Create a bee-friendly backyard

A bee on the marigolds at Lakeside Park. File photo by Mary Bailey
A bee on the marigolds at Lakeside Park. File photo by Mary Bailey

Donna Tatting

Chisago County Master Gardener

Bees, the essential pollinators, need our help. Their populations are in decline in Minnesota and nationally.

Creating a haven for bees in yards and gardens is one way to rally around the bees. Five simple steps can help ensure that our desire to preserve bees is matched by optimal effectiveness. Extension educators Marla Spivak, Karl Foord and Julie Weisenhorn offer these tips:

1. Before planting, make sure you have enough space, at least a 5- by 10-foot patch. Bees seek density of pollen. Just as humans wouldn’t be very interested in a berry patch that offered only one berry every few feet, bees have the same need for efficiency in their nourishment.

2. Choose plants carefully. Bees need flowering plants for nutrition. Bee balm, anise hyssop, lupine, asters, Autumn Joy sedum, sunflowers, and herbs such as thyme and oregano are a few good choices. A full list of the plants likeliest to attract bees can be found online at

3. Select healthy plants and keep them free of pesticides. Avoid buying plants treated with neonicotinoid and other systemic insecticides, which remain present in the leaves, pollen and nectar of the plant.

Many plant pests cause only temporary, aesthetic problems that can be managed or tolerated. If you do use pesticides, read the label and follow directions. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation offers guidelines for buyers at

4. Look at things differently, including what constitutes a “perfect lawn.” Bees are naturally drawn to dandelions and clover; leaving them alone in your yard benefits bees greatly. Read more at

5. Don’t let your enthusiasm for helping bees override some basic principles. Correct selection of plants based on light, soil type and planting space is essential. Plants and flowers that do not flourish cannot help bees. Consult the Plant Elements of Design database at

University of Minnesota Extension has maintained an internationally recognized honey bee program since 1918. Visit their websites for more information about bees, yards and gardens: