News / Calgary

Forget wildflowers; use your senses to bring all the bees to the yard

Calgary horticulturalist shares the best blooms for attracting pollinators to your Cowtown garden

Colin Hayles (left), a horticulturalist at Calgary's Golden Acre Home and Garden, and Liz Goldie (right), a member of the Calgary and District Beekeepers Association, pose with some of the plants that Alberta gardeners can use to make their yards a haven for bumblebees.

Jennifer Friesen for Metro

Colin Hayles (left), a horticulturalist at Calgary's Golden Acre Home and Garden, and Liz Goldie (right), a member of the Calgary and District Beekeepers Association, pose with some of the plants that Alberta gardeners can use to make their yards a haven for bumblebees.

Bumblebee lovers of the world, fear not; while that packet of Cheerios wildflowers may now be worthless, there are easy ways to revive the bee population - without doing damage to Alberta's own ecosystem.

Cheerios came under fire last week for their well-intentioned Bring Back the Bees campaign, in which millions of wildflower seeds were sent to Cheerios customers throughout North America.

The problem? Many of those wildflowers, such as forget-me-nots, are not native to Canada, and can be aggressively invasive.

Colin Hayles, a horticulturalist at Golden Acre Home and Garden in Calgary, said one of the common misconceptions about bumblebees is that they’re only interested in pollinating a garden bed full of bright, beautiful flowers.

Instead, they rely on their senses to seek out the best blooms.

So, rather than risk the ruin of your yard, Hayles says the key to attracting bumblebees is to draw them in using plants of varying heights such as sunflowers, hollyhocks and flowering trees, as well as hanging baskets.

“Sometimes bees will fly upwards of nine feet high so they can see more of the land, and if they’re not seeing those low profile flowers because they’re hidden by foliage or there’s not a prolific bloom, they won’t pollinate.”

Next, said Hayles, draw bees down from the tall plants using bright coloured flowers like geraniums and poppies. Bee balm flowers have bright red clusters that are rich in pollen and nectar and attract hummingbirds as well as bumblebees.

“It’s so sweet, you actually can pull the flower off and taste it,” said Hayles.

Bees rely on their sense of smell too, so herb gardens with lavender, jasmine and cilantro can be beneficial for pollinating pumpkins and squash in your garden.

The earlier you make your garden bee-friendly, the more likely you are to see repeat customers – but this may mean changing your perception of some common weeds.

“A lot of people don’t like hearing this but it’s true; one of the most important flowers for the bumblebee is the dandelion,” he said.

Dandelions are plentiful and pop up early on in the year, however, pesticide use to rid your yard of them could be why you’re not seeing a lot of pollinators – you’re killing off a major food source.

“Let’s do away with the Round-up and keep the bees,” said Hayles.

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