Top Perennials for Bees

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Planting flowers that benefit pollinators is a favorite pastime for many gardeners. Of course, my favorite is the honey bee – but plants that help them also help others. Different kinds of plants have different things to offer but there is one group that should not be overlooked. Yes, I’m talking about perennials that return year after year to provide beauty and to feed bees. Herein, you will find some of the best perennials for bees to help you create a blooming sanctuary.

Field of perennial purple cone flowers planted for bees image.

Are these plants always the very best flowers for bees? Not always, sometimes annuals provide important food in abundance. But, for the gardener – the benefit of perennials that attract bees is not having to replant them every year.

Understanding the Needs of Bees

Honey bees need plant nectar and pollen for their colony. Anything we can do to provide a steady supply of these-increases the colony’s chance of survival.

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 valuable foraging for hungry pollinators.

Five perennial flower favorites for bee gardeners cone flower, bee balm, butterfly bush, anise hyssop and ajuga in bloom image.

Top Perennial Flowers For Bees

While there are many different perennials that attract bees, some have become a favorite of bee gardeners. As you make your choices, don’t forget to consider the wildflowers that feed bees in your region. Think of things that can supplement the natural food sources.

These are roughly broken down into season of bloom. However, keep in mind that climate and current weather conditions affect bloom time of any plant.

Late Winter and Early Spring Bloomers

In some regions, food sources may be far and few between during the cold months. But, even the coldest areas may have some warmish days that bees venture out. These diligent foraging bees are looking for any fresh food sources.

After a long cold Winter, the first nectar plants of early Spring help sustain colonies with low food stores. Just as important, they help ramp up production of bee brood – the next generation. Though smaller in number Winter plants for bees make a significant contribution for bees that venture out.

Crocus, dandelion, hellebores and snowdrops in bloom.

1. Crocuses (Crocus spp.)

These low growing brightly colored flowers are on of the first to bloom in late Winter. They grow from a small bulb that you plant in the Fall. With bright colors of purple, white and yellow – they provide bees with a rich source of early season pollen.

2. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)

Considered one of the many weeds that attract bees, dandelions can be found growing all during the year. But, it is their nectar and pollen provided early in the season that is most important.

While dandelions are not the perfect food source for bees, their contribution to Spring population build up should not be overlooked.

And after the early season is over, pick them and make yourself some herbal DIY dandelion salve – I do.

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3. Hellebores (Helleborus spp.)

In my region, these plants are called Lenten roses. The heroes of the shade garden, Hellebores return year after year and are hardy to frost and freezes (to a degree). Most importantly, their long lasting blooms provide nectar and pollen at a time when not much else is blooming.

4. Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.)

Snowdrops are delicate plants with drooping white flowers. These early blooming perennials attract bees by providing nectar. Snowdrops make a nice addition to rock gardens and woodland areas. They are also planted as bulbs in Fall.

Spring and Early Summer Perennials

As the weather warms, our bees are collecting needed resources at a faster rate. If you have ever heard the bee quote – busy as a bee – you know it applies well.

This is a time of growth for the colony in population and strength. Often many plants are in bloom but this is still a good time to consider some bee friendly perennials for your landscape.

picture of lavender blooming ajua in bee garden

5. Ajuga (Ajuga reptans)

Also called “Bugleweed”, Ajuga is an excellent addition to your garden or landscaped area. This evergreen 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 love Chocolate Chip Ajuga much to my bees’ delight.

Blooming plants, bee balm, lavender, purple coneflower and saliva.

6. Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)

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 pollinators.

Lavender flowered wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) 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.

Although available in many developed cultivars, bee balm is a native plant. It is used in restoration of meadows and prairies.

7. Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

When lavender is in bloom, it attracts bees with nectar and pollen. A garden favorite, it does not grow well in all locations. Lavender likes full sun and well draining sandy soil – the Carolina heat and clay… not so much.

Lavender is a good example of a versatile plant. 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.

8. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea)

The Purple Coneflower is the backbone of many pollinator gardens and with good reason. My plants have been blooming for years with no fuss or help from me. They are the perfect example of low-maintenance plants.

They provide nectar for bees during the dry months of Summer. This is a time when many other plants are not productive. Later in the season, when the plants go to seed, migrating Fall birds have a feast.

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.

Purple Coneflowers are easy to establish and grow. They are often available as plants at local nurseries. Or you can plant the seeds – even use them to make your own seed bombs.

9. Salvia (Salvia spp.)

Boasting an amazing variety of cultivars, you should have no problem finding a suitable salvia for your garden. While they do have long tubular blossoms, they are nectar rich.

