Pollinator Succulent Garden – How To Grow Succulents That Attract Bees And More
By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Much of our food supply depends on pollinators. As their populations decrease, it is important that gardeners provide what these valuable insects need to multiply and visit our gardens. So why not plant succulents for pollinators to keep them interested?
Planting a Pollinator Succulent Garden
Pollinators include bees, wasps, flies, bats, and beetles along with the beloved butterfly. Not everyone is aware, but flowers commonly rise on stalks of echeveria, aloe, sedum, and many others. Keep a pollinator succulent garden going year-round, when possible, with something always in bloom.
Succulents that attract bees and other pollinators should be a big part of the garden as well as water and nesting sites. Avoid pesticide use. If you must use pesticides, spray at night when pollinators are not likely to visit.
Locate a seating area near your pollinator garden so you may observe which insects visit there. If you’re notably missing a particular species, plant more succulents. Flowering succulents that attract pollinators can also be mixed with herbs and traditional flowers that also draw the insects.
Succulents for Pollinators
Do bees like succulents? Yes, they do. In fact, many pollinators like the flowers of succulent plants. Members of the sedum family provide spring, autumn, and winter blooms on groundcover and tall plants. Groundcover sedums like John Creech, Album, and Dragon’s Blood are pollinator favorites. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Pink Sedum stonecrop, with tall, massive autumn blooms are also great examples.
Saguaro and sansevieria blooms attract moths and bats. They also appreciate the blooms of yucca, night-blooming cacti, and epiphyllum (all species).
Flies prefer the smelly blossoms of carrion/starfish flower and Huernia cacti. Note: You may want to plant these putrid smelling succulents at the edges of your beds or farthest away from your seating area.
Flowering succulents for bees include those with daisy-like, shallow blooms, such as found on lithops or ice plants, which have long-lasting blooms in summer. Lithops are not winter hardy, but many ice plants grow happily as far north as zone 4. Bees are also attracted to Angelina stonecrop, propeller plant (Crassula falcata), and Mesembryanthemums.
Butterflies enjoy many of the same plants that attract bees. They also swarm to rock purslane, sempervivum, blue chalk sticks, and other varieties of senecio.
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Be Inspired Blog - California
Did you know bees are called the world’s star pollinators because they pollinate one-third of the earth’s food crops? In California, the almond crop is actually entirely dependent on honey bees for pollination, and our state is home to over 1,600 species of native bees! Native bees are the most important group of pollinators we have, and with their habitat dwindling, now is a more important time than ever for us to lend a helping hand and plant the best flowers for bees in our gardens.
The Urban California Native Bee Survey demonstrated that, “With the right bee plants, one small urban garden can attract forty to fifty species of native bees.” When gardening, you can invite native bees by providing plentiful and varied resources for pollen, nectar and nesting.
Do’s and Don’ts of Gardening for Bees
When gardening for bees, there are three primary best practices to follow:
- Plant in Large Patches
Plant each species in large clusters that are at least three feet wide. This encourages bees to forage for longer periods of time in your garden.
Plant a Wide Variety of Species
Experts recommend using at least 20 different plant varieties in your yard when gardening for bees. It’s important to include a wide range of species that will attract bees, including many plants that will flower at different times throughout California’s extremely long growing season. This will provide plentiful pollen and nectar sources for diverse bee species in all seasons. Like plants, various bee species have different seasons, and every season in your garden will welcome a different group of bees.
Don’t Use Pesticides
When gardening for bees, it’s important to avoid using pesticides. No insecticides of any kind are safe for bees.
FLOWERS LOVED BY AUSTRALIAN NATIVE BEES
Which plants should you choose for your Bee-Friendly Garden? We ran a survey in Aussie Bee Bulletin asking readers across Australia to nominate the favourite flowers loved by their local native bees. Here are ten of the top plants that were recommended:
Ten Favourite Flowers Loved by Australian Native Bees
Abelia x grandiflora -- Abelia
This medium shrub produces masses of white bell shaped flowers that are adored by Blue Banded Bees, Teddy Bear Bees, Carpenter Bees and many other species. It begins flowering in about December so it provides good nectar and pollen resources after many wildflowers finish flowering in spring.
The white flowers of the Abelia are a valuable resource during summer for native bees.
Buddleja -- Butterfly Bush
This tall shrub produces clusters of flowers that are enjoyed by many types of native bees. Leafcutter Bees also enthusiastically cut discs from the soft leaves for nesting material. Reed Bees too will nest in the pithy canes of the Buddleja.
This plant provides great resources for a wide range of native bees. However, please note that Buddleja can act as an environmental weed in damp sclerophyll forest, disturbed areas, roadsides and river beds, especially in Victoria and South Australia. We have not had any problem with this plant in our rather dry area, but please do not use it if it may cause a weed problem in your area.
