and water. Bees collect three substances — water, nectar and pollen — to satisfy their nutritional requirements. (Somerville, 2005).
Different flowering plants offer varied nutrient profiles, with some plants being better for gathering nectar and other being better for pollen foraging.
For a full, comprehensive guide to the nutritional values of plants for bees, see ‘Bee Friendly – A planting guide for European honey bees and Australian Native Pollinators by Mark Leech’.
How do I create a bee friendly garden?
- Do not use topical pesticides, fungicides and/or herbicides in your garden.
- Choose plants/seeds that have not been treated with systemic chemicals such as neonicotinoids, as these can impact the health of the bees.
- Select bee-friendly plants and choose multiple different varieties that bloom at different times of the year to ensure year-long foraging.
- Consider which plants will suit your climate. Review the Plant Hardiness Zones for Australia map prior choosing any new vegetation for your garden.
- Ensure the plants you select are not classified as invasive species in your region. Check with your local nursery.
- Select plants that grow well in full sun. Bees use the sun to navigate, therefore will gravitate to flowers in sunny positions.
- Avoid hybridised plants that do not yield good pollen or nectar.
- Layer your selections of bee friendly plants in clumps of multiples (up to 1 metre in length) to create mini flower hedges that make foraging much easier for your fuzzy, buzzy friends.
- Include lots of yellow, white, purple and blue flowering plants in the mix – these have been shown to attract more bees.
- Consider that native bees are just as important as honey bees. Choose a range of flowers that are enjoyed by all bee species.
- Make a ‘bee hotel’ for solitary bees to make their nests. Find a great guide here from Gardening Australia. You can also buy premade bee hotels, like this great ‘Bee House’ from Biome.
- Bees need to stay hydrated. Create a ‘bee bath’ by leaving a shallow dish of pebbles with water. Keep the dish very shallow to avoid attracting laying mosquitos and change the water often to ensure it remains fresh.
What flowers attract bees?
Many native plants are very attractive to honey bees and native bees. These plants are well adapted to the Australian environment conditions and usually thrive with minimum attention.
On the other hand, non-native plants like culinary herbs (such as basil, sage and majorum) are among the most useful plants for attracting bees. While they can require more work than native flora, they are fantastic to have in your garden for use in cooking! Plant heirloom varieties and perennials for best results.
Keep in mind that single-flower varieties provide best foraging, as double headed flowers produce less nectar and can make it difficult for bees to access pollen. Choose from the following lists and be sure to refer to the Plant Hardiness Zones map for Australia to ensure the plants you choose are suited to your climate.
Native Australian plants to attract bees
- Australian Swan River Daisy (Brachyscome iberidifolia)
- Cut leaf daisy (Brachyscome multifida)
- Hairpin banksia (Banksia spinulosa)
- Native hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii)
- Spider flowers (Grevillea)
- Bottlebrush flowers (Callistemon)
- Ivory curl (Buckinghamia celsissma)
- Flax-leaved paperbark (Melaleuca linariifolia)
- Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium)
- Silver banksia (Banksia marginate)
- Jelly bush (Leptospermum polygalifolium)
- Weeping tea tree (Leptospermum madidum)
- Dwarf Paperbark (Melaleuca decussata)
- Dogwood (Jacksonia scoparia)
- Elegant wattle (Acacia victoriae)
- harlequin fuchsia bush (Eremophila duttonii)
- Dry land tea tree (Melaleuca lanceolate)
- Native Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)
- Cat’s Whiskers (Orthosiphon aristatus)
- Angular Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens)
- Pincushion Hakea (Hakea laurina)
- purple coral pea (Hardenbergia violacea)
- Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora)
- New South Wales Christmas bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum)
- Eucalyptus – all types.
Non-native plants to attract bees
- Forget-menot (Myosotis spp.)
- Cornflower (centaurea cyanus)
- Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
- Bee sage (Salvia apiana)
- Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum)
- Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- Winter savory (Satureja montana)
- Passionfruit (Passiflora edulis)
- Corriander (Coriandrum sativum)
- Thyme (Thymus spp.)
- Common Sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans)
- Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) or lavender (Lavandula latifolia)
- Common rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Catmint (Nepeta cataria)
- Garden Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Blue butterfly Bush (Rotheca myricoides)
- Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
- Purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea)
- Pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima)
How to attract native Australian bees
Many people realise the significance of the honey bees for pollinating plants, but we must not forget the importance and diversity of Australia’s native bee species. There are an estimated 2000 – 3000 bee species in Australia, with many of these yet to be properly identified.
One thing we do know about native Aussie bees is that they naturally LOVE Australian flora, but you need not feel limited to what you plant in your bee garden. A vast majority of our native bees also enjoy foraging extrinsic blooms! Below are some flowers preferred by native bees:
- Herbs like sweet basil, sage, common rosemary, thyme and lemon balm are native bee favourites.
- Gold guinea plant (Hibbertia scandens) – for teddy bear and blue banded bees
- Fan Flower (Scaevola humilis) – for leaf cutter bees
- Lavender - for blue banded bees
- Blue butterfly Bush (Rotheca myricoides) – for Carpenter Bees
- Lemon myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) - for stingless bees
- Pincushion Hakea (Hakea laurina) – for stingless bees
- Brachyscome daisies – for stingless bees
- NSW Christmas bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum) – for stingless bees
- Native Senna (Senna clavigera) – for teddy bear, blue banded and leaf cutter bees
What plants are bad for bees?
Bee careful not to undo all your great work with adding in plants that are not bee friendly. According to BBC the following plants are toxic to bees and should be avoided:
- Trumpet flower, or angel’s trumpet
- Yellow Jessamine
- Mountain Laurel
- Stargazer lily
- Bog rosemary
Bees in the City
Don’t have a backyard to create you bee friendly space? Don’t worry, you can still create a little bee sanctuary on your balcony or windows sills. Below are some tips on helping bees in urban areas:
- First check with your landlord or body corporate before you begin. You could even try rally them and your neighbours to help turn your whole apartment block into a bee oasis!
- Reach out to your State Beekeeping Association, or a local association, for guidance on starting out and ensure you register your beehive in line with current Biosecurity regulations.
- Choose plants that grow well in pots and tolerate shallow growing conditions.
- Be realistic about the pots and containers you grow your plants in. Only choose options that comfortably fit in your space, can be safely moved and transported if required.
- Observe where and when the sun hits your balcony/window during the day. Also consider the sun changes position seasonally, so take this into account to when selecting plants.
- Try growing culinary herbs. Bees love them and you can benefit from them too!