This is the first in a series of wildlife gardening blogs we’re publishing with the kind help of our friends at the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust. We want to do our bit to help wildlife and share some of the simple things you can do to help nature thrive in your back garden. We start with how to attract bees to your garden…

Now is the time that bees are out foraging for food and returning to the colony with pollen sacs clearly filled with bounty. You can help at this crucial time of year by planting trees and flowers that bridge the gap between bees’ winter hibernation and the initial search for spring flowers.

This year the first magnificent bumble bees were already visible in the garden in mid-February. Only the queens over-winter and they will be searching for new sites to lay their eggs. Compost heaps are a popular choice, so be careful when you fork over your compost pile and keep an eye open for these furry giants.

What kind of plants attract bees in early Spring?

Bees enjoy the early pollen source provided by Christmas roses, or hellebores and are especially attracted to blue, purple and white flowers. The open faces of single paler blooms provide an essential food source. (Pretty hybrid doubles may have the pollen and nectar bred out of them, but a mix of varieties will be good for pollinators and look stunning for months.)

Honey bee on lingThe bees next port of call this year were the tiny white bells of the ling, or erica carnea alba, an evergreen heath. It bloomed just at the right time to coincide with sunny days when bees were able to take flight. A rich source of nectar, it was soon swarming with honey bees, a welcome sight after the dearth last year. The bees transport the nectar in their honey stomach. They return to the hive where it is stored along with the collected pollen in a colourful arch around the developing bee larvae. These new bees will become the first new generation of foragers after the cold winter months.

Other plants which will keep bees ( and gardeners) happy in early Spring are hyacinths and crocus. Dangling hazel catkins and furry pussy willow offer pollen support from trees. The shrubs, Mahonia and winter honeysuckle will sweetly scent your garden, while Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ will provide clouds of pink blossom long before the apples and pears.

If you want to find out more about how to attract bees in your garden with pollinating plants, visit Urban Bees. This tells you which species are in flower month by month. By avoiding pesticides and planting for all season interest you’ll be helping our bees to thrive….. and helping the planet.

If you spot any plants which bees love, send us your pictures to share.