Spring is right around the corner and with that, there are many people getting their backyard gardens ready for the new season! If you are one of these people and looking for a few new plants, consider getting plants and gardening in a way that will help bees! Many people might avoid these insects but bees of all kinds play an important role in pollination and food production. Bee friendly gardens can help these important but tiny insects.

According to Washington state’s Department of Health, the honey bee and bumble bee are the most commonly seen bees in the state but according to the Arboretum Foundation, there are many other different bee species that call the Pacific Northwest home. If you are a little wary of bees, there is a bit of good news: more often than not, these bees will aggressively defend their colonies but while out and about, they’re rather passive and tend to only sting when provoked. As long as you give them space, bees probably won’t sting you.

For years, researchers and scientists have been raising the alarms about the decline in bee populations. Like many other animals and insects, bees of all kinds are greatly impacted by a loss of habitat and climate change. There are some that are saying that things have seemed to stabilize for the world’s bees.

However, having bee friendly garden with a few plants that bees like is still important and one of the best ways to help bees if you have the space. These insects, while a bit terrifying, are important for the environment, often help pollinate food, and still face many threats. Pesticides, habitat loss, climate change, and much more all pose a threat to all the bee species here in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.

Oregon State Beekeeper’s Association put together a list of bee friendly plants for Oregon gardens a few years ago and including some general tips. And the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association also put together a list of great plants for bees in Washington State. If possible, find local, native plants! Also try to use a diverse array of flowers, including ones with different colors and shapes.

Here are some great plants and a few trees to help bees in your area:

  • Apple trees**
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)
  • Blueberries (Cyanococcus)
  • California Poppy (eschsholzia)*
  • Catnip (Nepeta)
  • Cucumbers (cucumis sativus)
  • English Lavender (Lavandula)
  • Mint (mentha)
  • Oregon Grape (mahonia)* [plant in the winter]
  • Peach trees**
  • Pumpkins (cucurbita maxima)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
  • Sunflowers (helianthus)*
  • Wild Strawberries*
    • Beach Strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis)
    • Blue-leaved strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
    • Wood strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

*These are native to the Pacific Northwest.

**For the best fruit trees to plant in the Pacific Northwest, here’s a recommendation list from the Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation.

If you are buying plants to simply replant in your garden, try to get plants that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides, as there are many pesticides that can harm or even kill bees. And plan on planting a range of plants all year round if possible! Having a diversity of flowers and other plants will only encourage bees to frequent your garden. Plus, having a little water basin in your garden can help some species, as some bees need an external water source! A small bird bath with some stones should do the trick.

Getting recommendations from nearby nurseries can also help, as they might be more knowledgeable about the local native plants. I recommend going to local, independent nurseries but that’s in large part because I personally love supporting independent businesses.

All of this information is dependent on the fact that you have the time, space, and ability to have a bee friendly garden. But there are many other ways to help bees if you’re not able to have a garden! If you’re able, going to work parties put on by your local Parks and Rec department can help. Many of these work parties, at least in my hometown, often involve removing invasive plants in parks and other public areas and help replant native species. Encouraging native plants can in turn help native wild bee species!

You can also buy local, organic food if possible, as doing so supports farming that doesn’t rely on high amounts of synthetic pesticide use! There are CSAs (community supported agriculture) all around the Pacific Northwest (like the Urban Bee Co.) and the organization Imperfect Produce is starting to expand into cities like Seattle and Portland.

These are just some of the many things we can do to help bees here in the Pacific Northwest (and in many other areas!). Bees are a vital part of our ecosystem and agriculture and with many different species that call this area home, it’s important that we help them survive! Plus, many of the plants, trees, and shrubs that are good for bees are also great plants to have around.

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