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Gardening for Honey Bees
Sweet Almond

Gardening for Honey Bees

PLANT TALK
Mike Malloy
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Passifloria incense host plant

Passifloria incense host plant

Honey bees are more important than you think. One-third of all food consumed in the United States is pollinated by honey bees, and hundreds of crops rely on the tiny honey bee for pollination. The value of those crops is estimated at $15 billion annually. Truth “bee” told, the future of the American agricultural industry depends on the honey bee.

The demise of the honey bee is a very complex issue. Since 2006, U.S. beekeepers have seen about one-third of their honey bee colonies disappear due to Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon caused by a number of factors including parasitic mites and viral and pesticide poisoning. This is not a doomsday article about the future of farming or agriculture. My goal is to educate gardeners on the importance of planting bee-friendly plants, which are critical to the survival of the honey bee and other precious pollinators.

Honey bees are industrious, tireless and hardworking. Hence, the term “busy bee.” Their sole mission is to collect pollen. Seriously, they are not stalking you in the garden! When I’m sipping my morning cup of coffee out in the garden, there are so many bees buzzing around that I’d swear there are high-voltage cables dangling over my head. And guess what? I have never been stung throughout the many years I’ve spent gardening. As long as you don’t bother honey bees, they won’t bother you.

Up close and personal with a honey bee.

Up close and personal with a honey bee.

People around town know me as the “Naples’ Butterfly Guy,” and I’ve been happily butterfly gardening for many years. Butterflies are another important pollinator in nature. In addition to their natural beauty, they also play a big part in the pollination of crops and flowers.

Here are my favorite honey bee-friendly plants, which will also be popular stopovers for butterflies and hummingbirds visiting your garden. My number one favorite is Vitex the Chaste Tree. There are two different species. One features white and the other blue flowers. On both species, the leaves are shaped like marijuana leaves (Oh My!). It’s loaded with happy honey bees all spring, summer and fall. My second favorite is Vitex trifolia. This coastal shrub or small tree is special because the top side of the leaf is green and the bottom side is a silver-purple. When the wind blows, it’s spectacular.

In the category of favorite bush, I’m going to go with Fire bush. It comes in native, dwarf and glabra varieties. Another honey bee-friendly recommendation is Sweet Almond (Aloysia virgata). It’s extremely fragrant and blooms year-round. I have at least four in my garden right now. I can personally attest that all of these plants will attract honey bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden.

Honey bees at work. PHOTOS BY MIKE MALLOY

Honey bees at work. PHOTOS BY MIKE MALLOY

Here are a few more of my favorites:

• Pentas
• Yellow Alder
• Blanket Flower
• Shrimp Plants
• Porter weeds
• Elderberry
• Lantana

And the list goes on.

One last thing: Pesticides are obviously not honey bee-friendly. So stop using them. After you allow your garden to return to its natural state, Mother Nature will take over with a little help from live ladybugs. Protecting the honey bee population is in everyone’s best interest.

KEEP BUTTERFLYING or KEEP HONEY BEEING!

About The Author

Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, 
www.naplesbutterfly.com

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