As we’ve been hearing more and more over the last several years, bee populations are decreasing at alarming rates. We depend on bees to pollinate many plants that we rely on for food, flowers, and medicine. While bees are extremely important for our environment, there are many people who are severely allergic to bee stings, or who have children who are. A simple walk through the park or an outdoor pool party can be fraught with danger if there are bees around. We do get many customers who are interested in planting a “bee-sensitive” garden, i.e. choosing plants that do not attract any or as many bees as other plants. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planting for a bee-sensitive household.
Bees are attracted to flowers, not foliage, so to attract fewer bees to your pool area or other planting beds, choose plants with interesting foliage colors and textures. Plants like Coleus, Heuchera, Hellebores, Ferns, Sweet Potato Vine, and Ornamental Grasses are all great options.
Bees prefer flowers that are white, yellow, purple, and blue, and are deterred by red or dark pink flowers. They also buzz more around very fragrant flowers (think about all the bees you see on fragrant purple flowers like Nepeta and Agastache, or fragrant white flowers like Jasmine or Sweet Autumn Clematis). Bees also prefer flowers that don’t have a lot of petals or many layers of petals. This makes it more difficult for them to get to the pollen in the center of the flower. Keep all these factors in mind when selecting plants. In particular, plants like Marigolds, Annual Geranium (Pelargonium), Red Dianthus, Red Roses/Double Roses, Zinnias, and Red/Pink Hibiscus are not very attractive to bees.
A slightly different approach is to use plants that bloom more in the spring and fall. This method still allows you to feed the bees and keep them in the vicinity of your property, but means there should be fewer buzzing around in the summer when you are outside in the yard. Choose plants like Dianthus, Peonies, Siberian Iris, and Amsonia for spring bloomers, and Hardy Mums, Asters, and Chelone for fall bloomers. As mentioned above, Ornamental Grasses are great plants to have by the pool or in the fall landscape – and they do not attract any bees.
If you find that you can’t live without some Nepeta, Salvia, Coreopsis, or other bee-loved plants in your garden, take care to site them away from walkways or areas of high traffic.