Providing a water source for Bees

This weekend we visited our bee hives. There were lots of honey bees drinking from the tray of water we put out for them. So why would we be providing a water source for bees? Honey bees drink water and need a reliable source all year round, just as other animals do. Ideally this needs to be a source which won’t go dry in the summer, won’t drown the bees and won’t be shared with other animals.

Why do I see bees hanging around stagnant water?

If I was looking for a water source, I'd look for clean and clear water which didn't smell unpleasant. In fact, it probably wouldn't smell at all. But I'm not a honey bee. You will often find bees hanging around stagnant water, muddy holes, piles of wet leaves and other undesirable (to us) wet areas. Scientists think that is partly because they find water by its smell, hence bees are more likely to be attracted to smelly water than sparkly clear water fresh from the tap. However once they find a water source, bees will return to it again and again regardless of the smell.

What do bees use water for?

Drinking water for bees

As well as drinking water, honey bees use water for cooling the hive in warm weather. They also use it to control the humidity in the hive, as well as the temperature. And nursing bees need water to produce the jelly with which they feed the larvae.

You may have experienced a jar of old honey developing crystals in the kitchen cupboard. It will eventually harden, and exactly the same can happen to a frame of honey in the hive. The bees use water to thin honey which has become viscous and/or crystallised. Without water, they cannot access these stores. And since they rarely store water in the hive, they need access to water all year round.

Providing a Water Source for Bees

To create a water source for bees, you need a container without holes in it (obviously). We re-use old plant trays. Fill it with a variety of pebbles, twigs and leaves. Ensure there are plenty of stones that the bees can stand upon safely and drink, without the risk of falling into the water and drowning.

Water for bees to drink

Pour water over the stones, twigs and leaves in your tray, leaving plenty of pebbles above the surface for the bees to land on. The water will evaporate quickly in hot, dry periods. So keep an eye on it, and top it up as and when necessary through the year. Honey bees will travel long distances to find resources. When resources are scarce, a bee may travel five miles to get what she needs. So the more easily accessible water sources there are, the less effort the bees need to make to find them. This allows them to focus on other things. So if you don’t keep bees, you can still do this in your garden or on your flat balcony to help the bees along in your area. It's such a small thing to do, but so effective.

We couldn't believe how many bees were drinking from our tray yesterday. Our resident toad seems to like sitting under it too, here he is, sitting in front of the tray. Keeping his beady eye on things :) 

Water for bees


  • I have a small lily pond. I remove the lily and the pond sits all winter. I will clean it before too long so I can return the lily. I have seen lots and lots of bees around the stagnant version. Your article has explained why. I was worried about what would happen when I get it cleaned, again. It looks like I can just save some of that water for them to continue to use and make an additional stagnant version, according to your suggestion. It is good to know that will help them. No clue where they live, they just showed up!!!

  • Saw your article and the previous comment, so made up something very similar in my garden. I added a few little fake aquarium plants to pretty it up. I’m hoping it will attract the birds too!

    Pauline Thomas
  • Well well! Thanks Chris, that’s great to know! And I call myself a nature lover… :)

  • Great article. That’s a frog under the tray, not a toad. Just to clarify:-)


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