Planning and Building a Bee-Friendly Backyard

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Like most of you, I have a love/hate relationship with bees. I hate their stings, and thank goodness, no one in my family is allergic to them, but I love their role in nature, acting as the major pollinator. Without them, many different species of plants and animals wouldn’t survive and one way to support them is to create a bee-friendly backyard.

Although there are many valid reasons to not keep bees, last year we decided to take the leap. We developed a close, personal relationship with bees by adding beehives to our busy backyard. Already we have an owl habitat and both herbs and vegetables growing alongside pines, oaks, and crepe myrtle trees. It’s an odd assortment, to be sure, but we figured that bees would fit right in.

With our vegetable plants, in particular, we want to make sure that plenty of pollination occurs since we’ve hand-pollinated our tomatoes this year. It’s never too late to begin adding plants that attract bees.

image: honeybee gathering nectar at dandelion

How can you make a more bee-friendly backyard or garden?

What makes a yard friendly to bees? According to the University of Maine Extension Service, bee-friendly areas:

  • shelter and feed native bees
  • support honey bees
  • ensure good pollination of vegetables and fruits
  • provide season-long beauty, diversity, and interest

For our own backyard, we immediately realized the need to add flowers. We have plenty of trees, grasses, and shrubs but very few flowers.

When I visited a local nursery, looking for pollinating plants, I zeroed in on plants that will do well in our growing zone, 9A. There are so many different and beautiful plants that it was hard to choose just a few.

Select plants that are compatible with your zone

The first rule to developing a bee-friendly backyard is to plant varieties of flowering plants that will thrive in your growing zone. However, in every backyard, front yard, garden, or homestead there are also microclimates, and it’s important to keep those in mind. Microclimates are very small areas that have a different climate from the surrounding areas.

When we lived in Phoenix, I was occasionally amazed to learn that one friend or another could grow something that I had thought would never grow in that hot, arid zone. One friend had an enormous bed of calla lilies on the side of her house where they had plenty of shade and the soil held its moisture.

Your property also has microclimates and you may, too, be surprised by what you can grow once you figure those out. Just look for areas that have more/less shade, slope, exposure, and wind. One clue to look for is any native vegetation growing where it’s not “supposed” to. Are those areas drier? Wetter? Shady? Those answers can help you know what other plants to try, outside those specified for your zone.

The daylilies and the purple Lily of the Nile do well planted alongside our driveway where there is some shade for the hottest part of the summer and the soil is very rich. I could also have planted them in pots, which is an option for anyone without a yard.

Bees are attracted to certain colors

Just as you and I have favorite colors, it seems that bees do, too. They can’t see colors in the red end of the color spectrum, so good color choices are yellow, white, purple, orange, pink, and blue. Both of the flowering plants I bought from fill the bill — bright yellow daylilies and a gorgeous, deep purple Lily of the Nile.

There are so many gorgeous blooms and colors to choose from and doing a bit of research online helps before you venture out to the nearest nursery.

A few flowers to consider for your own bee-friendly backyard are:

  • Basil
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Fennel
  • Goldenrod (also good for seasonal allergy sufferers)
  • Lantana
  • Lavender
  • Lobelia
  • Lupine
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Salvia
  • Sunflowers
  • Sweet alyssum
  • Yarrow

It’s best to choose native plants. And make them sun-loving flowers that grow in clumps, rather than single blossoms on long stems. Plant them close together in 3’X3′ or larger plots. Bees are more attracted to clusters of blossoms and having them close together makes it easier for them to do their pollinating job.

Flowers with a nice landing area are also helpful. So is bloom size that accommodates the varying sizes of bees.

Avoid double-flowered plants which are bred for show and produce minimal or no nectar and pollen.

There are many other colorful plants, but as you can see, both flowering herbs and food-producing plants make bees quite happy and it’s a win-win if you’re trying to grow your own food! I’m adding different varieties of mint to my garden but will grow them in pots since they can be very invasive.

Plant a medicinal herb garden

Surprise! There are some herbs bees adore, such as mints marjoram, and lavender. Grow them and let them flower. The bees will thank you. Read more about planting a medicinal herb garden here.

