Dec. 23, 2021

Planning your Gardens for Bees (053)

Planning your Gardens for Bees (053)

Jim has finally taken to heart the old saying, “Plant a flower - Feed a bee” and wants to add some plants to his yard that will not only feed bees, but add beauty to his landscape. But Jim’s a hard-core entomologist and hasn’t spent a lot of...

Jim has finally taken to heart the old saying, “Plant a flower - Feed a bee” and wants to add some plants to his yard that will not only feed bees, but add beauty to his landscape. But Jim’s a hard-core entomologist and hasn’t spent a lot of time studying the how’s and why’s and where’s of creating his semi-urban plain old lawn into a Garden of Earthly Delights.

Lucky for Jim, Kim went to college to learn those exact skills and has offered to give him a hand. He guides Jim in finding out what resources are at hand, what city rules and regulations he may have to follow, and what to do, and especially what not to do relative to his neighbors – both next door and across the street.

This is the first of a three part series on getting all of this done, starting out with what can and can’t you do, followed by what and how and where exactly is it that you want to do all this, exactly, and finishing up with what will you plant, and why and when and will it bloom when I want it to and make sure it isn’t a weed.


We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2021 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 53 – Planning Your Gardens for Bees

Jim Tew: Kim, every year, I see people with these really nice flower plantings. Sometimes they're small up against the house, sometimes they're down around their mailbox. They really look nice, and they look effortless. I don't know how they're doing that. As best I can, I'd like to copy it. Can you help me? What should I be doing right now to get started to do this better next spring?

Kim Flottum: Jim, one thing I'll pull back on is the effortless part. [chuckles]

Jim: Oh okay. [chuckles]

Kim: They're seldom effortless. With some good planning, you can make them almost effortless and end up with a good display in your yard.

Jim: Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Kim: I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: We're coming to you today from Honey Bee Obscura, where I want to talk to Kim about how to set up some simple flower garden plantings in my backyard for me and my bees to enjoy.

Kim: Jim, I'm happy to help you. You know that I got into bees because I was already into flowers, so I think I can help you out here.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeeping issues, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Kim: It's winter right now as we're talking about this, so now is the time to get started. I'm going to give you an assignment, all right?

Jim: All right.

Kim: What I want you to do is when we're done here today, you and Vallie sit down. Vallie is your wife. You and valley sit down, and you draw out your lot, your yard, and your house, and your bee house, and where trees are now. You take a look at it, and you say, "Okay, what do we want to do?" Is this stuff that you want to look at and your neighbors won't see, stuff that you and your neighbors can see, or stuff that only your neighbors can see? You think that out first. Then the next thing you do is you say, "Okay, I'm going to go out and I'm going to take some pictures of what is right now." This is a good time of year to do it because you don't have leaves and all of the trees and the shrubs and everything around you. You can see everything.

Jim: Oh, you can. All the junk and everything is right there.

Kim: Yes, and that too.


Kim: You draw out your lot and you know where things are. You go out you take pictures of it. Then you sit down, and you take a look at the pictures, and you take a look at the drawing you did and you say, "Okay, what do I want to do here and where do I want to do it now?" The question is, what do you want to do and what are you planting for? I'm going to ask you that. What do you want the plants that you're going to put in the ground to do for you?

Jim: This is going to sound odd to maybe you and the listeners, but these plants, they are for me. I want them just to enjoy seeing other insects, butterflies, whatever, my bees. Then lastly, I want to be able to photograph my bees doing their thing on these plants. Yes, there'll be some nectar and pollen there, but that's not why I'm planting, I'm planting for aesthetic value.

Kim: Okay. Well, then that narrows it down. It makes it simpler actually. The next thing to think about is you've got access to the Ohio State University there. I'm going to bet there's a whole list of publications that will tell you flowers that deer don't eat, rabbits don't eat, gophers don't eat.

Jim: Well, that's true.

Kim: Your county extension agent has probably got a book on it. Get a hold of that information, so you know what not to plant so that you have flowers to look at and bees and butterflies to visit. You don't come up some morning and they're all gone because some hungry deer walked through your yard. That, again, begins to shorten your list a little bit.

Jim: I want to say right away that you're spot-on. I don't know when to ask about fencing, but I've got a significant groundhog problem. One of those animals that are named in other states, woodchucks, whistle pigs - these things - they burrow and tunnel so that we're just constantly at odds with each other. They eat everything I put up out there that's young and tender. Should I got to have fencing, or you're restricted to planting things that they just don't want to eat?

Kim: You got a couple of choices. Fencing is probably the easiest and the safest. Some people would consider trapping, I don't. Some people would consider trapping and you can look at that. I'm going to bet that you can find somebody who would just love to come in and trap all your groundhogs because they're collecting pelts. There's an option you might want to consider. I want to go back to what you're going to plant, flowers you want to look at.

