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Gardening for bumblebees

Wildflowers have become scarce in the countryside because we've lost  many traditional habitats like hedgerows, hay meadows and chalk grassland. The extensive use of pesticides in farmland has also drastically reduced wildflower numbers. As a result, wildlife gardens have become a stronghold for some bumblebee species. Wherever you live in the UK, you should be able to attract at least 6 bumblebee species to your garden, and perhaps as many at 10.

Bumblebees need flowers throughout the Spring and Summer (March-Sept), and these need to be the right kinds of flowers. Exotic or highly cultivated garden flowers are largely unsuitable, as they either produce little pollen and nectar, or keep it hidden away from the bees. In particular, most annual bedding plants (e.g. Pelargonium, Begonia, Busy Lizzies) have little nectar to offer bees or other wildlife. Instead, why not try growing traditional cottage garden flowers and native wildflowers. Many of these thrive and look superb in the garden. They are also easy to grow, generally being hardy and much more resistant to slugs and disease. Bumblebee species differ in the length of their tongues, and as a result prefer different flowers, so it's important to grow a range of different things.

Below you'll find a selection of both garden and wild flowers that will bloom throughout the year. They are all types that bumblebees love, and will cater for both long and short-tongued species. If you have room for even one or two of these they will attract many bees. Most of these plants will also attract a range of other interesting insects to the garden, including butterflies and honeybees.

Viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare)   
Perhaps the very best plant to attract bumblebees to your garden. Much loved by almost all species, and it looks great too. Flowers June-August.

Flowers for bumblebees
March - April
Apple
Bluebell
Broom
Bugle
Cherry
Erica carnea (heather)
Flowering Currant
Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
Pear
Plum
Pussy Willow
Red dead-nettle
Rosemary
White dead-nettle
May - June
Alliums
Aquilegia
Birds-foot trefoil
Bugle
Bush vetch
Campanula
Ceanothus
Chives
Comfrey
Cotoneaster
Escallonia
Everlasting Pea
Everlasting wallflower
Foxglove
Geranium
Honeysuckle
Kidney Vetch
Laburnum
Lupin
Monkshood
Poppies
Raspberries
Red Campion
Roses (singles)
Sage
Salvia
Thyme
Tufted vetch
Meadow Cranesbill
White Clover
Wisteria
Woundwort
July - August
Black horehound
Borage
Bramble
Buddleia
Cardoon
Catmint
Cornflower
Delphinium
Heathers
Hollyhock
Hyssop
Knapweed
Lavender
Lesser burdock
Marjoram
Mellilot
Mint
Penstemon
Phacelia
Polemonium
Purple loosestrife
Red bartsia
Red clover
Rock-rose
Sainfoin
Scabious
Sea Holly
Snapdragons
St. Johns Wort
Sunflower
Teasel
Thistles
Viperís bugloss
     
 

Wildflowers for bumblebees

Many wildflowers have become scarce in farmland. If you make space for them in your garden the you'll be helping conserve both the flowers themselves and the creatures they support. Many of these native wildflowers are extraordinarily beautiful Ė itís not all about nettles and brambles! We often forget that many conventional garden flowers such as foxgloves are native wildflowers.

Seeds of some wildflowers like foxgloves and cowslips can be bought in most garden centers, but the range is usually limited.  A far greater selection are available by mail order from specialist companies. However, there is a lot to be said for collecting the seeds yourself from the wild. Most plants produce thousands of seeds, but there is nowhere near enough room for them all to germinate and grow. Collecting a few seeds will have no impact on the plant population in most cases. There is a very strong conservation argument for using local seed as you are helping to propagate and conserve the local race of the plant species, so if possible gather your wildflower seed from close to home.

Before going out collecting, remember that collecting from private land or nature reserves is illegal. However, this is generally not a problem because many wildflowers can be found along road verges or riverbanks. Secondly, do not collect seed from rare plants or from places where there are only a handful of parent plants. 

     

Specialist wildflower seed suppliers:

Herbiseed, Naturescape,
Emorsgate
,
Scotia Seeds

Why not make space in a corner of your garden for a beautiful wildflower meadow?

Collecting your own seed requires patience, as it is necessary to wait for the right time of year. Try to spot the location of flowers and then return when the flowers have set seed. Most wildflower seed is very easy to collect. For larger seeds simply pick them up with your fingers; for example tufts of knapweed or thistle seeds are readily plucked from mature seed heads. For others, the best approach is to place a bag over the flower head and shake. Once collected, keep the seeds dry and cool until you can sow them. Generally it is best to sow the seeds immediately, since this is the time at which they would naturally be scattered. Place in seed trays outside since some seeds will not germinate without passing through a cold winter (or a simulated cold period).