Lavender Plant And Bees: Important Facts to Know

Lavender Plant and bees have a symbiotic relationship where the Lavender supplies the nectar to the bees, and the bees assist the Lavender with pollination. Monofloral honey with a distinct Lavender aroma and taste is a product of this relationship.

Bees feed on nectar and pollen all their lives and can only do this if there are enough flowers to produce this sweet nectar.  Lavender is one plant favored by bees, but what is the attraction?

Why Do Bees Love Lavender

One of the bees’ most favored plants to collect nectar and pollen is the lavender plant. Bees love Lavender for its sweet smell and lovely purple color.  Although Lavender does not have a huge amount of nectar compared to many other flowers, these little insects will choose this flower to forage for food, and here is why:

Bees around lavender

How Do Bees Detect The Smell Of Lavender

Bees can smell the sweet, rich scent of Lavender, and the unique smell of nectar in the Lavender, from a very far distance.   A bee’s sense of smell is about 100 times more sensitive than humans. The bees recognize this scent and fly towards it, sometimes traveling up to six miles away from their hive.

Lavender also has a calming effect on bees as this plant contains the anti-aggressive floral scent of linalool mixed with an odorant known to pacify bees.  As long as the bees can feed off the lavender plant, they remain docile and happy.

Do Bees See The Color Of Lavender

Being able to see is essential for bees as they need to find flowers to collect pollen and nectar.  Bees, like humans, need three wavelengths of light to create different colors.  Bees base their colors on ultraviolet light, blue and green, and according to scientists, are mostly attracted to the colors purple, violet and blue.

This ability to see ultra-violet light gives bees an advantage when seeking nectar as they can see the nectar within the flower’s pattern. The lavender plant has this distinctive nectar guide that can only be seen with ultra-violet light.

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How Do Bees Collect Nectar And Pollen From Lavender

Bees extract nectar from the Lavender plant by landing on and grasping the flowering head and inserting its tongue into the flower to reach the nectaries (where nectar is made) at the base of the flower tube. This task takes about 3.5 seconds to complete as the bee’s tongue is only 6-7mm long, and bees often have to dig deep to reach the nectar.

Each flower contains an average of 0.02 microliters of nectar, and a bee can hold 50 microliters in its honey stomach. This busy little bee would need to visit many Lavender flowers to fill up its tummy.

The bee will then continue to visit all the flowers, and in the process, the flower’s pollen clings to the bee and is carried to and deposited onto the next flower. This action is the natural process of pollination, so bees are helping the Lavender to reproduce.

How Do Bees Make Lavender Honey

Lavender honey

Beekeepers keep their hives close to large fields of Lavender to attract the bees.  Worker bees collect the nectar from the lavender plants and store it in their honey stomach.  This stomach is not a real stomach, and the nectar is not digested unless the bee really needs it.  When the bee returns with this nectar to the hive, it is passed from bee to bee. 

A special enzyme breaks down the sugar in the nectar in the bees’ saliva.  The bees then spit this nectar onto the walls of the honeycomb.  The water in the nectar begins to evaporate, causing the lavender honey to become thicker until it is removed from the hive by the beekeeper. 

The honey is monofloral, which means it has a distinctive flavor and is made from the nectar of a single plant species.   This delectable honey is very light in color and high quality.  It has a distinctive lavender aroma and tastes a bit like a lavender flower.

Keeping Lavender Healthy For Bees

The fragrant lavender plant is well-loved by bees for providing them with nectar during the months of spring to summer.  Follow these guides for caring for your lavender plant to keep these busy bees happy and well-fed:

Temperature And Humidity

Lavender can withstand colder temperatures, and it is the damp and not the temperature that kills lavender plants in the winter months.  Dampness can occur with wet roots during the winter months or high humidity in summer.  Make sure you have lots of space between the plants for airflow and always plant bushes in sunny locations.

If the ground freezes during winter, you could add a layer of mulch after it freezes to protect the roots.

Best Soil

Lavender is best planted in the spring.  It prefers well-drained, slightly alkaline soil (pH between 6.7 and 7.3), and you can add coarse builder’s sand to increase drainage.  Lavender does well when planted in a raised bed along a wall or near the top of a slope. You can plant smaller compact varieties 2 – 3 feet apart to allow air to circulate between plants and prevent fungal disease.

When planting Lavender in pots, use a high-quality potting mix that drains well.  A mix of 30% coarse sand or gravel to 70% organic compostor potting soil is ideal.  To raise the pH to slightly alkaline, add a tablespoon of garden lime to the mix.

Water Guide

Water newly planted Lavender every second day for the first week after planting and then every three days until they are established.  Then reduce the watering to at least once a week in summer.  Always water lavender deeply to encourage roots to grow down and establish.

Lavender in pots should be watered once a week during the growing season and once every two weeks after that.  Overwatering the plant can lead to fungal disease and root rot.

Light Requirements

Field of lavender

Lavender needs full sun to grow at its best with big full bushes and lots of buds.  Prune back tall shrubs that block the sun from your Lavender or use light-colored mulch (straw or white rock) to reflect sunlight to your plant.  If you plant the Lavender along a fence, painting the fence white will reflect sunlight.

When To Fertilize

Lavender plants do not require much fertilizing.  When planting Lavender into the garden the first time, add a handful of compost into the prepared hole.  After that, it is not necessary to fertilize.

Pruning The Lavender Plant

Pruning is recommended during spring to encourage new growth.  Cut back tall varieties approximately one-third of their height.  Lower growing plants can be pruned a couple of inches or cut down to new growth. 

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How To Keep Lavender Blooming For Bees

To attract the bees, keeping lavender flowering abundantly is important. A few tips to remember for growing beautiful blooms are:

  • Be mindful of soil that is too fertile, promoting green foliage and not much bud production.  Add sand gravel to aerate the soil and make it less nutritious.
  • Ensure that the Lavender is getting at least six to eight hours of sunlight per day.  If not, then cut back any surrounding foliage that is overshadowing it.
  • Pruning your plant each spring will result in more frequent and fuller blooming as the new buds stimulate the growth process.

Pests And Diseases That Affect Lavender

Lavender is plagued by major pests such as spittlebugs, whiteflies, and aphids.  The best way to rid the Lavender of these pests is to wash the plant with a strong water spray such as a water hose.  Reflective mulches can also be placed at the base of the plant to repel these pests.

Diseases of the Lavender plant are:

  • Black Root Rot – the leaves become yellow, and the plant looks wilted.  This disease is caused by fungus in the soil due to insufficient sunlight and soil that is not well-drained. To get rid of Black Root Rot, prune away wilting leaves, stems, and flowers.  Treat the plant with an organic fungicide.  
  • Alfalfa Mosaic Virus- causes bright yellow patches on leaves and stems.  Remove and burn infected plants to prevent spreading.  Controlling the Aphid population will help prevent this disease.

Conclusion on Lavender Plant And Bees

Bees love the lovely smell and beautiful bloom of all species of Lavender.  The Lavender plant provides the bee with nectar to make delectable Lavender honey.  During the collection of nectar, the bee distributes pollen to other flowers, helping the Lavender reproduce through pollination.

Planting Lavender plants in gardens and keeping them in bloom for as long as possible will ensure that this natural ‘friendship’ will continue and safeguard the survival of the productive little bees.

References

https://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/19048

https://news.ncsu.edu/2011/07/wms-what-bees-see/

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/known-pests-lavender-plants-38977.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCk1QTdnIvg