We all enjoy watching those big fat bumblebees as they buzz around our gardens performing their essential task of pollinating our flowers and vegetables. Over recent years these insects have become more reliant on gardens as the wider countryside is less attractive due to changes in agricultural practices. This article by Anthony McCluskey which I found on the Gardening Know How website explains how we can help by growing various plants to attract the bumblebees.
Anthony McCluskey has been working with bumblebees for over ten years, having studied them in detail during his Bachelor?s and Master?s degree research projects at Queen?s University Belfast, Northern Ireland. He works as a contractor with Bumblebee Conservation Trust, providing information on bumblebees and gardening for bees to the public. Anthony is a keen gardener himself, and has qualifications from the Royal Horticultural Society. He particularly enjoys growing plants from seed he?s collected elsewhere, and seeing if they grow in his garden in the Scottish Highlands.
Bumblebees are much-loved visitors to gardens, and their gentle hum as they fly from flower to flower is always a pleasant sound to hear.
Gardens are becoming more important for bumblebees and other pollinating insects as the wider countryside has become less hospitable for them. Most bumblebee declines can be attributed to the great loss of flower-rich habitats in the countryside, with pesticides and disease also playing a role.
We can help bumblebees in our gardens providing food for them right through the seasons when they are most active: from March until October for most places. In springtime, the large queen bees will emerge from their hibernation. Some will have spent over six months hibernating in the soil, surviving temperatures down to minus 19 centigrade by producing glycerol in their bodies, which acts as a kind of antifreeze.
So they?re in desperate need of sustenance, and some of the best sources of food come from plants which flower in early spring. Bulbs and corms such as crocus (Crocus species), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari species) Erythronium (sometimes called Trout Lily or Dogtooth Violet) are useful for them. Perennials such as early-flowering heathers (for example Erica carnea, and Erica x darleyensis) and Hellebores are also great additions to the early spring garden that will attract both bees and the earliest butterflies. One of the plants to have for an enormous amount of pollen is a willow (Salix). There are hundreds of species of willow, but look for those that produce the big catkins which are full of pollen.
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