Almost everyone knows that without bees it would be hard for people to survive. Crops would not be pollinated. That’s why we should do all we can to help bees thrive by using our gardens to help supply what they need during autumn and winter.`
In October 2014 I attended a talk by Anna Rempel at the Golden Oaks Honey Festival in Paso Robles. The topic was how to landscape to help the bees survive the cold season when much of their forage disappears.
She encouraged us to plant bee-friendly herbs, flowers, shrubs, and trees in our yards. We should also keep our eyes open for the plants that attract bees in our neighborhoods as we walk around.
I want to do my part. That’s one reason I’ve made herbs the foundation of my gardening strategy. Since I’m always chasing bees with my camera, I’m aware of which plants they seek out for forage. The photos I’m sharing show some of the bees I’ve captured on these plants during autumn and winter. These plants are always covered with bees from late summer to late winter.
Winter forage plants bees love
I live on the Central Coast of California in North San Luis Obispo County. It can be hot and dry in late summer and in autumn. Many of the plants that bloom in spring and summer are no longer blooming then. This is an especially difficult time for bees to find forage. Bees love these plants that do bloom in autumn and on into winter: yarrow, coyote brush and rosemary. You will find more suggestions in the link in the next paragraph.
Yarrow is pictured at the top of this article. It comes in many colors. I’ve seen yellow, red, and ivory yarrow flowers. I grow pink grapefruit yarrow, which is light pink. I expect to transplant it soon from a pot to the garden. I just learned it may improve my soil and will need almost no water once it is established.
Yarrow attracts bees. It blooms all summer long and into fall. Although some yarrow plants have medicinal uses, I grow it because it‘s drought-resistant, can survive frost, adds color to the garden, looks nice even when the flowers dry on the plants, and because the bees love it.
My potted pink yarrow is pictured below. I took the picture in June, but it was still blooming in November, and we’ve had some nights below freezing.
I have written extensively about coyote brush on HubPages. That article’s photos show how coyote brush looks at all seasons of the year. When I first encountered it on my rural land, I thought of it as a weed. It reproduces prolifically and in the most inconvenient places. I wondered what good it was.
Since then I have realized that when the North County landscape looks bleak and brown in winter, blooming coyote brush is the one bright spot. It’s not very colorful but does provide white to contrast with the brown of dying weeds and flowers.
Below is a female plant blooming in December. I wasn’t looking for bees the day I took the picture. I wanted to show how coyote brush in bloom stands out in a December landscape. But clicking this link will prove bees do love it.
Rosemary is a versatile plant better known to most urban gardeners than coyote brush. Coyote brush usually grows in wild places and uncultivated areas of larger properties.
Rosemary is a useful herb in the kitchen, and it also has a couple of medicinal uses. I love its fragrance and the fact that it is very easy to root in water to get more plants.
One could start with just one plant and in three years or so have a hedge made from these rooted plants. Bees would love such a hedge. Rosemary is a treat for bees that blooms almost year-round. The photo below was taken in March, but my plants are still in bloom in October. Rosemary blooms from late summer to early spring where I live. You can see below that the bees love it.
More tips for using your garden to help save the bees
Buy organic plants. Big box stores often use plants grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides which are absorbed into plant tissue and can last up to six years. It makes nectar and pollen toxic to bees. It’s much better to buy organically grown plants to avoid such problems.
Group bee forage plants together. Bees will find them more easily and save energy as they forage by not having to fly so far. Plant clumps of the same herbs or flowers in patches of at least three feet by three feet. Individual rosemary and coyote brush plants will often grow to that size and larger if you don’t prune them back. One coyote brush plant can become a forest in a few years. A grouping of blooming yarrow plants can be stunning.
I hope this information will encourage you to use your garden or property to help our bees get safely through the winter.
Note: Parts of this article first appeared on Persona Paper.