How to grow a "bee-friendly" garden

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

This guide is designed to help you make your yard bee-friendly. It includes information about how to maintain your yard for the bees, which flowers are best for bees and some simple tips that you can use to help a bee in need.


Download, print and display this sign in your yard to let neighbours know why you’re not cutting the lawn and that your yard is bee-friendly.



1. Lawn Maintenance 

Over 70 per cent of bees nest underground, including native bees. To help the bees you can:

  • Retire the mower until June or until other flowers have bloomed. Leave the natural grasses, flowers and "weeds" that occupy your outdoor space: an entirely grass lawn is unnatural and provides little shelter for insects. 
  • Never mow during the hot afternoon. If you must mow your lawn, avoid doing it during the hot afternoon, when bees often head underground to rest and escape the hot sun.
  • If you need to mow, raise the blade! If you raise the blade on your mower, you can cut the grass while leaving some dandelions for the pollinators.
  • Provide nesting sites and natural habitat for bees through the use of hedgerows, plants to block wind and other helpful practices. For example, a gardener can leave dead raspberry canes on the ground, allowing leafcutter bees to get inside and make nests.

Photo: Gwen Barlee

2. Water

Create a drinking hole for your neighbourhood bees (see below)! Place rocks in a shallow bowl and leave it at ground level. Fill with water but make sure the rocks are still sticking out for the bees to land on – bees are rarely capable of landing in a water body without crashing. Add fresh water regularly.

Photo: StayThatsWhatIMeantToSay via Tumblr

3. Food

Bees consume both nectar (for sugar) and pollen (for protein and fats). Do the following to give bees a smorgasbord of healthy energy sources: 

  • Embrace the dandelions. Many plant species do not flower until June-August. Dandelions are an early source of energy that is a life-saver for bees emerging from hibernation. Not to mention, dandelion greens are a healthy addition to your own meals! Leave your dandelions until mid-June when other flowers have bloomed.
  • Keep a pesticide-free yard! Neonicotinoids (neonics) are a type of toxic pesticides that are largely responsible for worldwide pollinator decline and colony collapse disorder. Many stores have committed to having neonic-free plant options. A quick google search can help you find more garden centres in your area with neonic-free plants. The following stores have neonic-free options and remember – if a retailer can’t guarantee their plants are neonic free – don’t buy them!
    • RONA
    • Home hardware
    • Home depot
    • Lowe’s
  • Plant native plants, which will be more attractive to native bees. Native plants are adapted to your local climate, soil and native pollinators. Non-native flowers that are bred to be aesthetically pleasing are sometimes sterile and of little use to native pollinators – some hybrid plants don’t produce pollen or nectar at all! Click here for a guide of bee-friendly plants native to BC.

  • Select single flower tops such as daisies (below). Single flower tops produce more nectar that’s also easier for bees to access as compared to multiple flower tops.

Photo: WC files

  • Buy bright flowers! Bees have good vision and love bright colors, especially blue, purple, yellow and white.

Photo: Gwen Barlee

  • Plan for blooms year-round. Plant a wide variety of species that flower at different times of the year: spring, summer and fall.
  • Help pollinators find their favourites by planting in clusters, rather than single plants.
  • And of course, don’t treat plants with commercial pesticides!

4. Natural pest control

Commercial methods of lawn maintenance involve spraying entire yards with toxic pesticides containing neonicotinoids. These pesticides are sprayed to prevent a pest outbreak but often kill many other important species as well, including bees and butterflies. 


Instead of using pesticides there are natural ways to prevent pests. For example: nematodes (roundworms) naturally exist and control pest insects in soil. Consider using nematodes rather than pesticides. For more natural alternatives to chemical pesticides, check out the links below:

Read this article to learn how to detect an infestation and get rid of pests like the European Chafer Beetle — an invasive species of beetle. 

Native plants pollinators love

Branching phacelia

Joe Decruyenaere via Flickr

Green comet milkweed

Matt Lavin via Flickr

Blueberry willow

Jamie Fenneman

Wild bergamot

Joshua Mayer via Flickr

Nettleleaf Giant Hyssop

Katja Schulz via Flickr

Bog rosemary

Don Henise via Wikimedia Commons


Aaron Carlson via Wikimedia Commons

Blackeyed susan a.k.a. hairy coneflower

via Flora Finder

Cutleaf coneflower

Σ64 via Wikimedia Commons

Missouri goldenrod

Matt Lavin via Flickr

Canada goldenrod

George Slickers via Wikimedia Commons

Northern golden rod

Matt Lavin via Wikimedia Commons

Philadelphia fleabane

via Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Centre

Canadian fleabane

Juoko Lehmuskallio via Wikimedia Commons

Daisy fleabane

Jason Holinger via Flickr

Nodding onion

Fritzflohrreynolds via Flickr

Tapertip onion

Wallace Keck via US National Park Service

Geyer's onion

Scott Zona via Flickr

Dwarf red raspberry

Notjake13 via Wikimedia Commons

Allegheny blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)


Trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus)

brewbooks via Flickr


Manuel via Flickr

Oregon Grape

Lauren Tersk via Wikimedia Commons


Chloe Willes-Speakman


Chloe Willes-Speakman

Wood rose

Max Licher via Wikimedia Commons

Shrubby cinquefoil

Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble via Flickr

Dwarf rose

Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons

Nootka rose

Leslie Seaton via Wikimedia Commons

Clustered wild rose

Paul Slichter

Northern starflower

via Flora of Quebec

Blue vervain

via Wild Seed Project

Prairie lupine

brewbooks via Flickr

Strawberry blossom

Bill Tyne via Flickr

Sea thrift

Ghislain 118 via Wikimedia Commons

Small-flowered tonella

Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons

Anise hyssop

via Butterfly Gardens To Go


Zeynel Cebeci via Wikimedia Commons


Chloe Willes-Speakman


More bee-friendly trees: Maple, Mountain Ash, Poplar, Plum


For more information on bee-friendly gardening, check out these great resources:

Take action in your community

  1. Follow our campaign to ban neonics in Canada. Many places around the world have already banned these chemicals; it’s time Canada does the same! 
  2. Looking to help bees outside of your garden? Here's some info on how to plant "pollinator patches" along roadsides:

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