Planting “butterfly gardens” with flowers that attract these fanciful emissaries of spring is popular in Central Florida – as well as throughout the United States. But did you know that attracting bees is just as worthwhile? Although they aren’t as colorful or easily observed as butterflies, making your yard a haven for bees provides numerous benefits for Florida’s flowering plants, trees and crop plants – while helping to support the state’s biodiversity.
While most people immediately think of honey bees, Florida is home to more than 300 species of native, wild bees. Approximately 29 of these species are endemic – that is, found only in Florida. According to University of Florida IFAS Gardening Solutions, “Buzzing bumblebees come to mind, but there are also sweat bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, and hundreds more. Honey bees (Apis mellifera), while naturalized to Florida, are actually native to Eurasia. These amazing bees produce not only honey, but also pollinate one-third of the food we eat.”
An Often-Misunderstood Pollinator that’s Important to the Environment
As essential as all bee species are to supporting life on Earth, their reputation for inflicting a painful sting has made humans wary of being in their presence. In fact, less than half of the bees in the world are actually capable of stinging, and even the ones that do sting – such as honey bees and bumblebees – only use this defense mechanism as a last resort.
In short, bees don’t have it out for humans, and don’t go looking for trouble. Bees will peacefully coexist with you in your garden. However, if you have young children – or grandchildren who visit – teach them to keep their distance as bees make their rounds on blooms, and not to make sudden moves up close that might seem aggressive. Don’t bother bees, and they won’t bother you!
You may have heard about declines in bee populations, and the negative effects this can have on biodiversity and food production. Providing a habitat in your yard that attracts bees and allows them to thrive is an important way to help ensure their survival!
Planning a “Bee-Friendly” Garden
If you’ve decided to set out the welcome mat for bees, University of Florida IFAS Gardening Solutions provides the following elements they need. (All quoted material is from this source.)
Year-round food source – Bees are foragers, collecting pollen and nectar as they move from flower to flower. If your yard is without blooms for a season, bees will go elsewhere. To keep them well-fed and on your property, plan to have at least three plants flowering at any given time of the year. University of Florida IFAS Gardening Solutions provides a guide to native Florida wildflowers that will keep bees happy throughout the year!
Shelter variety – Did you know that not all bee species live in hives? About 70% of Florida’s native bees nest in the ground. “To provide shelter for these solitary, ground-dwelling bees, leave some areas of your landscape unmanaged. Dry, bare ground that isn’t covered by a fabric or plastic weed barrier provides an ideal habitat for ground-nesting bees. Leave grasses and perennials in these bee-friendly areas untouched, too. Native bees will build nests in the hollowed-out stems.”
Water source – The same as butterflies, bees like shallow mud puddles as their source of water and minerals. A water source with a small fountain allows bees easy and consistent access to water for drinking and thermoregulation. Fun fact: mason bees use mud for building their nests!
Pesticide-free zone – Make your garden safe for bees by using pesticides only when needed. Don’t spray during the day or when plants are flowering, as these are the times when bees are most active. “Read the labels carefully, too, before you apply other landscaping products. Occasionally pesticides are part of combination formulas.”
In addition, University of Florida IFAS Extension recommends installing plants of varying heights to increase visual appeal of the garden space, being sure to pay attention to the average height and width of the mature plant or tree. Also, bees are more likely to be attracted to flowering plants in clumps as they navigate your garden.
The Best Plants for Attracting Bees
In general, the ideal garden for attracting bees includes a mix of annuals, perennials, herbs, shrubs and trees. Keep in mind that most bee species prefer yellow, white, blue and purple flowers – they can’t see the color red. They prefer daisy-like flowers with broad petals that serve as a landing pad. Preferences vary among native bee species, but many favor native plants/shrubs and fruiting trees.
