When you’re planting for the bees this month, make sure you plant some herb seeds or buy some already-started herbs. Having fresh herbs around doesn’t just benefit your cooking (hello, flavor!) they will also benefit the bees in your neighborhood. Yes, bees love herbs.
Herbs provide sources of pollen, nectar, or both for the bees in your neighborhood. But, not all herbs are created equal and bees definitely have their favorites. Let’s talk about lavender, basil, thyme, bergamot, lemon balm, and borage.
This shrublike herb is a great option for those who like making their own bath products. In fact, lavender is peppered with small purple flowers with a fresh, herbaceous scent. Lavender can be dried and used in handmade soaps, scrubs, and to scent homemade heat packs.
This aromatic plant grows in hardiness zones 5-9 but can be a bit finicky in zone 5. Basically, they prefer alkaline, chalky soil, and warm, dry, sunny conditions. In Wisconsin, we have sticky, humid summers and excessive moisture is usually what does lavender in. You can fight the moisture by planting your lavender a few inches apart so there is good airflow between plants.
Lavender blooms in late spring through early summer, so plan accordingly if you’re attempting three seasons of blooms for your bees.
You can bring lavender indoors in winter and it does well in pots. The root ball can exist in a tight space. Just make sure it’s in a south-facing window (if you live near Beepods HQ, where the sunlight is sparse November-March).
Who doesn’t love this fragrant herb, perfect in pasta dishes and salads? Bees love basil, too, and like to collect both pollen and nectar from its blooms. Did we mention that? Let your basil flower and you’ll keep your neighborhood bees happy. Bees love herbs, but you have to make sure there are flowers available for pollen and nectar.
Basil’s soft, tender leaves make it slightly fragile during seasonal transitions; make sure you plant after all threat of frost is gone. Basil does just fine in the hot summer heat as long as you provide quality mulch when planting.
Unsurprisingly, basil does well planted near tomatoes. It’s like nature just knew these two plants were meant to go together.
Thyme is the herb that keeps giving year after year. It’s a hardy perennial that comes in dozens of varieties, all with slight nuances. It’s perfect for the home cook and is useful in meat dishes, sauces, soups, and even desserts.
The bees like it, too, and it’s drought-friendly, which makes it a great option for those who live in more arid climates or want to grow low-maintenance herbs. Make sure you allow it to flower. Remember, the flowers of these herbs are what attract bees and other pollinators, even if you’ve heard you should clip or pinch off the buds.
Thyme peaks in summer and can last well into fall. If you continue growing thyme for years, make sure you divide and transplant; 3-year-old thyme can become woody and less flavorful.
This herb’s leaves are used to scent and flavor Earl Grey Tea. It goes by many names – bergamot, monarda, bee balm – but its utility for pollinators is great no matter what you call it. Bergamot has tall stalks topped off with flowers that range from purple to magenta.
It’s relatively easy to grow in plant hardiness zones 5-10. You can start it from seed indoors in February or direct seed, even if there’s still a risk of some light frost. Easy, right?
To plant, lightly cover seeds with soil and deadhead to prolong the blooms. Bergamot does tolerate shade more than some of our previously mentioned herbs and likes “wet feet”. These herbs need to be divided every three years, so you could plant the same year as your thyme and make sure to divide both in year three.
The word for lemon balm – Melissa – is the Greek word for bee. Cool, right? There’s a folk tale that says if you put a sprig of this herb in an empty hive it will soon be full of bees.
Lemon balm is the perfect herb for those with shady yards; this lemony fresh herb loves shady, cool, and slightly moist spots. In fact, if you grow them in these conditions, they will grow bigger and better than if exposed to too much sun.
Perfect in a glass of iced tea or lemonade, you can also dry the leaves of this plant and make it into a relaxing herbal tea.
Belonging to the mint family, lemon balm is a bee favorite. It produces small white flowers that will please your neighborhood bees. You can trim back the stalks to keep the growth from looking too weedy and to spur new, desirable growth.
This herb with star-shaped blueish flowers tastes vaguely of cucumbers. It’s also a favorite of bees. That’s why it’s also called Bee Bush!
These tall gangly herbs are annuals, so no need to worry about how best to maintain them over the years. They bloom in late spring through summer. You can even stagger your planting to maintain their blooms for longer periods of time.
In order to get the most flowers out of them, plant in sunny areas, though they do tolerate partial shade. Deadhead the blooms to spur new growth and watch the bees flock to their beautiful flowers.
With any of these herbs, planting in their ideal growing locations and using quality soil will yield better blooms, but many of these options are low-maintenance and can live in less-than-ideal soil.
The great thing about planting an herb garden is that it doesn’t have to take up a lot of space. You can have a small container or window box of assorted herbs even if you live in an apartment building or in a house in the city with very little if any yard space. Plain and simple: Bees love herbs, so if you want to help your local bees, find some of your favorite, tasty herbs and grow them this year.