Perennials That Attract Bees
Planting flowers for bees and other pollinators is a favorite pastime of many bee lovers. Remember, it is not only honey bees that you are helping. Designing a bee friendly garden aids a multitude of bee species in finding food and shelter. This includes our non bee pollinators too! Selecting the best perennial flowers for bees adds beauty to your landscape and provides food and shelter for a multitude of beneficial insects.
The very best bee habitats will have a mix of different kinds of plants. Annual flowers, perennials, trees, shrubs that bees like – all of these can provide shelter, food and nest materials for hungry pollinators.
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How Perennial Flowers are Different
Unlike annual flowers that grow bloom and go to seed in one season, perennials come back year after year.
The plant does not invest all of its energy into producing seed in one short season.
Instead, plant energy produces growth and a bloom cycle but reserves some energy to do it again next year.
This often results in the plant having a bit less nectar or spectacular bloom than an annual plant. However, perennials often bloom over a longer time period.
Most Common Bee Friendly Perennials
It is a common misconception that all blooming plants provide food for bees. They do not.
Some plants do not depend on insects for pollination. Therefore they may or may not provide nectar designed to lure pollinators. In fact, some plants even repel bees.
When choosing plants for your bee gardens, bee friendly perennials should be part of your design. These anchor plants will return year after year. And, most only require minimum maintenance.
With any gardening project, you must consider the growing needs of the selected plants. If you place them in an inhospitable environment, they are unlikely to grow well.
Bee gardeners in every section of the country have many choices. Everyone should be able to find suitable plants for their region. Many perennials have a large growing zone and can do well in different climates.
Lavender is a good example. Not every type grows well in every region but most locations can find a variety that will grow. If the idea of having fresh lavender appeals to you, check out Kris’ article – on how to grow lavender.
Healthy, growing plants will produce the most nectar rich flowers. And pollen, too – let’s not forget that bees need pollen. Some of the best perennial flowers for bees provide both nectar and pollen.
Top Perennials Used in Bee Gardens
While there are many different perennials that attract bees, some have become a favorite of bee gardeners. These are so adaptable that they can grow almost anywhere.
- Purple Coneflower
- Bee Balm
- Butterfly Bushes
- Anise Hyssop
The Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea) is the backbone of many pollinator gardens. My plants have been blooming for years.
They provide nectar for my bees during the dry months of Summer and then seed for migrating birds in late Fall.
Performing best in full sun, they can withstand dry conditions once established. A taller plant with heights up to 30”, coneflowers make an impressive background.
Coneflowers grow in clumps but will slowly spread but are not difficult to control. While not as showy as some of the fancier hybrids, Purple Coneflowers have earned a place in any garden for bees.
Any discussion of bee friendly perennials must include growing Monarda or “bee balm”. When the common name includes the word bee, we know it must be a good choice for feeding bees.
This perennial can be grown easily from seed. In fact, I have some seeds starting in my greenhouse right now.
Although available in many developed cultivars, bee balm is a native plant. It is used in restoration of meadows and prairies.
Lavender flowered wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) – buy seed) and a red flowered variety are the most common types grown in the US. In dry sandy regions, a spotted bee balm can become a top honey plant.
Also praised for herbal or medicinal use, bee balm can be planted for bees. In massed groups, they create beautiful island of color throughout your garden landscape. They also feed a multitude of pollinators.
Not everyone is a fan of Butterfly Bushes (buddleia). While providing long fronds of beautiful blooms, most varieties do not have a lot to offer pollinators.
However, since they are a popular plant with homeowners, I feel they should be mentioned. Some cultivars are more attracted to bees than others and many other pollinators visit them.
Bees are insects that need diverse food sources. Even a small backyard may have room for a couple of butterfly bushes.
These plants can provide some variety to the diet of area pollinators. They can reach heights of 5’ of more but in some regions will die back to the ground during Winter. Here in South Carolina, I cut mine back to the ground each Spring.
Annise Hyssop (Agastache) how do I love thee? A wonderful plant for your bee garden that blooms over a long period of time. The plant grows tall yet doesn’t need staking.
Purple is the most common color flower but new hybrids are being developed. Will they provide as much food for bees? That remains to be seen.
Agastache can be started from seeds indoors and then transplanted outside once frost has passed. You can also direct sow the seed in the Fall.
After Winter is passed the dormant seed will sprout and grow. The plants will self seed but are not difficult to keep under control.
Also called “Bugleweed”, Ajuga is an excellent addition to your garden or landscaped area. This ever green perennial is low growing and makes a great ground cover.
Mine does best in part shade to full shade and is even effective at providing erosion control once established.
A slowly spreading plant, it is deer resistant. And for a few weeks each summer, delightful blooms attract a multitude of bees and other insects.
Many different varieties are available, I have purchased Chocolate Chip Ajuga locally much to my bees’ delight. This is a plant that any homeowner can add to their landscape.
More Perennial Flowers Bees Love
- Purple Coneflowers/Rudbeckia spp.
- Bee Balm/Monarda
- Butterfly Bushes (some cultivars)
- Anise Hyssop
- Astilbe, /Astilbe spp.
- Bellflower/Campanula spp.
- Betony/Stachys monieri
- Black-eyed Susan, coneflower/Rudbeckia spp.
- Blanket flower/Gaillardia
- Blazing star/Liatris spicata
- Butterfly weed/Asclepias tuberosa
- Catmint/Nepeta spp
- Chrysanthemum (open types)
- Clematis/Clematis spp.
- Common poppy
- Common yarrow/Achillea millefolium
- Coral bells/Heuchera spp.
- Cornflower/Centaurea spp.
- Fennel/Foeniculum vulgare
- Foxglove or beardtongues/Penstemon spp.
- Garden speedwell/Veronica longifolia
- Globe thistle/Echinops ritro
- Hosta/Hosta spp.
- Lemon balm/Melissa officinalis
- Lupine/Lupinus spp.
- Mints/Mentha spp.
- Sedum/Sedum spp.
- Stokes aster/Stokesia laevis
- Swamp milkweed/Asclepias incarnata
- Sweet alyssum/Lobularia maritima
Perennials Provide Variety for Pollinators
Finding plants that bees like is not a problem at all. The difficulty is in deciding which ones to add to your garden. And always, consider your climate and growing conditions.
Choose a wide variety of flower types, colors and bloom time. This provides a long bloom season with many different types of food sources.
Do you have a large space or need 1 large shade tree? Consider choosing one of the many flowering trees for bees. Some are large but there are smaller trees to choose as well.
If you live in a region that is very hot and dry all season, perhaps drought tolerant plants for bees would be a better fit. These flowers produce some nectar even when weather conditions are dry.
A Final Word about Perennial for Bees
Adding a few perennials that attract bees to your outdoor living space is a great way to help bees and other pollinators. You do not have to have a large space to make a difference.
By adding these nectar rich flowers to your garden, your bees enjoy a diverse diet and that promotes better health. Do your part and choose some bee friendly perennials this year.