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Bee Plants Your Garden Needs

An outdoor space or backyard that features every color of the rainbow.  A lovely garden is the ideal many homeowners and nature lovers.  Not just plants for us to enjoy but some that also invite our pollinator friends to visit.  While it may seem like a difficult task, it is really easy to choose some bee plants to add to your landscape.

What are Bee Plants?

Honey bee foraging on borage plants.

Plants are an important part of our world. What properties does one possess to be deemed a “bee plant”? Bee plants provide beneficial resources to bees and other insects.

Of course, we know that bees love flowers.  Bees, butterflies, wasps, hummingbirds and other pollinators visit flowers that are rich with nectar and/or pollen.  But, non-flowering plants can still be beneficial to insects. They provide food in other ways, as well as, shelter and nesting materials for some insects.

Qualities of Choice Bee Plants

  • provide a lot of nectar/pollen (or bloom at an important time)
  • are attractive to a wide variety of pollinators
  • can withstand periods of dry weather/cold
  • grow well in many locations

Not every plant will provide a lot of food for insects.  That’s okay.  Flowers that bloom or provide nectar at a time when little else is in bloom can be very valuable.  Bigger plants might provide more food but you can’t always judge nectar production by the size or number of blooms.

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While honey bees tend to prefer simple single flowers, other pollinators with longer tongues enjoy tubular flowers.  Also, even honey bees visit plants with tubular flowers.  These plants often have extra-floral nectaries near the base of the flower.  Our honey bees can harvest some nectar without having to go inside the blossom.

Honey bee foraging on extra floral nectary of good bee plant.

Having a few bee-friendly plants that are drought tolerant is a good idea.  These plants are able to secrete nectar even when they are denied normal rainfall. Many of them developed in dry, arid regions but they will also grow in areas with normal rain.

Don’t forget some plant like wet conditions. They may be a perfect choice for adding to a rain garden for that soggy spot in the yard? Reduce erosion and provide habitat for beneficial insects too.

Growing Bee Plants all Year Round

Providing a diverse food source for bees year-round is a labor of love for many gardeners.  The best collection includes some bee friendly shrubs and even a tree that feeds bees if you have room. 

Don’t forget to consider native plants that provide cover and food for insects. They should grow well in your region. Numerous small native wildflowers are important plants for bees. Both native bees and area honey bees benefit from their nectar.

Many plants are adaptable but not every one will be productive in every location. Our goal is to provide a bee habitat with a continual bloom or food source all season long – especially the warm months.

Purple crocus a spring bee plant with pollen and nectar.

Spring Flowering Plants

Spring bee plants fill a special need. Hibernating insects, such as many native bees will be awakening and hungry. Honey bee colonies do not hibernate but they too are anxious to gather food and rebuild their population.

  • Berries (various types – blueberry, blackberries etc)
  • Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
  • Crabapple (Malus species)
  • Crocus (Crocus sp)
  • Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineaum)
  • Flowering Cherry (Prunus)
  • Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)
  • Hellebores (Helleborus sp)
  • Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
  • Primroses (Oenothera speciosa)
  • Rock Cress (Aubrieta deltoidea)
  • Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)
  • Willows (trees or bushes)
Sunflower in bloom with bees foraging.

Summer Bee Plants

The plants of Summer continue to provide resources for bees – even after the frenzy of Spring is over. In the case of honey bee colonies, they must have food resources for every day and also store honey for Winter.

Summer can mean hot dry weather in some regions. But, bees and pollinators continue to search for food everyday. When choosing flowers for your garden – try to avoid double flowers and fancy cultivars – they are not as attractive to bees.

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  • Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Bee Balm (Monarda)
  • Borage (Borago officinalis)
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  • Catmint (Nepeta racemosa)
  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
  • Plum thistle (Cirsium rivulare)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Snapdragon (Antirrhinum)
  • Sunflowers (Helianthus)
  • Thyme (Thymus polytrichus)
Goldenrod, aster and joy pye weed in bloom.

Fall Plants for Bees

While many of us may think the season is over, Fall is an important time for bees. It is a rush to collect resources for hive before cold weather arrives. In the case of hibernating bees, they strive to consume as many calories as possible.

  • Chrysanthemum (genus Chrysanthemum)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)
  • Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens)
  • Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Winter Bee Food Sources

During the long cold months of Winter, insects are few and far between. They are not able to function in low temperatures. Most are hibernating or nestled together inside a bee colony waiting for Spring.

However, many regions of the country have warm Winter days or very short periods of sustained cold. In these areas, bee lovers will see some foraging happening.

It is especially rewarding to see hungry bees enjoying these bee plants during the Winter months. Mine love the mahonia that blooms in late Winter/Early Spring. Crocus and Hellebores are also early food sources during Winter. And, lets not forget dandelions that seem to survive in sheltered locations even in cold climates.

Create a Pollinator-friendly Landscape

Create a diverse selection of plants that bloom throughout the season. Bee friendly perennials come back year after year with little care. Most regions also have some native bee plants in the wild. Look around your area. Try to add plants that bloom at times natural sources of nectar are diminished. Bees need variety in their diet – just like us!

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