Once you start researching, you’ll find that if you love butterflies, many of the same flowering plants that attract them also appeal to bees! Our blog post – “How to Plant a Butterfly Garden” – covers this topic in detail. You’ll also find that you have a great deal of choice! The following recommendations are from Lawn More Design & Maintenance, University of Florida IFAS Extension and University of Florida IFAS Gardening Solutions. This is only a partial list. We recommend you read each article for their full list.
Black-eyed Susan – One of Florida’s most popular wildflowers, this golden-yellow, daisy-like plant blooms all summer long and into the fall. As well as bees, black-eyed Susans will attract butterflies. The plants grow between one and three feet tall and do best in full sun, although they can tolerate partial shade. Plant between March and May.
Coral honeysuckle – Also known as trumpet honeysuckle due to the shape of its long, tubular, pink or orange flowers, coral honeysuckle is a drought-tolerant flowering vine with a sweet scent. Not to be confused with the invasive Japanese honeysuckle, this variety is native to Florida. Bees love it, and it may even attract hummingbirds to your yard! Honeysuckle can be planted in the ground or in a container. The shrubs can be trained into a hedge shape, or can climb a trellis or a fence.
Lavender – Yes, lavender can grow and thrive in Central Florida – especially the French and Spanish varieties! In addition to attracting bees and butterflies, its culinary and DIY home fragrance uses are well-known. Lavender is drought tolerant, so it won’t need frequent watering unless planted in a container, where it could dry out more easily.
Marigold – This is another flower that brings a golden-yellow visual lift to gardens all summer long and well into the fall. Most varieties are annuals so they will only last one year, but they tend to be excellent self-seeders – so if you stop removing deadheads towards the end of the season, they may come back the following spring. Some varieties – such as Mexican marigolds – are perennials.
Powderpuff mimosa – Also called sunshine mimosa, this is a low-growing, native Florida ground cover extensively used in residential and commercial settings. Known scientifically as Mimosa strigillosa, it also attracts butterflies and serves as a host plant for butterfly larvae. From spring through fall, this versatile plant blooms non-stop with pink, ball-shaped flowers that look like small powderpuffs. It also has a deep root that makes it drought-tolerant and erosion-resistant.
Purple Coneflower – These large purple blooms are attractive to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds – as well as finches, which are attracted to its seeds. Like black-eyed Susans, they can thrive in partial shade, but full sun is preferred to allow them to provide the maximum benefits and produce more blooms. Purple coneflower plants can grow up to five feet tall.
Rosemary – This herb is a favorite in both the garden and the kitchen – and is as popular with bees as it is with people! Easy to grow, rosemary provides food for bees in spring (from around March onward), when bee species are establishing their colonies.
Salvia – There’s a wide variety of this plant available, making it a versatile choice for the garden. Salvias come in a rainbow of shades, and are at home in mass plantings, borders and containers. In addition to bees, they also attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Saw palmetto – For those who love palms in their Central Florida landscape, the saw palmetto has stout stems that usually crawl across the ground and produce fan-shaped fronds. In the spring, three-foot long flower stalks appear, sporting small yellow-white, fragrant flowers. Bees are attracted by these flowers, making high-grade saw palmetto honey. Flowers are followed by small, yellow berries that turn black and ripen August through October.
Stokes’ aster – This is a versatile and showy native Florida perennial that makes for an attractive and low-maintenance garden addition. Offering beauty with both its flowers and attractive, evergreen foliage, this wildflower attracts bees and butterflies.
The Take-Home Message
Encouraging bees to consider themselves at home in your Central Florida yard can ultimately deliver significant benefits on many levels. You’ll be helping not only your own property, but also the health and diversity of plant life in our beautiful Sunshine State!
We hope we’ve provided inspiration for avid gardeners to incorporate more of these great plants into your landscape design. However, if you’re not the green thumb type but still want your property to be a source of pride and the neighborhood jewel, call Daniel’s Lawn Care & Pressure Washing to design, plant and even maintain the yard of your dreams! Our experienced team can work with you to achieve your goals and bring your vision to life! We also provide landscape design, tree installation, tree trimming, yard maintenance, pressure washing and so much more. Contact us today!