Trees and Shrubs are also options

We already had these but if you don’t then plant pollen and nectar-producing trees and shrubs. It’s an effective way to extend the food supply throughout the year. They also create a microclimate and increase shelter. Some possibilities are:

  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Maples
  • Spirea
  • Summersweet

Think year-round, if possible

Your backyard or garden can provide pollination opportunities for bees year-round since bees need pollen and nectar throughout the year.

As you begin to narrow down the types of plants that do best in your growing zone, also check when they will flower. Ideally, you’ll want to have plants that flower in the spring and summer, along with those that produce blossoms in the fall and winter. My daylilies and the Lile of the Nile are both perennials and will be ready to produce blossoms again next year.

If you live in zone Frozen-to-Death-from-October-through-April, this may not be possible!

Re-think pesticides/insecticides

Along with helpful insects like bees, butterflies, and ladybugs, there are also mosquitoes and other insects that we definitely do not like! However, the overuse of insecticides poisons bees. Before reaching for an insecticide, do some research and try a natural remedy first.

Our plan this summer is to plant multiple pots of lemongrass, citronella, and lemon balm around our back patio to ward off mosquitoes.

Add a simple water-feature

When my husband and I took a beekeeping class last year, we were surprised to learn just how much water bees consume. In fact, during long, dry seasons, beekeepers have to make sure there is plenty of water in the form of a pond, fountain, pool, bird bath, or other water feature. Even bowls or jars of water are better than nothing for helping keep bees hydrated.

Two key requirements:

  1. It’s vital the water moves and doesn’t stay still. Still water attracts mosquitoes and that’s the last thing you need when creating an inviting garden area. Our local birdwatching store sells a battery-powered Water Wiggler that creates continuous ripples. This not only attracts birds since they can more easily see moving water as they fly overhead, but it also prevents mosquitoes from landing and laying their eggs. I highly recommend using a Water Wiggler in your bird baths or any outdoor water feature that doesn’t have continual movement.
  2. The water should be shallow. Bees can drown if the water is too deep. Also, use stones or something that floats to provide landing pads in the dish. They can’t swim, either. Not even dog-paddling.

Create nesting areas

Most native bee species aren’t hive dwellers. Their home is soil or dead wood. Consider how you can incorporate habitat for these, the majority of our bee pollinators.

Take it one step further with a bee lawn

This isn’t something I’ve done, but you can read all about how to make your grass pull double duty as a bee lawn here. A bee-friendly landscape can be part of a more comprehensive edible landscape, too.

Consider taking up beekeeping

Our beekeeping class was one of the educational highlights of our year. We were already interested in becoming beekeepers, but the class generated more information than we had expected. Some resources we’ve found very helpful are:

This could eventually be a side gig that brings in some extra income, either by supporting your green thumb business or from the sale of honey.

How do I get rid of bees in my yard?

It’s possible that your home or backyard may end up with too many bees in the form of an unwanted swarm. Now, just because they’re unwanted by you doesn’t mean that a local beekeeper might welcome them!

The National Honeybee Swarm Removal project is run by volunteers who remove swarms for free in an effort to help both the bees and the home or property owner. Give them a call before resorting to deadly methods.


According to The Center for Biological Diversity, 347 native bee species—that’s 1 in 4—are in danger. We rely on them for so many reasons, and it’s relatively simple to make a few changes to our backyards and gardens to provide a bee-friendly space for them to thrive.

Add colorful plants that attract bees. Plant a variety so you’ll have blossoms year-round. Avoid the overuse of insecticides and use organic, natural remedies instead. Provide water for them, especially during droughts or dry seasons of the year, and learn more about becoming a beekeeper.

Share the steps you’re taking to help our bees. I’d love to know!

Originally published June 14, 2018; updated and revised by Team Survival Mom.

