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Pollinator Friendly Plants for Containers

May 22, 2019

Pollinator Friendly Plants for ContainersA large pollinator friendly container garden designed by Dee Sewell. Image courtesy of Carlow Local Enterprise Office

A question I’m being asked almost daily at this time of year is “what pollinator friendly plants do you recommend for my hanging baskets and window boxes?”  In order to address the queries, I’ve spent some time researching to see if there’s any new or helpful advice for us to consider. You can fine some suggestions below.

Edible Plants for Containers

Having spent the past ten years mostly concentrating on fruit, vegetables, herbs, green manures and companion planting, my initial thoughts turned to anything edible. Almost all edibles can grow in containers once there’s drainage. Container gardening can be more costly in terms of extra compost, more time consuming given the amount of watering, but you get the satisfaction of being able to walk outside and pick fruit, vegetables and herbs right outside your door, windowsill or balcony and you can move them around. Pollinator friendly edibles include:

Pollinator Friendly Plants

Bumblebee on a broad bean flower

  • Broad beans
  • Baby tomatoes
  • Dwarf runner and French beans
  • Salad leaves
  • Nasturtiums
  • Oca
  • Courgettes
  • Mangetout
  • Cucumbers
  • Flowering herbs such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram and sage.

More ideas of vegetables that will grow well in small gardens and containers can be found here.

As horticulturalists begin to turn away from years of growing flowers for people rather than insects, or perhaps try to keep us all satisfied, more pollinator friendly ornamental plants are becoming available in local garden centres which is great news for us all.

Creating a Raised Pollinator Friendly Flower Bed

I was recently asked by Carlow Town Development Forum to design a pilot flower bed in the centre of town for the launch of Carlow town’s biodiversity plan. Due to soil conditions and services below the grass, I opted for a raised bed which was beautifully enclosed in willow wattle by the talented Beth and Paul from Willow Wonder. When designing a garden plan, there are thousands of choices to consider, including natural Irish Wildflowers like those donated to the project by Sandro Cafolla of wildflowers.ie that we guerrilla planted around the nearby trees.

Pollinator Friendly Plants

Bergamot – Monarda Didyma

 

However, as a showcase garden, I decided to raise awareness of some of the beautiful herbaceous perennials that pollinators love to visit, choosing varieties of cone flowers and salvias, with a backbone of pollinator friendly evergreen plants for all year interest running throughout. Overplanted for initial impact, the idea is that the garden will be low maintenance. After the initial outlay for plants and soil, this bed will need very little maintenance over the coming years other than watering, deadheading, some light pruning and moving plants to new beds as they grow into their space and squeeze others out.

Pollinator Friendly Plant Lists

There are several resources online to help with our plant choices. Biodiversity Ireland are looking after us with their excellent pollinators.ie website and list of pollinator friendly plants, as are the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK. All of the plant genus I chose for the garden above are mentioned in these lists, with various pollinator friendly species available from local garden centres.

If you’re travelling through Carlow town and spot the pollinator friendly flower bed photographed above, or if you’re local to it and will be watching it develop over the coming months, these are the plants you’ll find there, all obtained from an Irish nursery:

Pollinator Friendly Plants in Barrack Street Garden Carlow Town

Pollinator Friendly Bedding Plants

Whilst my summer favourite bedding Impatiens (Busy Lizzie) doesn’t fall on either of the pollinator lists, thankfully the very pretty Chaenostoma also known as Bacopa does. A trailing plant that flowers from mid-June through to the end of August, this is an excellent addition to any summer container display.

Peter Cuthbert also recommends another favourite of mine in his article Summer Bedding for People and Pollinators, Bidens. We planted these annuals in containers in Castle Activation Unit one year and the hanging baskets were beautiful. Peter also mentions that adding pollinator friendly plants to traditional displays will “make a significant difference to the overall sustainability of the planting scheme”, so perhaps my Busy Lizzie’s are safe for a while longer.

Pollinator Friendly Plants

Limnanthes (poached egg flower) excellent companion flower as attracts hoverflies

One plant I can guarantee that’s a bee and hoverfly magnet is the colourful Limnanthes douglasii or poached egg plant. I scattered some seeds in the vegetable patch a few years back and it self seeded all over the place thereinafter. A container might contain it better and has the advantage of being easy to move around so that this plant that resembles its popular namesake is closer to plants that attract aphids. Hoverfly larvae are veracious eaters of aphis, making Limnanthes a win for the pollinators and their offspring. You can find more information about beneficial insects here.

Herbs for Bees

Many herb varieties are attractive, functional and pollinator friendly such as chives, lavender, rosemary, oregano and thyme. Single flower germaniums (not pelargoniums), snapdragons and fuchsia, dahlias, calendula, cosmos, agastache, salvias, calendula, asters (daisies, sunflowers and zinnias), scabious and alyssum are all attractive to pollinators and colourful too.

You might also consider having a few containers dotted around with borage, phacelia and crimson and white clover, champagne and caviar for our pollinator friends.

Many of our usual summer bedding plants have been grown for show rather than energy for our pollinators, and sadly these will have been sprayed with chemicals to keep them in top condition for retailers rather than bees. However, we can live in hope that these practices will change as we read startling headlines such as ‘how plummeting insect numbers threaten the collapse of nature.’

Pollinator Friendly Plants

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly on a chive flower

In the meantime, try growing plants from seed yourself to avoid this practice, avoid spraying with any kind of insecticide during the day (including homemade ones and preferably none at all). Choose single rather than double flowers as pollinators tend to prefer them, and make more pollinator friendly plant choices. More tips for creating pollinator friendly gardens with additional plant choices can be found in this article.

