Honey Bee habitats are all the elements needed to sustain a healthy colony of bees. From man-made hives, natural bee nests, gardens, meadowgrass, flowering plants, orchards, woodlands, water sources, dead stumps, tree cavities and more, there are many varying elements needed for a thriving bee habitat.
Wild bee habitats are very different compared to domesticated beehives. So, in this post, we’ll cover the natural and manmade elements that your bee population would benefit from having access to. From the types of hives, plant and flower varieties, threat reduction, and much more.
Here’s a quick habitat checklist to ensure you foster a happy and healthy honey bee colony. Scroll below to learn more about individual recommendations.
The Difference Between Hives and Nests
Bee hives are human-made structures where honey bee colonies make their homes. They’re called hives only if the structure was meant to house bees.
Click here to see the most common types of bee hives.
Usually, only honey bees live in hives because other bees don’t have any commercial value. Local beekeepers are always happy to collect a swarm (a group without a nest) of honey bees from populous inconvenient areas and put them in an unused honey beehive.
Meanwhile, bee nests are naturally occurring bee habitats. Bumblebees, wasps, carpenter bees, mason bees, and all other subspecies create nests to survive.
NOTE: Honeybees create nests as well. These wild bee colonies can be captured and moved by experienced beekeepers.
Primary Needs For Honey Bee Habitats
The USDA has provided a graphic to showcase what elements can help support both domesticated and wild bees.
Bee Nest or Bee Hive
Bees need a solid home to call their own. It’s the place where they produce, lay eggs, tend to their larvae, and stay safe from threats or predators. Without one, the colony will not survive.
Besides predators, common threats to hives and nests are natural conditions like rain, flooding, and wind. For this reason, hives and nests are typically raised above the ground. Beekeepers place hives on stands, while nests are often found on tree limbs.
Bees need ample sources of nectar and pollen to produce honey. A single bee will visit up to 5,000 flowers daily to collect enough nectar and pollen. So, regarding how much access to wildflowers and plants a colony will need, it’s safe to say the more, the merrier.
Below you’ll find a large list of perennials, annuals, shrubs, and trees that your colonies will love. Also, click here if you’d like to know which plants repel bees from specific areas of your property.
Bees need a consistent source of drinking water to stay hydrated and keep the colony cool during hot conditions. For this reason, nests are always near rivers, ponds, lakes, or even man-made sources like pools.
Beekeepers ensure they place their hives nearby water sources and even provide additional bee watering stations to maintain the health of their hives.
Trees and/or Orchards Near By (within 5-10 miles)
Some tree species can provide bees with a source of nectar and pollen. Plus, some species are a good source of propolis – a substance bees use to fill crevices, seal hives, and disinfect the hive.
Bees are also important pollinators for commercial orchards in North America. Orchard owners often bring in several hives to propagate their trees throughout the season. Or they may establish their own hives and use some of the wild bee nest support tips mentioned below.
For instance, snag trees and dead branches are great nest locations, so maintaining some dead tree elements can benefit the solitary bee population. Scroll below to learn more about natural nest creation.
Low Threat Level
Common bee predators include snakes, bears, hive beetles, mites, wasps, bee-eating birds, crab spiders, and hive beetles. And these predators aren’t just seeking sweet honey. Some will eat the colony’s larvae, pupae, or bees.
For this reason, reducing the threat level as much as possible for your beehive or native wild nests is important. Common deterrents are; fenced-in hives, hive stands, live traps, spike strips, robbing screens, entrance reduction, and natural deterrents like urine or oils from the predators of your predators.
Low fertilizer and pesticide levels
We hope this goes without saying, but fertilizers and pesticides in and around a bee habitat can cause major colony health and honey production issues.
When establishing a colony, do your best to survey local farmland and private residence use of pesticides and fertilizers.
IMPORTANT - Avoid using neonicotinoids like Imidacloprid. These types of insecticides have been found to be very toxic for bees. Some packaged garden compost may include these types of insecticides, so try to use your own compost.
Best Plants & Trees For A Honey Bee Habitat
The best way to create a bee-friendly garden is to have a wide range of plants that will have a consistent flowering period – especially from March to September.
But note, the size of your garden is not important here. Your bees will travel 6 miles per day to collect nectar and pollen.
Even a tiny little city garden can do the trick and bring in native pollinators if you select the right plants. Here are the types of plants you can plant to make your garden a pleasant attraction for pollinators – and of course, avoid using pesticides.
Hot Tip: If you’re worried about the lack of bee food sources in your area, you can always consider alternative bee food sources noted in this article.
Bee Friendly Perennials
Perennial flowers are more attractive to bees than annuals. All types, from showy flowers to herbs, are great options.
These perennials and herbs can be found in most nurseries and gardens:
- Blazing star
- Coral bells
- Trout lily
Bee Friendly Annuals
Annual flowers have been bred for showy flowers or vigorous growth – and do not produce enough pollen and nectar to be good food plants for your pollinators.
