Cottage Q&A: What to plant for a bee-friendly garden

A patch of bee-friendly garden flowers, black-eyed Susans By Julianne Caust/Shutterstock

We want to plant a bee-friendly garden at the cottage. What should we plant? Also, my daughters are both concerned that attracting bees will mean they’re going to get stung. Is that a realistic concern?—Jasmine Avanti, Georgian Bay, Ont.

“It’s understandable that a person would have that concern,” says Lorraine Johnson, the co-author of A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators. Bees sting. More bees flying around, seeking out flowers, more potential bee stings, right? Except bee behaviour doesn’t support that reasoning. Foraging bees are attending to Very Important Bee Business. “They’re not the least bit interested in stinging you,” says Johnson. “Watch. Enjoy. Observe without fear.”

As for what to plant, the possibilities are—well, maybe not endless, but very vast. “You can create a pollinator garden in almost any conditions,” says Johnson. “The trick is to match the plants to the conditions that you have.” 

Just keep those plants native. For sunny areas of the property, try black-eyed Susan, pearly everlasting, pussytoes, and native wild strawberry. For shady areas, go for zigzag goldenrod. “It does not cause hay fever,” says Johnson. “That’s ragweed.” (You’re vindicated, goldenrod!) Woodland strawberry is another great option for shade. Bonus: “It produces delicious berries.”

Avoid the non-native, invasive groundcovers “commonly available at regular nurseries,” says Johnson: periwinkle, pachysandra, or bugleweed. Even if a plant isn’t invasive, if it’s not native, it’s not as useful for pollinators. (Native plants and native species evolved to have a mutually beneficial relationship.)

Hit up a local native plant nursery with your site-specific questions. “They are amazing resources,” says Johnson. “Their mission is to share info.” Hey, that’s our mission too!

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of Cottage Life.

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