Broubster Leans RSPB reserve. A wild bird cover strip - designed to attract both Twite & Great yellow bumblebee, Caithness,

Nectar flower mixtures

Pollen and nectar mixtures provide plants throughout spring and summer to supply food for insects such as butterflies and bumblebees.

Nectar flower mixtures

Key points

  • A continuous supply of pollen and nectar is made available by establishing a mix of flowering plants and by management to encourage late flowering.
  • Protect the natural sources of pollen and nectar on the farm, such as flowering plants in hedgerows and field margins.
  • Nectar flower mixtures made up of legumes generally need to be re-established after three or four years. An alternative is to establish perennial flower-rich margins made up of fine grasses and flowering plants such as knapweed, scabious, bird's-foot trefoil and yarrow.
Bee landing on flower

Benefits to wildlife

Flowering plants benefit pollen-and nectar-feeding insects. Some insects, such as bumblebees, are vital pollinators of crops and wild flowers.

Bumblebees have declined as suitable plants, such as red clover, have become more scarce in the countryside. These, along with other insects, benefit from sowing flower-rich mixtures.

Hoverflies are especially attracted to flowering plants and will lay eggs wherever there is an abundance of aphids for their larvae to feed on, thus helping to reduce numbers of these pests in nearby crops. The general increase in insects attracted to these mixtures also provides food for birds.

In memoriam: the Memorial Garden at The Lodge. Bedfordshire

Managing pollen and nectar mixtures

  • Use a mix of at least three legumes, such as red clover, alsike clover and bird's-foot-trefoil.
  • Fine grasses, such as fescues, bents and meadow grasses, can be used in the mix to reduce the impact of annual weeds. A mix of 80 per cent fine grasses and 20 per cent legumes should be sown.
  • Create a network of habitats for insects around the farm (eg by establishing mixtures in connecting six-metre margins).
  • Choose locations which receive a lot of sunlight. These plots also look attractive, so consider siting them along footpaths.
  • March/April or July/August are the best months for establishment.
  • The mixtures need no fertiliser or pesticides. Herbicide use is restricted to use of a contact non-residual herbicide prior to establishment, or spot treatment or weed-wiping of pernicious weeds.
  • Take steps to prevent the drift of pesticides or fertilisers from the adjacent crops.
  • Pollen and nectar mixtures may be sown on arable land or grassland. Do not create plots on unimproved or species-rich grassland. Grazing of the plots is only permitted in autumn and winter, but ensure the sward is not damaged by excessive cattle trampling.
  • Half of the area is cut in June to stimulate late flowering and the whole area is then cut in September or October. Check the plot for leverets or nesting game birds before cutting in June. It is better to remove the cuttings to protect the flowering plants in the sward. Otherwise, try to chop and spread the cuttings to avoid smothering the sward.
  • The mix may need to be re-established after three to four years if the flowering plant component has become depleted. 
  • Habitats on the farm which provide pollen and nectar include woodland, pond banks and watercourses, hedgerows, field margins, broad-leaved weeds in the crop headlands or areas of unimproved grassland. Ivy is a particularly good source in the early spring.