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How to help bumblebees

Vivian Russell / 31 July 2012

Professor Dave Goulson, a leading authority on bumblebees, explains to Vivian Russell what we can do to help bumblebees

Bumble bee
A common carder bee 'Bombus pascuorum' on a lupin flower

Professor Dave Goulson’s top tips for helping bumblebees

Avoid insecticides.

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.

Grow comfrey

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.

Grow wildflowers

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.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.