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How to Attract Bumblebees

July 17, 2015

Learning how to attract bumblebees goes beyond planting a few summer blooming plants and hoping for the best. Certainly adding in their favorite forage invites bees to your garden, especially if you offer plants that flower from very early spring through late autumn. But, there are a few other things you can do the create a garden habitat that attracts bumblebees.

Bumblebee on borage

Like honeybees, bumblebees adore borage! Plant it by tomatoes for extra pollination power.

In years past we’ve adopted bumblebees that others chose to have removed from their garden. Removing bees happens. Sometimes having bees in an urban garden location just isn’t the right thing for some folks. For us, we’re always signing up with beekeepers to take in bumbling, buzzing waifs. And, we strive to leave some areas of our garden undisturbed in hopes that wild queen Bombus will create her palace in a quite portion of our garden.

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So to recap 3 easy ways to attract bumblebees into your garden:

  1. Cultivate an assortment of plants that flower throughout the year for bumblebees. (Psst! Get our Pollinator Favorite Things sheet for free to get some plant ideas and more.)

    Bumblebee foraging asparagus

    Different bumblebees forage actively at different times of year & on different types of plants. Some have longer tongues than others; some pollinate by buzzing inside flowers. Notice this bumbler’s red tongue as it forages in an asparagus flower – nom-nom!

  2. Sign up with a local beekeeper who does poison-free extractions and offers to re-home any intact bumblebee nests.
  3. Create undisturbed bumblebee friendly areas on your property.
  4. Okay, so there’s one more that seems pretty obvious: lay off the ‘cides in your garden.

Want queen Bombus to nest in your garden?

  1. Don’t clean up your garden floor ’til every inch looks tidy for the growing season. Yup! Embrace your inner sloth and don’t rake up all that leaf duff that fell last fall and overwintered. Sure, a few slugs may live in there, but so do overwintering queen bees, beetles and other beneficial garden life.
  2. Don’t remove abandoned bird nests. Queen bee loves to snuggle her brood into these cozy cradles of twigs and fluff.

    Sparrows in nest

    Left in place this year’s sparrow nest may become next year’s bumblebee nest.

  3. Don’t clean out your bird houses. These are some of the fuzzy, buzzy queen’s favorite abodes.

A few years back when our friend Dan The Bee Man brought us a bumblebee colony, he’d been able to extract the nest intact because they were living in an old bird house. (If the bees had been nesting in the ground, he probably wouldn’t have been able to extract them without destroying the nest.) The following year, we relocated the birdhouse to a protected spot off the ground, and wrens moved in that spring, but no bumblebees. This year, a new Bombus family has moved into the house again — just a few feet away from several squash plants and our largest patch of tomatoes, which are primarily pollinated by bumblebees.

Bombus nest in bird house

What we believe to be Bombus fervidus* have created a nest in an abandoned bird house in our garden. This is the same bumblebee-friendly house we gained in 2013 thru adoption!

We like to think we’re in for a bumble-crop this summer!

bumblebee in female zucchini flower

Squash flowers open in the morning sun. Look closely, and you’ll see bumblebees (& other bees) buzzing inside, collecting pollen from the male flowers & dispersing it into the female flowers as they sip nectar from deep inside the blooms. (This is a female zucchini flower.)

Don’t forget to get your free copy of our Pollinator Favorite Things so you too can grow a garden bees and other pollinators can’t resist!

*We’ve done our best to identify which species of Bombus is shown in this post using BumbleBee Guide to West produced by folks who know more than we do about this amazing genus of bees. If we misidentified any of them or if you know more, please share what you know in the comments below. We’re always eager to expand our knowledge! In fact, we’ve submitted several photos of our nesting bumblebees to the Bumble Bee Watch program and are hopeful we will receive identification verification soon (Updated July 24, 2015: our sighting has been verified as Bombus fervidus via the Bumblebee Watch program here).

If you love bumblebees and want to help conservationists track changing populations and ranges of various species, and you want help identifying which bumblebee is visiting or nesting in your garden, consider joining the Bumble Bee Watch program here. (FYI: at the time of writing this article, the Bumblebee watch folks tell us to submit all sightings – nest and bee – into the bee sighting category. Users (us among them) are reporting problems with the nesting submission forms.)

1 Comment

  1. […] plus, these come back year after year. Both tender and hardy fuchsia plants feed hummingbirds and bees throughout the growing season. And, once pollinated, fuchsia fruits are edible – the bigger […]

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