Sting allergy? Follow these smart planting tips to keep bees away from your backyard.
By Sarah F. Ehrhardt
Bees are vital to plant reproduction and food supply. If you’re allergic to their stings, though, or have small children who are, just hearing that drone can send you rushing indoors. But through careful plantings, you can create beautiful outdoor spaces naturally, without inviting bees to your party.
Color is one way to discourage bees naturally. Some colors—white, orange, yellow, purple and blue—tend to attract bees, while red is less appealing. So make it a point, when choosing flowers, to look for reds like these: Cinnamon Red Hots dianthus, Figaro Red Shades dahlia and Caliente Deep Red geranium.
The herb feverfew is a notable exception to the color guideline. Despite its white daisy-like flowers, bees detest its fragrant leaves and won’t go near it.
Think, too, about the shape of the blossoms. Wide, open-shaped flowers make ideal landing pads for bees; narrow, tubular blossoms prevent access to the nectar they seek. Some great examples of perennials with tubular flowers are cardinal flower, trumpet vine, fuchsia and crocosmia.
Look for red cultivars of cardinal flower and crocosmia and you can attract hummingbirds and butterflies, too! Both species enjoy the nectar of tubular-flowering plants.
Beyond the Bloom
Think past flowers when considering what to plant in a bee-free area; many plants have gorgeous leaves and stems. You’ll find a multitude of ornamental grasses available that sway in summer breezes and turn radiant colors in the fall. Because they pollinate by wind, they’re not attractive to bees.
Shenandoah switch grass has a reddish tint to the leaves and dainty seed heads that float lightly at the tips of the stems from late summer to early fall. The feathery plume heads of Korean feather reed grass will grow 3 to 4 feet tall and hold up nicely through the winter months for garden interest.
Other non-bloomers to consider in your bee-free garden are evergreens. Their varied textures, colors and sizes make them a key accessory in a well-planned landscape. Sargent’s weeping hemlock can make an excellent focal point in a shady spot, with its feathery needles draping gracefully down to the surrounding garden. Blue star juniper will thrive in a hot, sunny location. This vivid blue evergreen grows in a short mound and is perfect in a rock garden setting.
Leafy perennials that provide texture and color include ferns and ginger. Ferns propagate by spores, so bees have no interest in them. Consider Japanese painted fern, with green and burgundy red leaves splashed with silvery shimmers. (Bonus: Hungry neighborhood rabbits will skip right past this shade-loving plant.) Other members of the fern family offer different heights and textures. Wild ginger has glossy, deep green leaves that are somewhat heart-shaped. It makes a wonderful shady ground cover, and is especially appealing when mixed with different ferns and shade-loving evergreens like the weeping hemlock.
- Avoid planting fruit trees; both the blossoms and the ripe or rotting fruit will attract bees and wasps.
- Likewise, cover beverages and other sugary substances when eating outdoors; bees are looking for nectar and pollen for food, and they don’t care if it’s not from a flower.
- Take care to clear dead branches and trees, which can harbor bees, as well as standing water.
These ideas are no substitute for carrying an EpiPen, of course. But with careful planning, you can encourage bees to find more welcoming gardens elsewhere, leaving you to “bee free” to enjoy your yard.