No Flowers, No Bees

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20160414A.pngI get all sorts of questions from readers who want to know how to attract bees to their gardens, which is certainly easy enough to do (hint: plant more flowers and stop spraying insecticide), but every now and then I’ll get receive emails from a parent whose child is allergic to bee stings or from some who is melissophobic (has a morbid fear of bees) wanting to know what they can grow in their garden that doesn’t attract bees. And that actually is much more difficult to do.

Here are a few tips:

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Plants with showy flowers, like this crabapple, will attract bees. Don’t plant them if you’re afraid of bees or allergic to their stings.

First, it is important to understand that bees (and here I’m only considering temperate species that might sting humans, like honey bees and bumblebees) are only interested in flowers which supply the nectar and pollen they need to survive and to feed their hive. For that reason, almost all plants with showy flowers will attract them. So the most logical solution would be to grow plants that never bloom: ferns, mosses, etc.

Another category to consider is plants that are wind-pollinated. This is the case of many large trees (oak, beech, ash, etc.) and conifers. Wind-pollinated plants make no efforts to attract bees or other insect pollinators and therefore generally bear insignificant flowers.

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Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and although we may judge ornamental grasses to have fairly showy flowers, bees don’t. Grasses are wind pollinated and bees don’t visit them.

Finally, you can also grow plants with showy flowers… as long as you don’t let them bloom. Hostas and rhubarb are two examples of plants where many people cut off the blooms well before flowering time, but you can do the same for any plant whose foliage is visually attractive, such as variegated plants.

Many root and leafy vegetables (carrots, beets, lettuce, cabbage, etc.) are good choices for melissophobes because gardeners never let these vegetables flower either: we harvest them before they have time to do so! Vegetables that bear fruit (tomatoes, melons, though, beans, etc.), on the other hand, are not good choices if you want to avoid bees, because the fruit you want to harvest starts off its life as a flower… usually a flower bees love.

Please share this blog with friends who really must avoid attracting bees to their surroundings: it’s not a subject often discussed on-line.

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