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Monday, July 6, 2009

Planting for "The Girls"

You should know from the start that I'm not the least bit objective about honey bees. I think they're simply amazing little creatures. A lot of us who are beekeepers refer to honey bees as "the girls," since all of the bees we see visiting flowers and buzzing about are females.

You may have heard that "the girls" are having a tough time of it these days. A puzzling and deadly syndrome called "colony collapse" has been taking a huge toll on honey bee colonies in Colorado and just about everywhere that bees are kept. Entire hives that seem to be healthy and thriving one day disappear the next. The bees just vanish. Scientists are working hard to find out what prompts the bees to leave home. While the researchers work to solve the mystery, there is something we can do as gardeners to help. We can plant with "the girls" in mind.

Tagawa's is ready to help throughout the gardening season with just the right plants that will give the honey bees the pollen and nectar sources they need. Bee-friendly plants make up a long list. There are choices that should suit any gardener's preferences, not to mention "the girls" tastes, too!

If you want to think big, make a long-term investment in your landscape, and treat "the girls" to some first-rate sources of pollen and nectar, think "fruit." Apple trees, crabapples, plums, cherries, grapes, strawberries and berry bushes of all kinds are high on the honey bees' hit parade. The staff in Tagawa's Nursery Department can help you make just the right choice.

Flowering vines and shrubs that contribute to a buzzing bee garden include honeysuckle, trumpet vines, Virginia creeper, lilacs, rabbit brush and Apache plume and silverlace vine. I've promised "the girls" I'll be planting some pussy willows just for them. Pussy willows bloom early in the spring and are an absolute magnet for the honey bees as they welcome the return of warmer weather.

I already have more than a dozen Russian sage bushes getting ready to bloom. Their mid-summer display of soft purple-blue spikes is worth waiting for, and the honey bees just can't seem to get enough of the plants' nectar. I can actually taste a hint of sage in the honey produced from the millions of flights the bees make to the Russian sage each summer.

"The girls" are enthusiastic about many other plants in the sage and Various forms of thyme are a special favorite. During a visit to a friend's garden recently, her thyme was in full bloom with its minute pink flowers. The little plants had so many bees crawling about, they looked like they were moving. Great stuff!

Several kinds of lavender, and just about everything in the mint family, will keep the honey bees happy, too. Just remember that mint is routinely an aggressive plant, and will take over if you let it. The staff at Tagawa's can offer suggestions on how to keep the mints in check.

Agastache and penstemons should be a part of every Colorado garden, and will definitely be a treat for "the girls" in your neighborhood.

The list of bee-friendly plants goes on and on: bee balm (no surprise there), daisies, foxglove, goldenrod, daffodils, tulips, cosmos, sunflowers, asters, gallardia, and poppies. The old-fashioned strains, with pollen and nectar the way Mother Nature made them, seem to be the biggest draw. I do occasionally see the bees visiting my big, flashy (but heavily hybridized) petunias, but the flowers don't seem to be on their "A" list.

Having a bee-friendly yard also includes minimal or no use of potent insecticides. Tagawa's takes pride in being the only certified sustainable garden center in the country. Our staff will gladly advise you on how to keep your landscape healthy.... and be good to "the girls" at the same time.

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