Blue Banded Bees love the small flowers of the Butterfly Bush and Leafcutter Bees love to cut disks from its soft leaves for their nest materials (see arrow).
Callistemon -- Bottlebrush
The abundant bright red flowers of the bottlebrush are attractive to a wide range of native bee species and nectar-feeding birds. These hardy small to large shrubs can be used as ground covers, hedges, screening shrubs or street trees.
Native Bottlebrush shrubs produce a mass of nectar and pollen rich flowers that native bees and birds love.
Daisies -- many varieties
The shallow flowers of daisies provide readily accessible nectar and pollen to all native bee species. Flowering for long periods, these compact low-growing shrubs could find a place in even the smallest garden. Both native species (e.g. the Cut Leaf Daisy Brachyscome and the Everlasting Daisy Bracteantha) and exotic species (e.g. the African Daisy Osteospermum and the Seaside Daisy Erigeron) are popular with native bees.
Daisies of many types produce abundant flowers over a long period -- and their nectar can be easily reached by both short tongued and long tongued native bees.
Eucalyptus and Angophora -- Gum Trees
The prolific flowers produced by these trees are highly attractive to a wide range of native bee species. In fact, when gum trees are in flower nearby, we find that few native bees may be seen on other shrubs in our bee-friendly garden. Mature trees are also an important source of resin for Stingless Bees and Resin Bees. A disadvantage of some species is that they may not flower every year.
When native gum trees flower, their branches are laden with dense blossoms that attract many kinds of bees.
Grevillea -- Spider Flower
Grevillea hybrids are long flowering shrubs that produce large amounts of nectar. They attract a wide range of native bees, as well as nectar-feeding birds. They range in size from tall shrubs to prostrate varieties to suit many different garden situations.
Stingless bees are enthusiastically collecting the copious nectar from this Royal Mantle Grevillea flower. This prostrate Grevillea variety spreads up to 6m wide, providing a wealth of native flowers for our local bees.
Lavandula -- Lavender
The purple flower spikes of the lavender are particulary attractive to Blue Banded Bees. These are compact hardy shrubs that produce plenty of nectar and flower for a long period. Other herbs in this family, such as basil, thyme, lemon balm and mint are also very popular with native bees.
These purple Lavender flowers are sure to attract any Blue Banded Bees in your area.
Leptospermum -- Tea Tree
Native bees as well as many other wild pollinators will flock to the cup-shaped flowers of tea trees. With papery layered bark, tea trees range in size from small trees to prostrate shrubs.
The dense white flowers of the native Tea Tree will attract and support a wide range of native pollinators.
Melaleuca -- Honey Myrtle
The abundant brush-like flowers of the Melaleuca attract numerous native bees as well as birds. Different varieties range in size from small shrubs to small trees.
A native Melaleuca shrub or hedge will provide copious blossom to support native pollinators.
Westringia -- Native Rosemary
These hardy shrubs flower almost all year round and are particularly attractive to Blue Banded Bees and Teddy Bear Bees.
The native Westringia attracts and supports long tongued bees such as Blue Banded Bees and Teddy Bear Bees over a long period.
For More Detailed Recommendations.
The best flower species to choose for your bee-friendly garden depends on where you live in Australia and what your local climate is like. For more ideas, download this free 330 page guide by Mark Leech of the Australian Government RIRDC: Bee Friendly - A Planting Guide for European Honeybees and Australian Native Pollinators.
And why not set up some Bee Hotels to provide nesting sites for your local solitary bees too? Read Aussie Bee's Guide to Setting Up a Bee Hotel.
Small Succulent Garden for the Birds and Butterflies
This small space succulent garden from Cindy Davison of The Succulent Perch is incredible! You don’t have to have a lot of space to have an amazing succulent garden.
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On a trip to San Diego I had the pleasure of being invited to visit Cindy Davison’s (of The Succulent Perch) garden.
I’ve always admired Cindy’s succulent creations and was fortunate enough to have her create some for my book, Idiot’s Guide: Succulents. When I heard about her garden redesign and saw her pictures of it, I knew I wanted to see it in person.
So often the much admired succulent gardens are massive and require a dedicated gardener (or two, or three…) to maintain.
However, Cindy’s garden is so practical and well designed, and completely awe inspiring. It’s not huge but it’s so beautiful!
So, enough of my rambling, you’re ready to see it for yourself, right?
The front of her house has beautiful beds overflowing with succulents. It’s very inviting. Plus, right off the bat you start to see signs of Cindy’s fascination with birds. Notice the birdbath full of succulents to add more height to the succulent display.