But there are a few great options to consider;
- Blue-eyed grass
Bee Friendly Shrubs
Shrubs are an excellent food source for bees because they flower much large than perennials. Popular shrub options are:
- Common witch-hazel
- False indigo
- Mock orange
- St. Johns-wort
- Winter honeysuckle
Bee Friendly Trees
Trees are the amplest food source for your honeybee population because of their large size and thousands of flowers. A blooming linden provides so much pollen and nectar that it dwarfs the amount produced by most garden flowers.
However, trees only bloom for two to three weeks. A succession of trees blooming from early spring through summer is useful for pollinators. Popular trees are
- Black locust
- Redhorse chestnut
- Red maple
Although these don’t produce nectar, bees use them as an abundant pollen source.
Bees also visit pines and sources to gather propolis – a sticky substance they use to fill crevices, seal hives, and disinfect stuff. Worker bees also routinely visit several wind-pollinated angiosperms to collect pollen.
They collect pollen from wind-pollinated trees mainly because of favorable nutritional values, the large amount of pollen produced, or because it is available at times of scarcity. Popular options include;
Fun Fact: There are over 300 different types of honey because bees collect nectar and pollen from many varieties of plants. Each plant’s unique characteristics, including the surrounding soil, water, and climate, all provide honey with varying flavors and colors.
Consider More Weeds
You may be surprised that many plants we classify as weeds do a brilliant job supporting wild and domesticated bees.
Lawn clovers and even dandelions will attract bees by providing pollen and nectar. For this reason, you may want to consider relaxing your weeding activities in targeted areas of your garden.
Even weeds have a purpose in our incredible ecosystem!
Wild Bee Nest Support
Now, these steps may not be popular, but if finding ways to support your local wild bee population by using natural garden techniques, planting alternative native plants,
Ground Nest Support
Here’s an interesting fact. 70% of native wild bees build nests in the ground. Many are early-season pollinators, which is important for spring perennials and many other early-season plants and trees.
Keeping a neat garden or yard may prevent solitary bees from building ground or cavity nests.
Ground nesting bees form tunnels and establish brood chambers and honeycomb chambers in dry, protected, and hidden cavities below the ground. Often in existing rodent burrows, wood/brush piles, old birdhouses, or under sheds.
The natural habitats that bees find and use to survive are an important element in the ecosystem.
If you’re looking to mulch specific areas of your garden or yard, consider using shredded leaves, compost, or other natural material besides chipped wood mulch.
The goal here is to use a light enough material to allow ground-nesting to occur still.
If wood chip mulch is still preferred, consider targeting only visible areas, leaving uncovered areas bees can still have access to.
Pithy Hollow Stemmed Plants & Grasses
Many wild bees are cavity-nesting, which means they desire native plants with dried stems for uses like nesting sites and overwinter protection.
Consider diversifying away from the showstopping flowers and plants, opting for more grasses, brush, and fruiting plants. Here’s a quick list to consider;
- Joe Pye weed
- Indian Grass
- Prairie Dropseed
- Big Bluestem
- Grama Grass
Adding brush piles to your property is one of the best ways to cultivate a natural ecosystem that can sustain wild bees, beneficial insects, invertebrates, birds, and other wildlife.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… ”ugly looking at brush piles is a hazard.” They attract snakes, are a fire risk, and are a pain in the butt to clean up later.
We recommend strategically placing these smaller brush piles where they may be more hidden. Or build brush fences that hide them from sight.
Temporary homes for wild bees have become a common sighting amongst natural farmers, gardeners, and beekeepers.
The concept is simple. By placing reeds, bamboo, or even cardboard tubes closed at one end, you’re providing safe habitats, nesting sites, and overwinter housing for many species of bees.
For an easy bee hotel option, find a bundle of bamboo reeds and shove dirt into one end of the reeds. Hang the bundles beneath roof overhangs or other sheltered locations. But don’t forget to replace the bundles yearly to prevent pathogens or mites from destroying the colonies.
This is may seem over the top, but this amazing creation combines most of the elements that help support wild bees. From ground nest support, good use of brush and dead logs, bamboo reeds for bee hotels, and even wired fencing to protect the bees from predators.
Plus, it looks so much cooler than a brush pile!
Bee skeps are traditional woven structures that look like overturned baskets. Skeps were one of the first man-made hives meant to domesticate bees for honey production.
Today, beekeepers will often use skeps to help in the collection of swarms. They may not be as commercially viable but they offer beekeepers flexibility due to how lightweight they are.
For more information about skeps and how to use them, click here.
Queen Bee Habitat Tips
The information above is universal for the queen bee, drone, and worker bees, but I feel it’s important to highlight some specific habitat recommendations for the queen bee.
- Suppress all glue, plastic, and paint smells using lemongrass and anise oil.
- Maintain consistent temperature conditions, especially during high and low temp months.
- Block strong winds from moving or shaking the hives.
- Provide proper ventilation but prevent high winds from entering the hive.