8 thoughts on “Planning and Building a Bee-Friendly Backyard”

  1. My landlord has three bee hives, all Africanized bees, as they seem less effected by the bee die-off than standard honey bees. Two of the hives are in an area not far from my house, so I get visits from the bees far more often than I am comfortable with. I AM allergic to bees. I got stung once last year and it took me over two weeks to get over that sting. I worry about them swarming, think I could very well die if stung more than once or twice, at the max. And I worry about my two tiniest dogs, both around 3-4 pounds, if the bees swarmed them, would I either lose my dogs or die trying to save them?
    I do have a nice garden and put out flowers to attract the bees as the fruit trees and the veggies need their pollination. I made a little raised garden with some wildflowers it says will attract butterflies and hummingbirds, so you know it will also attract the bees. I have also noticed often the bees with gather at the base of pots and planters after I water, to drink the run off water. When the bees start buzzing my face, I make sure and cover my neck, as they seem to like to sting from behind you, and I cover the backs of my arms as well as I can. The landlords told me not to ever spray any of them, that that will, above anything, anger them and cause a swarm to attack. I just tell the bees, to keep going, that I will leave them alone if they leave me and my dogs alone. So far, except for the one sting it has worked. I was scared at first, since I had had a really bad reaction to a sting as a young child, that I could possibly be allergic enough still that I could die from one sting, and although it was bad I did not have breathing problems, so I am not as worried as I had been when I found out the hives were that close to my house.
    This last fall I did have to take the hummingbird feeders down until recently as the bees would swarm the hummingbird feeders due to lack of pollinating plants. Seeing that many bees at once that close to me and my dogs made me VERY nervous. Once I got the feeders down, the bees pretty well left us alone until recently when we started have blossoms on the various plants.
    She and her husband got one of the hives from a neighbor who was had found them on their property and was going to call an exterminator. They went over with a wet/dry vac, sucked them up, brought them home, and I guess sucked them out (?) into a hive they had gotten ready for them.
    One last remark, this bee die-off is not just a national problem, it is international and if not stopped or corrected could eventually bring on famine such as the world has likely never seen.

  2. LOVE this post! Very informative in a simple manner and interesting! I love the honeybees and definitely trying to start up my own apairy- being a college student makes it tough! But certainly a high priority goal for my long term future. Looking forest to reading more of your posts!

  3. Gena, be sure to not go around your bees smelling like banana as that chemical triggers an alarm system in the swarm. Also, be calm and peaceful around your bees because they pick up on your energy. If you haven’t seen it, you should check out the documentary “Queen of the Sun”

  4. Something to be aware of: best to grow plants from seed or get them from a source where their plants can be verified to not contain bee-killing pesticides. See excerpt and link below. (Home Depot is supposedly now requiring suppliers to label their plants that contain

    “More than half of ostensibly bee-friendly plants sampled at 18 Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart garden centers in the U.S. and Canada contained high levels of neonicotinoids, which are considered highly toxic to bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators.”

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  7. I have a bee keeper at the end of my street. Love it! Some neighbors are furious, but it’s not in our community’s property. He se, we have no say.
    I love having the bees around. I’ve not been stung – was many years ago before bee keeper arrived. I’m not worried about it at all . They come near, check me out, then move on.
    I have fruit trees, veggie garden, started a medicinal garden, and this year got a few native plants. I dint use pesticides – although I have had to use Neem oil in evening for a few fruit trees last year.
    I’ve planted wildflower seeds, many flowering plants this year, all from seed.
    I save seeds, and have used those .
    This year they hung around the blueberry bushes quite a lot. I’m thrilled!
    I already have peppers forming in pepper plants I put in tiny plastic greenhouse over winter and put out a few weeks ago. They are over a year old now.
    We also have wood boring bees, and they are welcome . Lots of tiny wasps, and other pollinators are here.
    I’m trying to get to a full backyard growing area with flowers planted among the veggies. Medicinals are front and side, to draw the bees here. Lots of flowering plants in front as well.
    I tell neighbors if they are afraid of bees, don’t come here. I try to attract as many as I can, lol.
    I read an article a few months back on putting water out for them- using a shallow tray and stones for them to perch on. I’ll be doing that this year. Last year it hit extremely hot very early , and no bees were out. A lot of plants died, and I hand pollinated what I could . Many only had make flowers ( squashes in particular), so I fried the blossoms to eat. I’m a bee and pollinator friendly yard!
    I also like getting the honey from the bee keeper when I can. This year I want to get bees wax . I’ll try to make salves and other things from medicinal garden.

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