Apples. Peaches. Avocados. Kidney beans. Cotton. Coffee. Tomatoes. Vanilla. What do all of these things have in common? Besides being resources many of us use almost daily, these crops are some of the hundreds we would lose if the world’s honeybee population died out completely. In fact, according to sos-bees.org, a third of the world’s food supply depends on pollinating insects like bees, wasps and butterflies. Though bees are not technically considered endangered yet, the bee population has been in steady and dangerous decline since the late 1990s due to the use of insecticides and the destruction of insect-safe environments.
So what can we do?
In addition to signing petitions banning bee-killing pesticides and actively encouraging safe, ecological farming in your area, there are plants you can plant in your yard (or even in pots on your porch) to provide a safe haven for your neighborhood bee pals.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Though lavender is a shrub, it can grow quite well in yards and containers alike. The most important part of growing lavender is proper drainage – lavender doesn’t do well in overly moist soil. It also requires full sun, and thorough but infrequent watering (wait until the soil is nearly dry before watering again). Bees are attracted to lavender due to its color and high nectar production. You can also harvest some of the blooms for yourself and use them as an herbal addition to food and drinks.
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
Sunflowers are usually best grown in a yard or garden, as they are capable of getting up to 16 feet in height. They’re also very heat-tolerant, making them great for exceptionally hot Missouri summers. They require full, direct sunlight and well-drained soil, and also need a lot of space for their roots to stretch out. Their bright golden blooms will attract bees and butterflies alike.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Type: Perennial (or sometimes annual, depending on how cold the winter is)
Fennel can be grown gardens or in containers. If you choose to go the container route, be sure that your container is at least 10 inches deep. Like lavender and sunflowers, fennel requires full sun and well-drained, fertilized soil. This is another plant that’s good for you as well as bees – fennel is a widely used culinary herb.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Type: Like fennel, calendula can be an annual or perennial, depending on how cold the winter gets
Calendula is a particularly good plant to grow in pots, and while they prefer full sun, they are capable of tolerating shade. This makes them a great option if you have limited space. And not only are they a bee favorite, they’re completely edible – they make a super low-maintenance but impressive-looking addition to salads.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Echinacea is a beautiful purple or pink flower favored by both butterflies and bees. It’s also used in tons of natural cold remedies, as it is said to boost immune system function. While it grows best in full sun, it can tolerate light shade, and can be grown in both gardens and containers. Be sure that the soil is well-drained and well-fertilized.
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)
Zinnias are some of the easiest flowers to grow in both yards and pots, and are extremely adept at attracting birds, bees and butterflies. For best growth, zinnias need full sun, as well as regular watering so the soil is constantly moist.
Those are only a few of the plant varieties that can provide a safe, nurturing space for the pollinators we count on. More information on bee decline and bee gardens can be found at sos-bees.org and thehoneybeeconservancy.org. And remember: only use natural pesticides and fertilizers on your plants.