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Plants that do not attract bees

monique at bio.tamu.edu monique at bio.tamu.edu
Wed Oct 23 08:54:41 EST 1996

>On the eastern end of Long Island in New York State, I have a client 
>that is allergic to bees and wishes to plant trees, shrubs, perennials, 
>and annuals that do not attract bees.  Please respond with any 
>suggestions and comments that will be helpful.

First, you have to think like a bee... Bees like open or fat-tubular flowers 
they can get themselves into or clusters of little flat flowers they can 
crawl over.  They like day-flowering things that have lots of nectar and 
pollen and that smell good and have attractive flowers.  Thus you will want to 
avoid things like flowering fruit trees, large-flowered mints, roses, poppies, 
etc.  Go to a garden center on a nice day when things are in flower and see 
where the bees are--and then don't use them.

Now, choose plants that have the opposite qualities--they have little tight 
flowers that bees can't get into, they flower at night, they have little 
pollen or nectar, or they have inconspicuous flowers.  Look for 
wind-pollinated trees like oaks, elms, hickories, and birches.  Think about 
conifers for the basic building blocks--trees, shrubs, and ground covers.

Another good idea is to go for things that specifically attract other 
pollinators.  Look through some books on planting a garden designed to attract 
hummingbirds or butterflies--that will give you ideas on showy things that the 
bees won't favor.  Hummingbird flowers are typically red and narrow-tubular.  
Butterfly flowers usually hide their nectar at the bottom of a long tube where 
a bee couldn't  reach.

Consider also ornamental grasses.  They won't draw bees at all, and they can 
be very beautiful.  

If your client (like most of us) works outside the home and is home mostly in 
the evening, consider all the wonderful night-flowering 
plants---night-flowering jasmines, stocks, evening primroses, and so on.

Then you can add interest with water and water plants that have interesting 
foliage but not-interesting-to-bees flowers---things like sedges.

The key to success will be the same as for any other garden---start with a 
good evaluation of the premises and an idea of how the landscape will be 
used.  Then select the appropriate plant material.

Hope this helps,
Monique Reed
Herbarium Botanist
Biology Dept.
Texas A&M University

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