1. Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees

Grow more flowers, shrubs and trees that provide nectar and pollen as food for bees and other pollinators throughout the year. For example, pussy willow, primroses and crocuses in spring, lavenders, meadow cranesbill and ox-eye daisies in summer, ivy and hebes in autumn, and mahonia shrubs and cyclamen in winter.

Some principles

Red admiral (Amy Lewis)

There are no hard and fast rules about which flowers, shrubs and trees to plant. We just need more plants rich in pollen and nectar in our gardens, balconies, allotments, farms, and in the landscape around our homes and across our towns and cities.The important principle is to make sure you select and grow a wide range of plants that produce pollen and nectar resources throughout the year. This will help as many pollinators as possible. Plants such as viper’s bugloss, comfrey and bird’s foot trefoil are beloved by bees. Take a look at The Wildlife Trust's 'Planting for Bees' guide for more information. 

Gardeners, allotment holders and amenity managers may wish to look for the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ logo at their garden centre or supplier. Consider planting single flowers rather than double flowers as they provide more pollen and nectar. Look at what the pollinators are visiting in garden centres – often a good sign.

If you are sowing wild flower seeds or laying wildflower turf to support pollinators, you should aim to use seed of local provenance or turf with native plants as far as possible. Find out more here.

Free wildflower seeds are available to people to create pollinator friendly habitat in community areas from parks to hospital grounds, through Friends of the Earth’s Bee Worlds project and Kew Garden’s ‘Grow Wild’ programme.

Farmers have access to financial support through environmental stewardship schemes under the Common Agricultural Policy to grow nectar and pollen-rich plants for pollinators.

Which plants and when?

The resources provided by flowering plants can be split into three key periods during the year. Getting the timing right is crucial so that plants are in flower from February to October, with no gaps:

February/March to May:

When many insect pollinators are emerging from winter hibernation and need access to energy resources (nectar) pretty quickly. Examples of good plants for this period include goat and grey willows, pussy willow, dandelion, blackthorn, hawthorn and some of the fruit trees like apples, pear and plums. Garden plants include aubretia, wallflower, heathers, crocuses, primroses and flowering currants (Ribes).

June to mid-July:

When most insect pollinators are on the wing and actively foraging for food and fuel, including collecting pollen as a protein source to produce and feed the next generation. There are many examples of good plants for this period with the more common ones including ox-eye daisy, red and alsike clover, birds foot trefoil, self-heal, knapweed, vetches, thyme, betony and brambles. White and red deadnettles and thistles provide great natural resources. Poached egg plant, foxglove, snapdragons, cornflowers, mallow, lavenders, meadow cranesbill and honeysuckle represent just a few of the more commonly sown garden and border species. 

End of July to October:

When insect pollinators are looking to build up their energy levels and reserves before they head into hibernation over winter. There are considerably fewer plants that produce these important hibernating resources, but garden plants that do include Michaelmas daisy, late-flowering hebes and asters, while common ivy is also a very important source. In addition, several bumble bee species remain active during the winter particularly in urban areas of south east England. Plants to provide resources for this period include cyclamen and mahonia shrubs. Specific flowers are beneficial to pollinators of conservation importance. Good plants include clovers, deadnettles, knapweeds, foxglove, comfrey, and birds foot trefoil.

Note: examples of pollinators of conservation importance in England (identified under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act , 2006) include the brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis), the short haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus), the shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum), Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) and the Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae).

 

Note: Government experts and a wide range of interested parties have helped to inform the development of these actions and the supporting advice. It is intended as good practice advice and should not be regarded as official guidance. The Bees’ Needs is hosted by The Wildlife Trusts on behalf of Defra in support of the emerging National Pollinator Strategy. The Wildlife Trusts do not own or endorse any content other than as a contributing stakeholder to the National Pollinator Strategy along with many other organisations and individuals.

Contact us at: pollinatorstrategy@defra.gsi.gov.uk

2. Let it grow wild

Leave patches of land to grow wild with plants like stinging nettles and dandelions to provide other food sources and breeding places for butterflies and moths.

 

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3. Cut grass less often

Cut grass less often and ideally remove the cuttings to allow plants to flower.

 

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4. Don’t disturb nests

Avoid disturbing or destroying nesting or hibernating insects, in places like grass margins, bare soil, hedgerows, trees, dead wood or walls.

 

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5. Think carefully about whether to use pesticides

Think carefully about whether to use pesticides especially where pollinators are active or nesting or where plants are in flower. Consider control methods appropriate to your situation and only use pesticides if absolutely necessary. 

 

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