A hero to local pollinator species and biodiversity in your garden is this Hero of the Month – Salvia. Salvias are easy to grow and provide colour in the garden throughout the year, and many can be small and compact planted amongst the herb and vegetable garden. Salvia, commonly known as Sage, is the largest genus in the mint family and includes both long bell-shaped flowering annuals and perennials, many of them with herbal and medicinal qualities.Salvia is an amazing energy source for bees, as the nectar-rich flowers are attractive to both honeybees and long-tongued native solitary bees such as the blue-banded bee. Bees can reach nectar at the bottom of the tube of the flower by pushing down on the lower petal and to crawl inside the flower.
Certain Salvia species are highly attractive to the native blue-banded bee, which provides a key role in buzz pollination. Eight percent of world’s flowering plants require a bee to vibrate at a certain frequency to get the most pollen out of the flower’s anthers. Many edible plants, such as tomatoes, have co-evolved with native pollinators such as the bumblebee, whereas in Australia, the blue-banded bee and its cutely named cousin; the teddy bear bee, are our local buzz pollinators, oscillating at 350 vibrations per second to release pollen. You will hear the buzz often before you see this flighty bee in your garden. This is something the introduced honeybee simply hasn’t evolved to do.
For home gardeners keen on obtaining higher yields and better quality edibles in the Solanaceae family (eggplants, tomatoes, chillies, capsicums), blueberries, cranberries and kiwifruit, plant highly attractive flowering plants such as Salvia to entice native pollinator to buzz pollinate edibles will have your garden buzzing with blue-banded bees. However, even though this is one of our larger native bees in Melbourne (10-12mm), the blue-banded bee is much more restricted in their foraging radius compared to a honeybee, venturing only around 350 metres from nesting burrows. They require long flowering reliable food sources rich in both pollen and nectar to be available between Spring and Autumn, making their active presence in your garden paramount to a bountiful harvest.
Salvias are a welcome addition to any organic garden as so many varieties grow well in hot, dry conditions with minimal inputs, profusely flowering during the native bee season and can be easily landscaped into successive flowering to provide eye candy for you and native bees. Native bees see colours in UV and are especially attracted to blues and purples as well as yellow, pinks and whites. Salvia has been chosen as Hero of the Month, as it provides not only an invaluable food for bees and other beneficial insects, has long flowering periods, and is heat loving and drought tolerant whilst adding colour to any edible garden. Now is the perfect time to propagate large leaf Salvia varieties. Have a wander around local gardens and collect tip cutting of several varieties to see which pollinators you can attract to your patch.
There are many blue and purple species of Salvia that can be recommended as part of attracting local buzz pollinator species to assist your garden, and I’ve planted many Salvias near my north facing native bee hotels. To achieve a bee friendly garden, try planting next year’s buzz pollinated vegetables like tomatoes and eggplants, near blue or purple flowering plants like Salvia. You can even support blue-banded bees by planting native grasses and leaving a patch of bare dirt in a sunny spot free of mulch for ground nests in your garden, which will also provide much needed habitat for the blue-banded bees.
Some other good Salvias varieties to find are also Salvia Ostfriesland (Salvia nemerosa), which is a very hardy and reliable small perennial (50cm x 40cm). Its blue flowers attract a mix of blue-banded bees, honeybees and even beneficial solitary wasps, is easy to propagate and thrives in a sunny position with well-drained soil. Flowering for about ten weeks and can then be pruned hard and a fortnight later can flower again from late summer to early winter.
Salvia microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ (1m x 1m) is an all time favourite of blue-banded bees. Although neither blue nor purple, instead displaying a brilliant red and white flower, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ is a fast growing plant that benefits from regular water and fertiliser. Although it is considered drought and heat tolerant, the white parts of the flower are dominant during warm weather and when nutrients are limited. Cooler weather, extra water and higher nutrient application result in more red colouring in the flowers. This Salvia is also tolerant of cold and will do well in full sun to part shade, in a sheltered position with well-drained soil.
Plant some Salvia to invite native buzz pollinators to your edible garden and listen for the buzz next Spring.