Provide blooms throughout the year
Grow a range of plants to provide a continuous succession of flowers from spring until autumn to support bumblebees throughout their life cycle. In recent years there have been increasing records of winter-active bumblebee colonies, so we also need to consider the value of winter flowering plants. Find out more.
The Garden Bumblebee uses its long-tongue to feed from deep foxglove flowers.
Provide a range of flower shapes
The different bumblebee species have evolved varied physical characteristics (most importantly tongue length) that make them more adapted to foraging on certain types of flowers. Short-tongued bumblebees are able to extract the nectar from flowers with an open shape, like brambles and raspberries, whereas long-tongued bumblebees can reach nectar deep inside long, tubular flowers such as foxgloves. Include a selection of flowers that have different shapes to provide food for a wide range of bumblebee species that may visit your plot.
Avoid fancier cultivars
A simple dahlia and a pom-pom dahlia.
Many flowers, particularly bedding plants, are bred to have large frilly or ‘double’ petals. As a result, their ability to produce pollen and nectar is often lost, or the tightly packed petals make these resources inaccessible to insects. For example, dahlias with an open, daisy-like shape tend to be a good food source, whereas dense ‘pom-pom’ dahlias are not.
When choosing flowers for your plot, favour those which bear closest resemblance to the naturally occurring species – they will usually have simpler shapes with accessible nectaries and visible stamens or pollen.
We are conducting several trials to improve our knowledge and recommendations of bumblebee-friendly bedding plants.
Plant in clumps
Bumblebees generally forage on the flowers of one plant species at a time, so a large block of the same plant is preferable to scattering plants throughout a border.
Take time to observe
Observe the bumblebees around your plot to discover which flowers the different species prefer to visit, and which plants are most important at certain times of year. Use the Blooms for Bees app to survey your flowers and contribute to a national picture of bumblebee foraging, which will help us improve plant recommendations for gardeners.
Consider the value of plants when deciding what to grow
Insecticides that are used to control garden pests like aphids are also harmful to bees. As well as gardening without pesticides, try to source plants and seeds with care as they may have been treated with these substances. Find out more.