Please Bees with Germander

| October/November 2005

While many plants are known to be bee magnets, honeybees and bumblebees will pass them all by when germander blooms.

An herb garden is traditionally a busy place, with bees buzzing from plant to plant, their fuzzy little bodies perfect for trapping pollen and transporting it to the next flower. But declining bee populations means that we can no longer take these beneficial visitors for granted; we need to lure them with a choice selection of plants, so they can set about the essential business of pollinating our gardens. In my garden, there is none better at bringing in the late-season bees than wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys).

I first discovered wall germander, also called hedge germander, on a visit to an area herb farm, where I noticed this stately little shrub because it was completely covered with bees. Since adding it to my own garden, I’ve learned that, while many plants are known to be bee magnets, both honeybees and bumblebees will pass them all by when germander blooms. The 6- to 8-inch purple flower spikes, which appear July through September, are their absolute favorites, and they are drawn to the flowers in astounding numbers. These bees are not aggressive; in fact, they are so content working the germander flowers that they barely notice me gardening nearby.

Germander is a low-growing evergreen perennial, which makes it an ideal hedge plant. The flowers, in colors ranging from deep pink to purple, are borne loosely atop wands of tiny, glossy, serrated leaves. When left to bloom to draw the bees, the effect is a loose, pleasing hedge in a naturalistic setting. Germander also can be tightly clipped for topiary or more formal garden arrangements, including knot gardens.

I began my germander hedge with the one-gallon plant I purchased on the spot from the herb farm that day. I was amazed at how easily I could propagate this plant by sticking the cuttings directly into the ground. This works well with both spring and fall cuttings. Germander also roots well in a container of ordinary potting mix.

I later purchased another plant also labeled Teucrium chamaedrys, but on comparison I found that the leaves and flowers were slightly different. I have since found out that there are dozens of species, hybrids and varieties that could be sold under the common name of hedge or wall germander. A third plant I purchased was labeled ‘dwarf germander’; the leaves are larger, the flowers similar, but this one is better used as groundcover, topping out at about 8 inches. The wall or hedge germanders can reach up to 20 inches when in bloom, but 12 to 18 inches is more common. All the germanders have the same cultural requirements, thrive with little effort and are exactly right for attracting lots of helpful, happy bees.

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