In the UK, the RHS are involved with a citizen science project called Blooms for Bees where they are asking gardeners to promote and improve gardening for bumblebees. Keep an eye out for updates and results as they come in.

Have you changed your gardening practices to encourage and help pollinators, insects, wildlife and biodiversity at large? Please share your experiences so we can all learn from them.

Green, Lifestyle

What can I plant in my garden to help honey bees?

March 18, 2015

Calendar of Bee Plants from www.greensideup.ie

I wrote a post last year that looked at five ways we can help bees but since then I’ve taken beginners lessons in beekeeping. One of the lectures was about foraging and as a gardener I was curious what I could plant in my garden that bees would like to feast upon.

As it transpires, we don’t need to plant that much as long as we have hedgerows nearby, we don’t spray the “weeds” with herbicides and we leave the bugs that naturally share the earth with us to do their own thing. Whilst we can certainly make life easier for honey bees by planting some tasty delights, it seems that bees enjoy foraging among the prolific blooms in the hedgerows as much as they do the more formal, floral arrangements in our gardens.

Ever since a colony of honey bees set up home in a hive in our garden (you can read about it here) I’ve been intrigued by what the bees were doing in there, have noticed how much brighter and more prolific the fruit and flowers in the garden have been and how the garden somehow feels more alive and vibrant with them buzzing around.

BeehiveWe left the bees to do their own thing last year, allowing them to settle into their new home, with occasional visits from our neighbour to check on them. It wasn’t until I joined the South Kildare Beekeepers for their excellent Beginners Beekeeping course, that my obsession really began to kick in.

Honey bees are simply fascinating.

Natural Beekeeping

I’m learning the more traditional form of beekeeping in the beginners course, where bees are checked, manipulated and their honey harvested. However, I’m very attracted to the idea a more natural approach and have been advised to read the Barefoot Beekeeper as well as this PDF from Abbé Warré. For now I’m learning all I can from the experienced beekeepers in Athy, with the intention of switching over once I understand more about bees.

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up

Honeybees love Echinops

Five facts about honey bees you might not know

  • A colony of bees is known as a super organism and there are three “castes” of bees in it. The queen really does rule the hive as apart from laying all the eggs, she sends out happy pheromones to help keep the colony chilled out and busy.
  • The worker bees that we’re used to seeing outside foraging for all the nectar and pollen, are all infertile females. They contain a barbed sting but if they use it, they will usually die (so it’s not in their interest to do so).
  • Planting calendar for honey bees

    Honey Bee on an Aster

    The drones are all male and it’s their job to mate with the queen. They don’t contain a sting. The maiden queen flies out once for mating, will do so with around 20 or so drones who will subsequently die after successfully mating with her. The queen will return to the hive with enough sperm to fertilise her eggs for the rest of her lifetime (could be up to 3 or 4 years).

  • There are around 2,000 worker bees in a beehive during the winter, up to 50,000 in summer (so steer clear if you’re allergic or phobic).
  •  Honey bees have 4 eyes, 5 eyes and 6 legs (a handy one to know for pub quiz questions).

Before scrolling down to see what plants bees like to forage on, take a look at this fascinating short video clip. You’ll be able to watch the honey bees close up in flight and pick up a few more facts about them that might be of interest.

“Apis Mellifera: Honey Bee” a high-speed short from Michael N Sutton / @MNS1974 on Vimeo.

Planting Flowers for Bees

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the important lessons I’ve learnt is that bees don’t just depend upon the flowers in our gardens for their sources of pollen and nectar, they forage as much from the trees and hedgerows that surround us.

Calendar of Plants for Bees | greensideup.ie

Hedge Cutting, Pesticides and Herbicides

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up

Salix

The list of plants for bees isn’t exhaustive, there are many more flowers that honey bees are attracted to but it is indicative that honey bees and pollinators in general don’t give a hoot if they’re feeding on “weeds”, trees or ornamental flowers – they are attracted to them all (steer clear of ‘double’ blossoms though as they struggle to reach the pollen inside them).

When hedgerows are cut out of season (it’s illegal to cut them between 1st March to 31st August), bees are being deprived of food sources and birds of nesting opportunities.

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up

Dandelions – much more than a week

Weedkillers

Next time you reach for the weedkiller because a few dandelions are growing where you don’t want them to, think of the bright yellow flowers as a source of food instead, for the bee that’s stopped off to feed from it.

Bees and pollinators will be emerging from their hives and nests after a long winter with little food in store and depend upon fresh, unpolluted “weeds” to survive, not herbicide ridden ones.

Pesticides

What can I plant in my garden to help bees

Limnanthes – Beloved by pollinators, also attract hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids

Is it really worth risking the death of bees because you don’t like sharing your garden with bugs?

Research by Harvard University has shown that when honey bees have been exposed to two neonicotinoids, insecticides that are the most widely used in the world, they are more likely to suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder. Here’s a link to a Soil Association list that names some of the products you may have lurking on your shelves.

If you’re interested in learning more about bees, their lifestyles and habitats, check out your local beekeepers for updates on meetings. For more detailed information about planting for bees, take a look at the Irish Beekeepers website here.

Calendar of Plants for Bees

Honey bees will choose a field of Oilseed Rape over an Apple Orchard

If you’re interesting in finding out more about Ireland’s bees, the Biodiversity Centre recently published their slides following their pollinator conference and they’re well worth a look.

Lastly, if you’re buying plants for your garden this Spring, spare a thought for the honey bees who spend their short lives foraging in it. Apart from producing a few milligrams of honey during their brief lifetimes, without them we wouldn’t be able to sample so many tasty foods. A tremendous amount of fruit and vegetables would be missing from the supermarket shelves without the bees pollinating abilities including apples, squash, cucumber, raspberry, peppers, plums, Brassica, almonds and strawberries to name but a few.