Gardening Tips For Bees In Winter
Autumn is a great time to get outside and prepare your garden for the winter. While we do that, there are also many things we can do to help the bees over these cold months too!
In this blog we'll cover some gardening tips and some ideas for flowering plants that will be help our buzzy friends this winter.
It's always temping to ignore the garden when winter comes around. But if we do a little work now, we reap the rewards later. Not only will the garden be a much more pleasant sight from inside the warmth of your home, but with a little work now you can give yourself a lot less effort to do when spring does arrive. A well kept garden can be magical during the winter, especially in the morning when there's frost glistening in the winter sun.
Winter can bee a tough time for bee. When it becomes too cold for bees to fly they will huddle around the queen in the hive to keep her warm and safe for the majority of the winter. They are not actually hibernating though and they will always be ready to pop out for supplies of fresh nectar on some of the warmer sunny winter days. This is especially true in the southern areas of Britain when the temperature regularly reaches 10 degrees centigrade or more.
Plants for Bees and other pollinators
Sadly almost all of the bee friendly wildflowers we planted back in spring will not flower during the winter months. But there are plants that will! And on milder winter days these plants will provide a very handy nectar source for any passing bees.
You can help any passing pollinators by planting some winter flowering perennials, shrubs or climbing plants. Many of which you should be able to find in a local garden centre. (The staff will usually be more than happy to advise you on what might be suitable for your garden.)
Here's some ideas to get you started in your quest for a beautiful bee-friendly winter garden:
Winter-flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissmima) is a deciduous evergreen shrub with delightfully scented white or cream flowers which will bloom from December onwards.
Winter-flowering heather (Erica carnea) includes a lot of varieties of evergreen shrub with flowers that are typically bright red or magenta hues. They will flower between January and April and add a lovely flash of colour to a winter garden.
Primroses (Primula vulgaris) are a classic perennial with wonderfully scented yellow flowers that we all know and love. Fortunately other colours available today so you can add a whole rainbow of colour by planting different varieties. The Primrose will often bloom in mild winters from December onwards. They are best planted in a somewhat sheltered position in either direct sun or partly shady areas.
Snowdrops (Galanthus) are a wonderful sight on a cold winter morning. While it might be too late to establish Snowdrops in the Autumn (they are best planted in May) They are certainly worth your consideration in the future as they can flower as early as January. These classic white flowers are hardy and create a snowy landscape even when we don't have any snow!
Winter-flowering Crocuses are last but certainly not least on our list. The bulbs can be planted from early September to late November, so they are the perfect choice to be planting within the next few weeks. Choose a sunny position in the garden or even plant them in containers and window boxes. The genus comprises of over 90 species of perennials, so it's worth searching out the common varieties that will flower during the Autumn and Winter. They are fairly inexpensive and the bulbs should be easy to find. Winter-flowering crocuses can provide plenty of nectar and pollen supplies for visitors to your winter garden.
Creating a bee-friendly habitat
If you've had a 'bee hotel' out in the garden during the spring and summer, then now is the time to think about moving it to protect it from frost and winter dampness. If you have a shed or other outbuilding then you could move it inside and leave a window open. If not then move it under a porch or some kind of cover if you can. If we have a particularly wet or cold winter and you leave it out, it might not be very habitable by the time spring comes back around!
Once you've planted your winter flowering plants and done your general tidying the garden this autumn it's best to avoid digging the ground. There could be bees nesting in the ground over winter and ideally we don't want to disturb them.
You can also create a safe hibernating place for bumblebees by simple stacking some logs into a pile. If you are feeling more adventurous you might want to consider creating a rockery using some of the winter-flowering shrubs and lots of loose soil. Bumblebees will love these sort of areas, especially when they are planted with early blooming plants. If possible build your bumblebee area against a north-facing fence or wall where they can avoid being warmed up too early by the winter sun.
Bees are not the only pollinators you might spot in your garden over the winter. Hoverflies are a common sight and wasps can also be seen up to and during December. It's always exciting to see bees buzzing around recently blooming flowers during the colder months and they will be extremely grateful for your effort! Anything that flowers between October and March will be a useful plant for all kinds of kind of bees and insects.
With a well kept and planted garden you might be surprised what visitors it attracts during winter. You might even spot a Bumblebee flying on Christmas day, what a fantastic treat that would be!