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When color matters

  • Blog Post by: Kim Palmer
  • May 6, 2014 - 11:50 AM

I'm a sucker for new colors in the garden. When those black petunias were first introduced a few years back, I was all over them, tucking them in my pots and beds to add visual depth and drama.

A couple years ago, I decided to add more natives and bee-friendly plants to my landscape. I bought some coneflowers, among other things. Naturally, I was attracted to the newer, brighter and more unusual colors -- the vivid magentas and corals -- instead of the plain old light purple coneflowers that everyone else had in their garden. 

But new and unusual isn't better when it comes to providing forage for bees and other pollinators, according to Heather Holm, a Minnetonka landscape designer/consultant and author of the new book, "Pollinators of Native Plants." (www.pollinatorsnativeplants.com)

New cultivars, in eye-candy colors, may catch your eye at the garden center, but they may not appeal to bees at all. "If breeding has changed the flower color, it may not be attractive bees," Holm says. "It may look better to us. But it can change the fragrance or nectar. Stick with straight species, if you can."

Those showy double flowers, too, can make it harder for bees to access nectar. "Stick with simpler forms," Holm says. 

If you really want to help bees, Holm suggests you rethink how a pollinator would see your garden -- "not just doing what you think is the prettiest, with double flowers or brand-new introductions with a cool color."

Bees also need a continuous succession of flowering plants throughout the growing season, Holm notes. "In most gardens there is a gap" -- typically early spring or late fall. So if you want to nurture bees through September and into October, add some fall-flowering plants such as asters and goldenrod. 

Are bees on your garden radar this growing season? Are you doing anything different in your garden to make it more bee-friendly?

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