Short of becoming a beekeeper, what can we do to attract bees to the garden? It's actually quite simple and you might be surprised to find you're already doing some of these:
1.) Plant flowers amid your veggie plants.
Yes vegetable and fruit plants do flower themselves, but by adding flowers here and there around your garden you'll be sure to attract all types of pollinators to your garden.
2.) Plant for a constant supply of flowers:
Once they begin to bloom, plants like Marigolds will bloom continuously till a hard frost. Certain herbs that are used for flowers like Chamomile also bloom continuously. Other flowers bloom more sporadically. Still others like the Hosta only bloom once. Choose early, late and mid-season blooms. Mix it up so that you always have a steady supply of flowers to attract bees to your garden.
3.) Colors, size, shape, texture & smell:
Blue, purple, white and yellow seem to be popular colors for most bees as do flat flowers like daisies. Think of the blooms this way: the easier it is for you to see the center of the flower, the easier it is for the bee to get to the center of the flower which is where the nectar and pollen are. Also, different bees are attracted to different types of flowers. Contrary to popular belief it's not just the honeybees that do the pollinating. Different pollinators are active at different times of the year and actually prefer different types of blooms. I bet you didn't know that sweat bees really like strawberries, bumble bees are great at pollinating tomatoes and mason bees are quite fond of fruit tree blossoms. Having a variety of blooms is a great way to attract a variety of pollinators.
4.) Do not use pesticides:
Hang Japanese beetle bags, put out a shallow bowl of beer for slugs, hand picking tomato horn worms, etc etc....use natural methods to rid your garden of pests. Insect killing sprays do not just kill the bugs you want it to, it's not that selective. If a spray is killing other bugs there's a good chance it's harming the bees too, so just skip it and go with less poisonous means of pest control.
5.) Give them a drink of water:
Bees need a drink of water too, especially on a hot day. Unfortunately most garden water sources like birdbaths are too deep and they risk drowning. You can give bees a water source by putting small rocks into a bowl or shallow pan and adding water till its almost to the top of the rocks. The rocks give them a safe place to land while they get a drink. The closer your bee water bowl is to flowering plants, the easier it will be for them to find.
6.) Bees like the sun:
Plant in a sunny location. Not only do bees like wide open sunny places, but most produce plants do also!
7.) Let some veggies bolt:
This goes for herbs too. Not only does this attract more pollinators but is absolutely necessary when saving seeds of certain plants.
8.) Plant wildflowers:
Natural wildflowers are becoming hard for bees to find these days. If you have an area near by where you can plant local varieties of wildflowers it will definitely help to attract local pollinators to your area. Native wildflowers attract native bees, while more exotic flowers tend to attract honeybees.
9.) Plant in clumps.
Not only does a huge clump of bright flowers act like a homing beacon to bees (they're not colorblind like some other critters) but if all your zucchini are in the same area, it just makes sense that the bees will hop from plant to plant collecting some nectar for themselves and pollinating the flowers for you!
10.) Plant perennials:
Most of the flowering perennials I have planted near my garden bloom earlier then the annuals I add every year. They are also more frost resistant so a late frost won't kill them off like it will with annuals.
Bonus.....There are about 4,000 species of native or wild bees in the continental U.S. 70% of them are ground nesters with only 30% nesting in dead trees and stems. Leaving some undisturbed ground area, and small pile of dead twigs or old firewood can attract bees to nest in the area. Also, an area where native grasses or weeds are allowed to grow undisturbed year round can provide a nice habitat, nesting material and shelter for native bees. Now whether you want bees nesting near your garden and yard or not is up to you but I'm sure you'll agree that bees are an essential part of a healthy productive garden.