Bee aware and Bee friendly

Where would we be without the ‘birds and the bees’? As far as workers go in the garden, bees have to ‘bee’ the hardest workers of all. For years only a few environmentally orientated people and bee keepers understood and acknowledged the work of bees, until recently they had become underrated and misunderstood.

Now the plight of the bee has come to the fore, with numbers dwindling all over the country, gardeners are being urged to think carefully about encouraging bees back into the garden by planting flowers and plants which provide food and shelter for them. Also gardeners are being educated about excessive use of sprays and chemicals which often inadvertently kill bees and their communities. Alternatives are available; choose either bee friendly insect sprays to treat crops, or eliminate pesticide use all together.

Honey bees and bumble bees are the two most prominent kinds in New Zealand gardens. Bees feed on the nectar produced by flowers, and while they are busy extracting the nectar, pollen sticks to their legs or bodies and rubs off onto other flowers as the bees move from one flower to another, resulting in fertilisation. This is a vital process to ensure fruit, crops and seeds are produced.

The list is long of flowers that encourage bees into the garden. Essentially the best flowers are single with open, flat shapes or clusters of tiny flowers, rather than ruffled frilly double flowers. These are the easiest for bees to get into to feed. For the vegetable garden it’s particularly important for some crops such as tomatoes, beans and Curbits (cucumber, pumpkins, watermelon etc) to have the help of bees for pollination. Crop failure is common in these crops if bees are in short supply.

What to plant to encourage bees:

  • Annual flowers: calendula, marigold, sunflowers, poppies, cosmos, hollyhocks, fox gloves, echium, clover, nasturtiums.
  • Perennials: comfrey, dahlias, echinacea, geraniums, aquilegia, gladiolus.
  • Shrubs: Californian lilac, buddleia, echium.
  • Climbers: honeysuckle, clematis.
  • Fruit and vegetables: blackberry, cucumbers, pumpkin, courgette.
  • Herbs: bee balm, borage, coriander, rosemary, thyme.

For more information on flowers - look for The Tui NZ Flower Garden book.

Dealing with bad bugs:

One of the biggest threats for bees is the use of insecticides in the garden. Most bug sprays are generic and kill both the good bugs and the bad ones. Excessive use of these sprays is part of the reason that bees and other good bugs are in decline.

The solution is to reduce the risk of insect attack, by keeping plants healthy, well watered and well fertilised to maintain a strong plant. Insects are more likely to attack weak plants. If insect problems do occur, check at your local garden centre for a suitable spray, bee and lady bird friendly insect sprays that kill only the bad bugs and leaves the good ones to carry on doing a sterling job in the garden.

Bees for hire:

In some areas, local bee keepers hire out hives and offer classes to those that are interested in bees. Contact the National Bee Keepers association to find local contacts

By Rachel Vogan

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Bee aware and Bee friendly Comments

  • It's sad to hear of the decline in bees. Not in my garden though! We have a huge wedding day rose which spans several metres between our house and garage creating a gorgeous waterfall effect when blooming. Currently it is in full flower and the hum of bees fills the air. There is every type of bee - from big fluffy fat ones to the more zippy slender type. Every morning the rose is swarming with activity and it is impossible to estimate how many visitors are present. I take great delight in knowing these bees then go off around the rest of my garden and the neighbourhood spreading their pollen. The fragrance throughout the house of the rose is an added bonus!

    Jan McKay

  • I have a nest of Bees in my Garden shed and underneath the shed how can i get rid of them as my Partner is allergic to them if he get stung by them it take a day to get into his system and then he ends up in hospital and i don't want this to happen is there any one that you know of that i could get in touch with them. I don't want them killed as they are a godsend to the garden. Can you help me please

    Margaret Medley

  • Hi Margaret - we would suggest contacting the National Bee Keepers association: to see if they can help. Thanks Gemma (Tui Team)


  • Hi Jan, that sounds fantastic, exactly what we need to help the bee population grow! - Gemma (Tui Team)


  • I have saved 4 bees just lately from drowning in my water bucket i just put my finger out for them to hold on to and put them in a bush to dry what satisfaction i get from saving just a few


  • Great work Lynne - every little bit helps! - Gemma (Tui Team)


  • Thanks for publishing this article, yes indeed the bees need help to survive now. We are beekeepers from Waitakere in Auckland and we love our bees. You never stop learning about them. Here is an article I wrote about how to get started:- Thanks...Gary kiwimana

    Gary Fawcett

  • Thanks Gary, and thanks for sharing your guide to bee-keeping, very informative. Thanks, Gemma (Tui Team)


  • Where can I find a bee friendly (and butterfly friendly) buddleia? It'd be a great addition to my garden.


  • Hi Veronica, some Buddleias are listed as pest plants and therefore can’t be found for sale in the shops. They do root exceptionally easily from cuttings, and some plants do appear in the shops from about October onwards (try your local garden centre). If you want to give cuttings a try and need some more info, check out our cuttings guide: Other plants you could try for butterflies especially, are any of the following - Swan Plants, Scabious, Cornflower, Tithonia, Tweedia, Coreopsis. - Gemma (Tui Team)


  • I planted alyssum at the corners of my raised vegetable garden and now the sweet smelling white flowers draping over the sides are alive with bees.


  • I plant Lavender and Borage : )

    R Payne

  • The bees must love your garden! Gemma (Tui Team)


  • Hi we have planted 14 fruit trees but never seen any bees at the flowers so no fruit. We purchased a hive which has pollinated the apple 5rees but we have a problem now with brown beetles eating all the leaves. Is the a bee friendly spray to control them


  • Hi Stew, this beetle is a NZ native and generally doesn’t do a lot of damage, they are around from October to January. Sometimes their populations get large and they can strip leaves off trees. By the time you realise they are there and spray the beetles, they will have moved on as they come in, feed on the trees and disappear as quickly as they arrive. You could try Tui Insect Control for Fruit & Veges on juvenile beetles but the adult beetle has a hard shield and so is not controlled with this product. Spraying them with a hose also helps move them on quickly. Thanks, Jenna - Tui Team


  • Hi, I share rental property with 3 friends and we have a small garden area that is covered with very tall weeds as we rarely have the time to look after it. Is there a bee friendly plant you would recommend that is very low maintenance and spreads over a lot of ground easily that you would recommend? Cheers.


  • Hi Emma, great question. Try planting borage, its super easy to grow. Simply scatter seeds and walk away, other good ones are calendula and phacelia. Clear the area first of weeds, rake over the soil and scatter your seeds, within a few weeks plants will pop up. Enjoy! - Tui Team.


  • I have a host a hive in my garden and the fruit on all my trees has trebled its amazing I will host again I love it