Winter Pruning in the Bee Garden

The Bee Gardener    By Christine Casey     February 8, 2018

The Haven volunteers and I are busy doing winter pruning. I'm often asked about pruning by garden visitors: what to prune, when to do it, and how much to cut back. We prune most of our plants fairly hard to stimulate as much new growth as possible since new growth often produces more flowers. After all, making flowers to feed the bees is what we're all about!

We perform this task every year in late January and into early February. We delay pruning until then to provide forage and cover for the many birds that use the Haven and to ensure that any frost damage is confined to the outer part of the plant. Here's how we prune different types of plants at the Haven.

Herbaceous perennials

These plants are typically cut back to the base, although in the case of plants like milkweed that are late to re-sprout, it can be helpful to leave visible stems so you'll remember where the plant is located. Some examples from the Haven:

The first photo shows calamint, Calamintha nepetoides, just before pruning. You can clearly see last year's dead flower stalks with this year's new growth at the base. Cut the old stalk down to the top of the new growth.

The next picture is sedum 'Autumn Joy', Hylotelephium 'Autumn Joy' just after pruning. Isn't the new growth cute? It looks like tiny heads of lettuce! I prune this plant earlier -- in late fall or early winter -- as the hollow stems make great overwintering sites for beneficial insects like ladybird beetles.

The final example is 'Walker's Low' catmint, Nepeta x faassenii 'Walker's Low'. No need to be gentle with this plant; we prune ours with electric hedge trimmers. The photos show the same patch of plants before and after pruning.  

Calamint before pruning. Note the new growth at the base of the plant.

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NOTE: This is a really good article on gardening for bees.

Buckwheats, June Bee Plant of the Month


THE BEE GARDENER    By Christine Casey   June 2, 2014
Bee gardening news and education from the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven

Some of the best all-around plants for bees and beneficial insects in the California garden are the buckwheats, 
Eriogonum spp. Native to California, a selection of just a few species will provide bloom for most of the spring and summer in even the hottest and driest of gardens. These durable plants grow in full sun to part shade and require well-drained soils; plant them on berms to achieve better drainage in heavy soils.


Spaced Out

By Christine Casey   May 19, 2014

“How many plants do I need?” “How should I space my plants?” are two of the common questions we hear at the Honey Bee Haven when visitors ask about designing their bee gardens. Among the factors ecologists use to evaluate how bees use a floral resource are patch size, floral diversity, and floral density.

Patch size is the area covered by the desired resource (flowering plants) in a habitat that is fragmented. Floral diversity is the number of different species of flowering plants in an area, while floral density is the number of flowering plants in an area.

For honey bees, patch size is key. The scout bees return to the hive and direct their sisters to a good resource. Honey bees are efficient foragers that will visit many flowers on one plant until they have a full load of pollen or nectar. By grouping all plants of a species into a singe patch rather than spreading them around the garden you help honey bees maximize the value of each trip to and from the hive. There is no hard and fast rule for a minimum patch size, although three feet square is an area often recommended by bee biologists.

Bumble bees, on the other hand, tend to move quickly from plant to plant. So large patches of one plant species are less important than dense patches with a diversity of flowering plants.

At the Haven we have examples of both planting styles.



Getting back to the questions posed at the beginning of the post: rather than worrying that you might not have a large enough garden or be able to provide the right mix of plants, just do it! Choose plants that will provide flowers for as much of the year as possible, with as much of the garden as you can planted with flowers. In the Davis area, bees are active year round so the Haven always has something in bloom.   If the garden does include turf areas, which don't provide bee forage or habitat, try to plant your flowers so that they are in a continuous patch.

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