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Home > Tip of the Month – June Gap – Planting for a Sustained Nectar Flow

June is a month of the year which brings uncertainty for many a beekeeper, but for those in rural areas in particular. June is the beginning of the summer season when the spring flowering plants and trees shed their blooms having been pollinated and now begin to form seeds but the main flow of summer flowering blooms has yet to begin. This period is referred to as the June Gap.

At this time of year Honey bee colonies are approaching their peak in worker population in readiness for the summer flow, Queens are laying at a prolific rate and colonies have many larva to feed. A reduction in incoming nectar and pollen as the spring flowers cease but the summer flowers have yet to peak can leave large colonies struggling to feed themselves.

The June Gap is often felt the most in rural areas dominated by agriculture. The plentiful hawthorn blooms of hedgerows, hedgerow trees and gluts of autumn sown Oil Seed Rape are largely over by June but the summer wild flowers are not yet at their peak and the Heather bloom is still many weeks away.

In urban areas the June Gap is rarely felt because our towns and cities contain an abundance of exotic plants which bloom throughout June filling the gap in forage availability.

In urban gardens and other green spaces, Privet hedges are coming into bloom. Beekeepers loath Privet because its nectar produces a bitter tasting honey that is unpalatable to most but for the bees Privet can help see them through the brief June dearth. Other garden shrubs important as sources of nectar in urban areas include Hebe, Choiysia, Pyracantha and Cotoneaster – all are popular with bees and are widely planted in urban car parks, and amenity areas around housing developments. Shrubs like Ceonothus provide an abundance of yellow pollen and include several varieties which flower throughout June.

Residential neighbourhoods contain many exotic trees which flower after our native species have ceased flowering. These include Sweet Chestnut, and  Laburnum alongside native Limes. In urban areas with milder microclimates our native Limes will flower much earlier than in rural areas or the north of the country where July is their usual season. The same is also true of Bramble which in towns and cities grows in abundance along railway sidings and brownfield sites.

Such gardens also contain many blooming annuals and perennials at this time of year. Plants such as Geraniums, Campanulas, Thymes, Sage, Valerian, Perennial Corn Flower, Wall flowers, Osteospurmums and Giant echiums are in bloom attracting large numbers of bees. As June progresses Lavender, Echinops, and Escalonia will come into flower all of which are also popular with bees.

Another advantage to beekeepers in urban areas include the widespread planting of Cherry and Laurel species. These shrubs and small trees will have ceased flowering but they produce leaves with extra floral nectaries at their base and in some species smaller outlets along the serrated leaf edge. When moisture levels in the soil combine with warm sunny weather these plants can produce more sugars through photosynthesis than they require so they exude the surplus sugars through these extra floral nectaries. In times of shortage bees along with other insects will visit these plants to collect the sugary waste excreted from these extra floral outlets.

Away from urban centres there are a number of plants common in rural areas which also produce extra floral nectary’s which will be visited by bees. These include Bracken, plentiful in the countryside around the New Forest. Bees will also take advantage of the sticky secretions produced by Aphids as they suck the sap of broadleaf trees. These alternative sources of forage can make life a little easier for our honey bees during this time of shortage.

We can all do our bit to help the bees and other pollinators during the brief June dearth by ensuring our parks and green spaces are well stocked with the appropriate plants.