She also created a beautiful hanging planter using cork board and greening pins to attach the succulents and then filled in the rest of the space with sphagnum moss. The driftwood and large Echeveria ‘Sahara’s make for a stunning focal point.
When you first enter the side yard you’re greeted by this trickling fountain and terra cotta pot of succulents. You’ll notice that contrasting colors are used throughout the garden. Here, reds and oranges are complimented with blues and greens.
I love how much thought goes in to every part of Cindy’s designs.
She is very aware of how colors work together, how to make the size of everything feel balanced and proprotioned, and finishes off with perfect accents.
These cacti are planted in pots and then placed in the ground to keep them small and contained. It’s like having a small arrangement but with the pot hidden it blends in nicely with the surrounding landscape.
The wood planter boxes are all surrounded with succulents, especially by the corners so you don’t get too close and bump into them.
Cindy is also great at keeping things natural and organic and has included a grow box full of greens that can easily be picked and eaten. The “trellis” here is actually a table with the legs removed and turned on it’s side. Genius!
Really, everything about this garden is adorable.
She has included little hints of birds and butterflies every where, some large and obvious but some more subtle, like a treasure hunt.
And if all the birdhouses, bird baths and miniatures aren’t enough, she even has a cute “trash can” that doubles as decor. I’ve been on a lookout for something as fun as this wood pail, but haven’t found anything yet.
It’s hard to really show you the scale of this garden, but it’s not big. Two people can walk down the path at the same time, but there’s not a lot of extra space.
I think that’s one (of many) things that makes her garden resonate so well with me.
It’s very simple and doable for anyone!
Those of us window sill and porch gardeners wouldn’t need much more space to create something like this.
I love the addition of the chimenea so you can enjoy a fresh cooked meal while sitting among your plants.
The plant choice for the garden definitely features succulents, but Cindy has also included plants that will attract birds, bees and butterflies, like this milkweed. Though we didn’t see any at the time, there were some Monarch cocoons hanging on nearby succulents.
While the plants are stunning, and definitely the most exciting feature of the garden, I am also a bit obsessed with the way Cindy used gravel to add more visual interest within the garden.
She used three different sizes of gravel in the same color family. Larger right around the succulents, medium sized just out from that, and then the majority was the size of coarse sand. It’s like having a matted picture, but in your garden.
Speaking of pictures… Cindy has a large photo hanging on the side of her house, just above the air conditioning unit. Rather than try to hide the unit she embraced it and decorated around it.
The large picture is so fun and make the garden feel like an extension of the house.
She has also decorated the air conditioner with a succulent arrangement, just like you would a table inside!
One of my consistently favorite succulents (I have a lot and it really depends on the day) is Sedum clavatum. As I was photographing this beauty, Cindy told me this was her very first succulent! It’s amazing how one plant can completely change your life…
I left Cindy’s garden feeling so uplifted and inspired! I can’t wait to do something like this in my future home. It gave me some ideas for how to spruce up any apartment or home we rent, so I’ll be sure to show you those one I do them.
If you want to see more of Cindy’s beautiful work, check out my book, Idiot’s Guides: Succulents or head over to her Facebook page where she shares photos of her arrangements and design tips for creating your own.
Getting Over the Fear of Bugs
Or rather, getting over the fear of the unknown.
Most bugs are harmless, yet a majority of us are brought up in a society that says, “Don’t touch that!” So we don’t.
At the same time, we don’t learn. And then fear sets in. What would happen if you touched an insect with your bare hands?
Would it be slimy, would it bite, would it give you a rash? Not that you should blindly pick up everything that crosses your path, but never let fear get in the way of learning all there is to know about crawling bugs, caterpillars and other flying insects.
Your yard can be a place to learn about and reconnect with nature, if you just invite nature in.
Some insects do sting. Others, like hoverflies, only mimic the appearance of bees and wasps. When they land on you they do no harm. Unless you consider their ticklish tongue as they taste some minerals from your skin offensive.
On the other hand, some types of fuzzy caterpillars can give you a rash just from touching them. So it’s best to leave fuzzy caterpillars where you find them.
Now is the time to learn how to recognize beneficial insects and teach your knowledge to everyone who cares to listen. Children included.
Instead of swatting anything that looks dangerous, take a step back and let them go on their way. If you find spiders in your home, catch them in a container and return them outdoors.
It’s all about intention.
Be kind to nature and it will be kind to you.
So, what are you waiting for?
Make your own list of plants you can grow in your backyard to attract bees, butterflies and beneficial insects, then source the seeds or plant material to get started.
A diverse and slightly wild yard will become a pleasure to you as well as your new insect inhabitants.
Plant when the weather is right and wait to see the diverse visitors that arrive.
If you don’t have any room for more plants in your garden, why not try building a bug hotel instead?