Honey bees can not always reach deep enough into the bloom to access nectar but I see them working some of the extrafloral nectaries on the plants. With a long bloom time, perennial salvias feed bees far into the season.

Late season blooming asters in various colors and patch of goldenrod in bloom.

Late Summer and Fall Favorites

As late Summer arrives with the hint of Fall, honey bee colonies are busier than ever. They must prepare for the cold season ahead. A frenzy of activity takes place each day in the race to gather food.

Late season perennials are important for bees because they provide a reliable and varied food supply. While there are several important Fall blooming flowers for bees – here are some of the top choices.

10. Asters (Aster spp)

The dainty daisy-like flowers of Asters are one of the stars of the late-season garden. These small perennials attract bees by providing abundant nectar. Their simple, flat topped flowers offer easy access to the food inside.

11. Goldenrods (solidago spp.)

Any article on top perennials for bees must include a mention of goldenrod. Providing enough nectar in some regions to produce excess honey, goldenrod gives bees important nutrition just before cold arrives.

Honey bee on sedum flower, blooming joe pye weed and heather flowers.

12. Sedums (Sedum spp.)

Sometimes called, stonecrops, sedums are wonderful perennials that are easy to grow. Considered succulents, they do well in dry conditions and have pretty leaf structures.

However, as late season approaches sedums burst forth with clusters of flowers that provide nectar to hungry insects.

Though a bit different, both bees and wasps are looking for nectar during the end of Summer season. You will see many different insects on sedum flowers.

13. Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium spp.)

Joe-pye weed is an impressive native species (though you can purchase hybrid cultivars too). These tough plants are often seen growing in damp areas along the edges of streams.

At the top of the tall plant a dense cluster of pinkish flowers appear in late season. They provide nutrition for a wide range of pollinators includes bees and butterflies.

14. Heather (Calluna vlugaris)

There are many varieties of heather and some of the varieties bloom from late summer through fall. Their colorful flowers provide valuable food for pollinators during these last days before frost arrives.

Season Long Perennial Favorites for Bees

Our goal is to create a long season of food source for pollinators with a wide variety of plants. These listed below are adaptable with many blooming at various times throughout the warm months.

Consider your climate and you may want to include some of these in your bee friendly garden design. However, keep in mind that some varieties may be considered invasive in certain areas. Even though invasive plants can feed bees – the disadvantages usually outweigh any benefit in the long run.

  1. Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
  2. Astilbe (Astilbe spp.)
  3. Bellflower (Campanula spp.)
  4. Betony (Stachys monieri)
  5. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)
  6. Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.)
  7. Blazing star (Liatris spicata)
  8. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
  9. Catmint (Nepeta spp.)
  10. Chrysanthemum (open types)
  11. Clematis (Clematis spp.)
  12. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
  13. Cornflower (Centaurea spp.)
  14. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  15. Foxglove or beardtongues (Penstemon spp.)
  16. Garden speedwell (Veronica longifolia)
  17. Globe thistle (Echinops ritro)
  18. Hosta (Hosta spp.)
  19. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  20. Lupine (Lupinus spp.)
  21. Mints (Mentha spp.)
  22. Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
  23. Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis)
  24. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
  25. Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

Planting Your Perennial Bee Garden

Finding flowers that attract bees is not a problem at all. Bees help flowers reproduce by providing good pollination as they collect nectar and pollen.

The difficulty is in deciding which ones to add to your garden. Always, consider your climate and growing conditions.

Healthy, growing plants will produce the most nectar rich flowers. And pollen, too – let’s not forget that bees need pollen.

Choose a wide variety of flower types, colors and bloom time. A mix of seeds using gorilla gardening is one good approach.

Do you have a large enough space for a 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.

Your garden doesn’t have to be only for the bees. There are many perennial herbs that feed bees and allow you to harvest fresh herbs for the kitchen. Mints, chives and calendula are only a few.

For an extra special display, a large container with a beautiful lotus flower adds beauty to the garden and feeds bees.

FAQs

How do I create a bee friendly garden with perennials?

Gardening for bees with perennials is rather easy. Choose a variety of flowers that provide nectar, pollen or both and do well in your growing conditions.

What are some of the best perennials for bees with a long bloom time?

Some of the perennials that bloom over a long season and provide food for bees are: yarrow, lavender, bee balm, anise hyssop, and Russian sage.

Can I grow bee-friendly perennials in containers?

Yes, there are many perennials that make excellent container gardens for bees.

A Final Word

Flowers – bees need them – we can provide them. Using some perennials that attract bees in your outdoor living space is a great way to help bees and other pollinators.

It adds variety to their diet and is less work for you because you don’t have to replant each year. Many perennials will return year after year with little maintenance.

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