Jim: Right.

Kim: Think of this and take a look at your yard diagram and the pictures that you took. Try to imagine where the annuals that you're going to plant are going to go because they're going to be there one year. If they don't like them, you can plant something else next year, all right? You're going to plant some annuals. You're going to plant some perennials perhaps, shrubs, and low ground covers, and those sorts of things that'll be there for several years. It may take a couple of years for them to get big enough to blossom. Is patience part of your problem or part of the solution for you when it comes to these flowers?

The third thing to look at is trees and flowering trees. Again, you've got deer problems. You can protect them pretty much from deer wrapping and what have you or fencing, all of those things you can do, depending on how much energy you got. You're going to look at that plot that you laid out and you're going to say, "I'd like a row of trees here. It wouldn't get in the line of sight of my neighbors. It wouldn't get in the line of sight of the road to go in front of my house, but I'd be able to see them sitting in my living room every day," that sort of thing, right?

Jim: Yes, good.

Kim: You now are looking at where you're going to put some annuals, where you're going to put some perennials, and where you're going to perhaps put some trees. Now, one thing to keep in mind as you're doing this is time of blossom. This is going to take some research on your part. If you do it right, you can be sitting in that chair in your living room and you can look at something blossoming from the 1st of April until the 1st of September.

You can have blossoms all spring and summer long if you plan it right, so take a look at that plot, where are things going to go so that I can always have-- I don't care if it's raining. I don't care if it's cold. I don't care if it's too hot. I can sit in my chair, and I can look out the window and, bang, there's something blooming, or I can sit at the dining room table and there's something. That's what you've got the plot for. People don't think about that very often, but you want to plan ahead.

Jim: Well, listen, but stop, stop, stop. On this plot, do I have to worry about any city regulations? Can you put a flower garden brought up on the property line or do I need to go explore setbacks and city regulations on where you can put this plot? Do I need to talk to my neighbor first and say, "This is going to affect you too because you got to see this thing"? What obligations do I have to my near neighbors and their property--

Kim: Well, I have to step ahead of me because that's where I was going next.

Jim: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

Kim: It's okay. It's like having bees in your yard. First, is it legal in your town? Second, do your neighbors care? Third, can I get out there often enough to take care of them? Well, it's the same thing with flowers believe it or not. Is it legal to put them where you want to put them? Is your neighbor going to care if you put them there or somewhere else? Is it going to be so much work that you're not going to get it done and it'll end up being an eyesore?

What you do is you take that plot that you drew up and you sketch in where you want, what kind of plants, and you go over and you talk to your neighbor and say, "I'm thinking of doing this. What do you think?" You go talk to your zoning people and you take that map down there. You talk to your zoning people, and you say, "What are the rules and regulations about how close I can be to property lines? If I plant a tree here and it tips over in a windstorm and it takes up my neighbor's car, what's my liability?" those sorts of things, all right?

Jim: Yes.

Kim: When you're done with all that, it'll be about a month from now. It'll take you that long to get all of this done. Then you know what you're going to plant, where you're going to plant it, and how it's going to be placed in your yard, so it looks good for you and it looks good for your neighbors and the city zoning police don't care.

Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura Podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed because many Betterbee employees or beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalogs to their supportive beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of "Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers." See for yourself at

Jim: I just wanted to plant a few flowers. Now, I've got zoning police involved. I've got neighbors involved. You're beginning to intimidate me.

Kim: [laughs]

Jim: At this point, give me some moral support about how good this is going to work out and how good this is going to look when it's done.

Kim: If you do most of what we just talked about, it'll look great. Your neighbors will be happy and nobody else will care. You'll have flowers to look at most of the summer. If you don't want to put them in so that you have blooms from April to September, you're going to put in fewer or you'll have breaks in the bloom schedule. When you're sitting in your chair, there'll be a time in July when something isn't blooming because it's hot and dry, and then it'll come up when it cools off a little bit. You can look at all of those things and say, "How much work do I want to do?" You just hit it on the head. How many colonies of bees you're going to be working this summer?

Jim: I'm still making that up as I go along. 10 or so, but something.

Kim: You still got all this lawn to mow that you don't like mowing very much. You've got these bees to take care of that take time and effort and money.

Jim: I got to paint my shop. There's a whole list of things. It's okay though, Kim, because every year, I get younger. Every year, these tasks get easier. Keeping the grass cut, pulling the weeds, trimming the edge, painting the shop. This is why I said in my outset, this can't be labor-intensive because I'm already pretty top-heavy. My doomsday plan, Kim - shoot a hole in this. If I get out there and do this work, you're describing and this thing blows up, then I just rototill it down and plant grass and life goes on, right?

