Borage is an easy to grow, annual herb. Originating in the Mediterranean, its attractive blue flowers are popular with pollinators, particularly bees. This has given borage its other name of Bee Bush.
Borage’s popularity with pollinators means that it is often grown as a flower in fruit and vegetable gardens. It is also regularly grown amongst flower filled beds in cottage garden style planting schemes.
An attractive annual herb. Both the flowers and foliage of the plant are edible. They are also a magnet for pollinators and birds.
Both the leaves and flowers of this distinctive plant are edible. The leaves of the plant have a noticeable cucumber-like taste. The star shaped flowers are also sweet and are often compared to honey.
Varieties of Borage
Common borage, Borago Officinalis, is the most commonly grown variety. The seeds of this variety are sold in plant catalogues and nurseries. While this is the most commonly grown variety there are other types of bee bush.
Borago Pygmaea or Creeping Borage is, as the name suggests, a sprawling variety. It produces fragrant pale blue flowers from late spring until fall.
The cultivar Variegata produces white flowers and mottled green foliage.
There are few different varieties of bee bush available. However despite the lack of available choice this is still an attractive and popular garden plant.
How to Grow Borage
Borage is a pleasingly easy to grow Mediterranean herb. It is an annual plant, lasting for only one year. This means that USDA zones do not apply. However, bee bush is happy to self-seed meaning that it will return year after year.
Borage does best in warm, full sun positions. Here the plants will reach close to their optimum size, 18-36 inches.
Bee bush also grows in partial shade. However, shade growing plants may not be as sturdy as those growing in full sun. This can be a problem when the plants flower. Bee bush flowers can cause the plants to become top-heavy, if the plants are stocky enough, or supported in another way, they may become floppy.
When grown in a preferable position, and well cared for, healthy plants flower from late spring throughout the summer months.
Regularly deadheading spent flowers encourages the plants to continue flourishing. If you don’t deadhead the plants they begin to decline and go to seed.
How to Sow Borage Seeds
Bee bush is a fast growing plant. In the right conditions you can harvest the plants within 6 to 8 weeks of sowing. Begin sowing bee bush seeds from early April onwards.
Before sowing, weed and rake over the soil. While bee bush plants prefer rich well-draining soil they can grow in dry or poor soil. Whatever the condition of the soil working in organic matter such as homemade compost will help the plants.
Sow seeds as thinly as possible on the surface of the soil. Cover with a thin layer of soil and gently water.
Following germination, once the seedlings are about 3 inches tall thin them out. Ideally the plants should be spaced 12 inches apart.
Starting Seeds Undercover
While borage seeds are best sown directly into their growing position they can also be started undercover for an early harvest. Sow up to four weeks before your last predicted frost date in biodegradable pots.
Bee bush produces a long taproot that shouldn’t be disturbed when transplanting. Growing the seedlings in biodegradable pots means that you can plant the seedling still in the container in its final position. As the plant grows the pot will break down into the soil.
Allow the seeds to grow on in containers. Once the last local frost date has passed, harden the young plants off before transplanting into their final position.
Borage’s self-seeding habit means that it will spread throughout a garden if left unchecked. While the plants are easy to remove, growing in containers is an easy way to keep their growth habit in check.
If you are sowing in containers make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of your chosen vessel. Fill the container with fresh, good quality soil.
The attractive star-shaped flowers give way to seed pods. If not harvested these will split, allowing the plant to self-seed through your garden. Deadheading flowers helps to control this spread.
How to Care for Borage Plants
Once germinated, bee bush is pleasingly easy to care for. Regularly weeding around the plants will help to ensure that they can access as much moisture as they need. It also means that young plants won’t be smothered by fast growing weeds.
Water plants regularly until they are established. Once the plants are established and growing well, allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Remember plants growing in containers will require more frequent watering than those in the ground.
Plants growing in poor soil will benefit from fertilization. Applying a fertilizer high in phosphorus helps to prolong the plants flowering period. Alternatively apply a homemade compost tea or diluted fish emulsion. Either of these will also help to extend the plants flowering period.
Placing an organic mulch around the base of the plants helps the soil to retain moisture. As the mulch breaks down it also enriches the soil, further benefiting the plants.
Mulching also helps to keep the foliage of the plants off the soil. Foliage contacting soil, particularly damp soil, can rot or become diseased.
Organic mulches help the soil to retain moisture, keeping plants cool and preventing bolt. As the organic mulch breaks down it returns nutrients to the soil, further boosting the growth of your plants.
Prune or pinch out new growth once the plants reach 6 inches in height. This encourages branching and helps to keep the plants more compact and robust. Pruning back to half the plants size in midsummer encourages the plant to produce fresh, tender leaves for a late harvest.
Prune away flowers as they fade. This prevents the plants from producing seeds. If you want to grow bee bush again the following year allow the flowers to seed. The seeds can then be harvested when the pods ripen and turn brown. If the seed heads aren’t removed they will split and the plant will re-seed in the same position the following year.
Allowing the plant to re-seed can also cause it to spread through a space. Unwanted plants are easily pulled up.
When in flower, bee bush can become top heavy and prone to toppling. Stake tall plants to prevent toppling.
Common Pests and Problems
Bee bush is almost completely problem free. Many pests are deterred by the plants’ prickly leaves.
Borage as a Companion Plant
Companion planting is the practice of growing mutually beneficial plants close together. Bee bush is a particularly useful companion plant. This is largely because it is a popular plant amongst pollinators, particularly bees. It is also believed to help strengthen the disease and pest resistance of a number of plants, in particular strawberries. Additionally, it is said to deter cabbage worms and tomato hornworms.
Bee bush is popular with pollinators such as bees. Planting near other fruiting plants such as tomatoes will help to draw pollinators to them. This helps to give your fruiting plants a boost as well as helping to increase flowering or fruit production.
Borage is a great companion plant for:
How to Harvest Borage
Prune away the leaves or flowers as and when you need them. Fresh leaves taste better than older leaves. Older leaves can also become prickly, making harvesting harder.
Harvested leaves are best used fresh. Bee bush leaves do not dry well. While both the flowers and leaves are best used fresh, flowers can be frozen in ice cubes. They can then be added to cooling drinks during the summer months.
If you have plant allergies use the flowers sparingly until you know how they will affect you. Borage is believed to have a mild laxative effect.
To save the seeds, harvest them from the plant when they are brown. Store in a cool, dry location, such as an airtight tin, until you are ready to sow.
Remember to label the tin with the date as well as the name of the seeds. This helps you to remember what seeds you have as well as gauging their viability. The older the seeds, the less likely they are to germinate.
As well as being an attractive plant with edible flowers and foliage these are also popular plants amongst pollinators. A mineral accumulating plant placing the old plants on your compost heap at the end of the growing season will give your garden an extra boost.
A relative of comfrey, bee bush is an attractive Mediterranean herb. Doing best in sunny, warm positions both the foliage and flowers of these plants are edible. An additional bonus is that bee bush is a great mineral accumulator. In particular it harvests nitrogen and potash from the soil. This makes it an ideal addition to your compost heap. Alternatively the plants can be incorporated into homemade plant feeds.
Easy to grow and harvest borage is a welcome addition to container and vegetable gardens as well as informal flower beds. A full sun loving plant, its attractive star-shaped flowers, which drape downwards, add interest to the garden.