Jeanne Grunert is a freelance writer, blogger and book author from south central Virginia. Her books include "Plan and Build a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden" and many others, available on Amazon and wherever fine books are sold. Learn more about Jeanne, her books and her garden at


Gardening for the Bees
by Jeanne Grunert - posted 06/17/16

Beekeepers nationwide are experiencing significant losses, and here in Virginia, honeybee populations continue to decline. I was speaking with a friend who is a beekeeper and he was literally in tears as he described losing all but one of his nine hives this spring. Those bees were like his children, and the loss of them was painful not just to my friend but to the local orchards and gardens supported by the pollinating activities of the bees. The loss of bees of any kind, including non-native honeybees, is a tragedy. So what can we, the average backyard gardeners, do to help?


There are two things you can do to help the local bees, including honeybees and native bees like the blue orchard mason bee. First, use fewer insecticides, or none at all. Insecticides kill indiscriminately, so they'll kill the beetles eating your squash plants but they'll also kill any bees that buzz on by.


This includes watching where you buy your plants, too. Many plants from national chain stores are sprayed with insecticides without your knowledge. When they bloom, the flowers may contain residual pesticides, which can in turn weaken or kill bees. Local nursery and garden centers usually grow their own plants or purchase them locally. They are more likely to know where their plants came from, and you can ask about insecticide use.


The second thing that you can do to help your local bee population is to plant native flowers. Native flowers are flowers that evolved alongside local insects, including bees. They provide the pollen that local bees need. They are also better acclimated to the local climate and growing conditions, and tend to experience fewer problems because of this.


Some great native perennials you can grow in Virginia to provide food and habitats for pollinating insects including bees are:

  • Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Wild bergamot (Monarda)
  • Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis)


Another tip: leave some weeds in your garden. Now, I know what you're thinking. Weeds? Aren't you supposed to pull or kil those? Yes, you can pull weeds, but I've found that leaving some of the prettier flowering weeds not only provide my garden with additional color, but supports the bees, too. It creates a meadow-effect that bees love.


Here are some of the flowers that bees love, and that are easy to grow in Virginia gardens:

Mondarda (Bee Balm)














Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)


















For more on helping the local bee populations, visit the Xerces Society.





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