Kim: If you do it right, that should work pretty well. In fact, if you do it right, what you're going to have is a stretch of mulch. You can rototill that in, throw in grass seed, water, and you'll be done. You'll have a nice fertile piece of ground. One of the other things to do when you go down and get that book on what eats the plants you want to plant, deer, and whatever, ask your county extension person about soil tests.

Jim: I hadn't thought of that.

Kim: They'll know, and some extension offices have soil testing probes that you can borrow. Most of them don't, but some of them do. If you don't have one, I got one you can borrow.

Jim: Hold up now. This is things I'm doing in preparation. This is background work. This is where I'm going to have it laid out. I've got my pictures. We haven't talked about what I'm going to do, killing grass, rototilling, whatever, but we'll get to that at some point. This is everything so far, is me making up my mind and getting ready.

Kim: Yes, and you haven't lifted a shovel full of dirt and you haven't even worked up a sweat.

Jim: Good. That part is working well so far then.

Kim: [laughs] That's what you're going to do in this winter. It's the "getting ready."

Jim: I was going to say, review for me.   What should I do between now and the next time we talk about this next month or so? I should be deciding what I want to do. Go from there with me.

Kim: Okay, all right. You want to plant some flowers and you want to be able to enjoy them. You want to be able to see what you've planted blooming, where you spend time looking at them. If it's in your living room in your easy chair, if it's on a deck, if it's out in the backyard, wherever it is that you spend time that you want to see plants. It may be three or four places. Don't get me wrong here. You figure that out.

Then once you got that figured out, where are you going to plant these things and what are you going to plant? You said flowers. There's annuals and perennials and trees. You take a look at that plot of land, and you take a look at the pictures that you took, and you say, "A couple of three small crab apples would look really nice here in the spring and I can get three crab apples that'll bloom early middle and late spring." I've got constant bloom out there.

Then you go out and you say, "Okay, I know what I'm going to put over here. I'll go take a soil sample. I know what I'm going to put over here and I'll take a soil sample and I know what I'm going to put over here." You take those samples down or you won't take them to the extension office. You take them to the soil and water people in your county. They will get you the results of what you need to do. Like I said, you haven't put a shovel in the dirt yet. You haven't worked up a sweat.

Jim: I didn't know it took all this preparation work, but it's good to know, Kim, and it's good to do it right. I understand that.

Kim: Well, the preparation work isn't hard. It doesn't take a lot of time and it's going to save you a boatload of trouble and work down the road. You're a woodworker. You know, "Measure twice, cut once"?

Jim: Right.

Kim: It's the same sort of thing. Next time, we'll start taking a look at you'll know where you're going to want stuff.

Jim: Next time when we talk about the next phase, plowing and tearing and reaping and seeding, I'll be better informed then. The good news is I have new neighbors. They're young people and they're eager, so I think I'm off to a good start.

Kim: Well, one of the things to do between now and then also is to look at the plants you want to put in there. I just mentioned three kinds of crab apples. You want early, mid, and late spring flowering crab apples. You're not planting these for food. The birds will take care of all the crab apples that you put on those trees. Maybe some deer. We'll have to take a look at that when we get there. What kind of annuals do you want? Do you want big, tall ones, little, short ones? Same thing with perennials. Then when do they bloom? Next time we talk, I'll give you some ideas on the plants you can consider putting once you know where you're going to put them, once you know what you want where.

Jim: Good. That way if I'm buying plants, I don't have to worry about buying seed right now and having them shipped in.

Kim: Well, you've got a pretty big piece of land and you could put in one of these seedbeds if you wanted to. Just a wildflower mix from one of the pollinator seed companies. You could do that. You could make it look good and your neighbors would like it and everybody would be happy. When you're looking at this plot of land, keep that in the back of your mind. I don't ever go to this piece of land out in the back there by the fence. My neighbors spend some time out there, but not very much, and I can see it from the deck.

Jim: Oh, that's good. A little bit overwhelmed, but I'll get over it.

Kim: Okay. [laughs]

Jim: I'm certainly looking forward to phase two because phase one is more than I was expecting, but I can get through it, Kim. It's all right. It's okay.

Kim: Well, if you run into a hiccup, give me a ring. I'll come down and we'll see if we can work through it.

Jim: I would love that. I've got two tillers for a vegetable garden. I don't put it anymore. I think you and I would look good. Kim and Jim tilling for the bees. Hey, I am serious about this. I appreciate what you've done so far. I will keep our listeners updated on this. I hope they explore too and tell us what they're doing for seedbeds and flower beds and keep us informed on how we're all working together for the bigger picture, not just the bees.

Kim: Yes, okay, good.

Jim: Thanks a lot.

Kim: Well, then, I will catch you next time.

Jim: Okey-doke. Bye-bye.