Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
July, 2010
Regional Report

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Foxglove is one of the flowering plants favored by a variety of bees, including the bumblebee.

Keep a Buzzworthy Garden

When you're in the garden, do you wonder where the honey bees have gone? If the answer is yes, you won't be surprised by these stinging statistics: Ninety-eight percent of wild honey bees in the United States had disappeared by 1994 and the number of colonies maintained by beekeepers had dropped by half. The next decade saw continual decline, but since late 2006 the losses have been epidemic.

Labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the exact cause of the honey bee depopulation syndrome is still unknown. Environmental stress, pesticides, pathogens, mites and parasites, malnutrition, genetically altered plants, and even radiation from cell phones have been named as possibilities.

Recent studies of sick honey bees show the problem may involve internal damage that prevents the production of proteins, which would compromise the bee's ability to respond to pesticides, malnutrition and many of the other suspected causes.

While researchers race to help honey bees, there is much that we can do to ensure a buzzworthy habitat for these valuable pollinators, as well as the wild and native bees that visit our gardens.

First, avoid the use of pesticides whenever possible, as they kill beneficial as well as harmful insects. When their use is necessary, select the least toxic agent and follow label instructions to the letter, carefully applying it after sundown when most pollinators are absent. In general, sprays are less dangerous than dusts, because dusts are inadvertently picked up and taken back to the hive.

When you can, select native and heirloom varieties of flowering plants for the garden. Many new cultivars have been breed for characteristics that are valued by gardeners, such as disease resistance, larger flowers, and an extended season of bloom. Occasionally, the resulting blooms are nearly devoid of nectar and pollen, making them completely useless to bees and other pollinators.

Encourage wild and native bees with places to live and thrive. Perfectly neat yards won't do the trick. Uncut grass, small brush piles, dry reeds or grasses, and muddy areas will provide essential habitat and nesting material for a variety of wild bees.

Bees are particularly attracted to blue and purple flowers, and like white and yellow blooms too. Large blocks of color are more alluring than individual plants scattered throughout the garden, so where space allows, plant wide clumps of flowers.

It's also important to offer a diversity of flowering plants from spring to winter. By planting several types that flower together, and a sequence of bloom throughout the year, your garden will support a wide range of bee species.

In my Middle South garden, borage (Borago officinalis), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), and 'African Blue' basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum 'Dark Opal') attract the most bees.

Other buzzworthy plants to add to the garden include:

Trees and Shrubs:
Black gum tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)
Blueberry (Vaccinium)
Elder (Sambucus)
Holly (Ilex)
Huckleberry (Vaccinium)
Rhododendrons (Rhododendron)
Sourwood (Oxydendrum)
Sumac (Rhus)
Sweet Mock Orange (Philadelphicus coronarius)

Annuals, Biennials, Perennials:
Ajuga (Ajuga)
Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Asters (Aster)
Basil (Ocimum)
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Columbine (Aquilegia)
Daffodil (Narcissus)
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Coneflower (Echinacea)
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Goldenrod (Solidago)
Grape Hyacinth (Muscari)
Joe Pye-Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana)
Poppy (Papaver)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
Salvias (Salvia)
Stonecrop (Sedum)
Sunflower (Helianthus)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Zinnia (Zinnia)

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