The Q&A Archives: Bees in the Butterfly Garden

Question: I would like to help plan a butterfly garden for my son's preschool. I'm familiar with the plants, but will the same plants attract bees? Little children are very fearful of bees and I wonder if the butterfly garden is a good choice for the 3 to 5 year-olds in the group. Growing edible plants is not an option as the raised bed they have at school is built with treated timbers.

Answer: That's a real dilemma. Any time you have flowers, you'll have bees around. As you probably know, honeybees and wild "solitary" bees, unlike wasps and yellowjackets, generally won't bother you unless you inadvertantly step on them or otherwise really disturb them (and I know this, I'm a beekeeper!) They are not naturally aggressive.

Bees are very attracted to the following flowers: alfalfa, clover, goldenrod, milkweed, salvias, and buckwheat. It's likely that if your schoolyard lawn has clover in it, you already have lots of bees around the children. You might try to choose flowers will long, tubular shapes, or flowers with long spurs, like monarda (bee balm), coneflowers, columbine, and nasturtium. A butterfly has a long proboscis and can getto the nectar in these plants better than bees can, so you might see fewer bees on these flowers -- though I can't say for sure.

Another possibility is to plant tall, flowering plants in the center of the garden, and surround it with foliage plants and non-flowering ground covers. This way, the bees should be drawn to the center, and leave the edges of the garden relatively bee-free.

Finally, as a bee-lover, I would use this opportunity to show children the wonders of all insect life. Honeybees, especially, are fascinating creatures, with elaborate social structures, and can be used to teach all sorts of lessons such as animal adaptations, honey production, etc. After all, a child that learns about bees might become less afraid, and less likely to swat at them (a sure way of inviting a sting). I hope this helps!

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