Professor Dave Goulson’s top tips for helping bumblebees
Insecticides are toxic to all insects, not just pests.
Plant herbaceous perennials
Single varieties of herbaceous perennials are best as they are easier for bees to access. Any of the following are magnets: arabis, hellebore, pulmonaria, aquilegia, Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve, centaurea, catmint, cirsium, lupin, geranium cranesbills, agastache, delphinium, stachys, echinops, eryngium, aconitum, sedum, cephalaria, veronica and veronicastrum, monarda, single dahlias, eupatorium.
Sow some annuals and biennials
Annuals and biennials are great for bumblebees. Try foxglove, opium poppy, phacelia, Echium ‘Blue Bedder’, hollyhock, nasturtium, cerinthe, cosmos.
If you have room, comfrey is brilliant for bees, and also great for making compost and liquid manure. If you have space for ground cover, red and white dead nettle are invaluable for longer-tongued bees. They flower from March to October, and there are some very pretty, less invasive cultivars. Find out how to make comfrey tea.
Plant a herb garden
Herb gardens can provide you with fresh herbs for cooking and happy bees - chives, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, sage, borage, lavender, cardoon, artichoke, hyssop are all recommended. Find out how to grow Mediterranean herbs.
Grow fruit and vegetables
Beans, strawberries, raspberries and currants are good for bumblebees, and the bees ensure a good crop. Read our guides to growing fruit and vegetables.
Make room for a few wildflowers – viper’s bugloss, teasel, cowslip, field poppy, cornflower, tufted vetch, campion, red clover, bird’s foot trefoil, knapweed, scabious are all good choices.
Create nest sites
If possible, create some simple and cheap nest sites. Leave an old compost heap undisturbed, fill a compost bin with grass clippings or scoop out a hollow, fill with kapok or hampster bedding, and cover with a slab/plank, just leaving a crack along one side for bees to crawl in. (Avoid commercial boxes – they mostly don’t work).
Plant flowers in clumps
Big clumps of flowers are ideal. Each individual bee tends to focus on visiting just one flower type, so it is much easier for them if there is a good patch all in one place – otherwise they have to fly much further, visiting lots of little patches until their honey stomach/pollen baskets are full.