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Adding Value To The Business of Cropping

Trees for bees — keeping bees healthy

Learning Intentions:

    Students will be able to:
  • describe why honey bees, bumble bees and native bees are important to humans and ecosystems
  • discuss the problems bees encounter today and how we can help them
  • name and recognise some trees and shrubs that bees benefit from
  • plan to grow some trees (or other plants) for bees.

Why are bees important?

Imagine not being able to eat raspberries, apples, pears, pumpkins or carrots! 

Humans would struggle to survive without hard working bees and their pollination services because:

  • one mouthful in three that we eat depends on them
  • three quarters of the variety of foods we eat depend on them.

Even producing meat and milk would be a struggle, since the clover in pastures that sheep and cows eat needs to be pollinated by bees. So, eating would be truly boring without bees!

Thousands of other species of trees, shrubs and smaller plants rely on bees as their main pollinators too. No pollinators, no seed, no future generations of these plants!

Why are bees struggling?

If you were being poisoned or attacked by nasty bugs and didn't have enough to eat, you would probably be very unhealthy. Bees are the same. They can be harmed by some sprays, and by the increasing numbers of pests and diseases of bees that are arriving in the country. And, most important, in some New Zealand landscapes there are fewer good food sources available because there are fewer flowering plants. 

Bees need a good range of flowers throughout the year, especially in spring when growing numbers of new offspring need pollen. Not enough food leads to bees becoming malnourished, weaker, stressed, and the queens laying fewer eggs. Then the bees don't do as well pollinating crops and other plants. 

How can we help bees?

We can all help bees by supplying the best possible range of pollen and nectar all year round. We do this by planting trees, shrubs and smaller plants whose flowers attract bees. We can be anywhere in New Zealand and still make a difference, as honey bees will find your plants from 6 km away! Even big heavy bumble bees will travel 1.5 km in search of food!

Honey bee collecting pollen in pollen baskets on hind legs.

Bumble bee with proboscis out having just fed on nectar.

What plants are best for bees?

The best plants to grow are those that attract lots of bees. However, they should not be weed species. The following links show you what plants are best and how to plant them. Learn about them so you can create a planting plan that offers bees a continuous supply of pollen and nectar.

Related resources

Introduced trees for bees Spotter Guide

Native 'trees for bees' Spotter Guide

Selecting trees for bees Activity

Flowers for bees

Pollinator pulling power

Pollinators in New Zealand

External resources

Trees for bees by New Zealand region (Colourful guides with lists)

Planting in gardens: hints and lists

Planting on farms: hints and lists

Star performers list (the very best bee plants)

Picture credits: All photos (Peter E Smith, NSIL).