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Perennial Flowers for Bees-Choosing the Best

Planting flowers for bees and other pollinators is a favorite pastime of many gardeners. 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. Selecting the best perennial flowers for bees adds beauty to your landscape and provides food and shelter for a multitude of beneficial insects.

Field of perennial purple cone flowers planted for bees image.

Bee Friendly Perennials

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.

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.

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Instead, plant energy produces growth and a bloom cycle but reserves some energy to do it again next year. This often results in some perennial flowers having a bit less nectar than an annual plant. However, perennials often bloom over a longer time period. This makes up for any reduced bee food.

Bumble bee foraging on perennial foxglove bloom image.

Choosing Flowers that Help Bees

In order to acquire good pollination, flowers provide pollen or nectar to lure in pollinators. However, 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 – these are a good choice for garden pathways.

As you chose plants for your outside spaces, include some bee friendly perennial flowers that attract bees. It is a great plan to create a mix of different plant types.

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Tall perennials make beautiful backdrops with short annuals in front. In addition to returning every year, most only require minimum maintenance.

As with any gardening project, you must consider the growing needs of the plants. If you place them in an inhospitable environment, they are unlikely to grow well or produce abundant nectar.

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 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.

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

Pollen is not used to make honey. It is the only protein source for a honey bee colony. They need pollen to raise baby bees.

Favorites For 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.

Some provide bees with both nectar and pollen. Try to include at least a couple of this top 5 in your bee garden.

Five perennial flower favorites for bee gardeners cone flower, bee balm, butterfly bush, anise hyssop and ajuga in bloom image.
  1. Purple Coneflower
  2. Bee Balm
  3. Butterfly Bushes
  4. Anise Hyssop
  5. Ajuga

Purple Coneflower

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. Then 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.

Coneflowers grow in clumps but will slowly spread. They are not difficult to control. You can keep the clump under control by removing the extras in the Spring.

While not as showy as some of the fancier hybrids, Purple Coneflowers have earned a place in any garden for bees. They are one of the easiest to grow plants for the garden.

Bee Balm

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) (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.

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

This perennial can be grown easily from seed. In fact, I have some seeds starting in my greenhouse right now. It is also a valuable herb that is used in homeopathic medicine.

When planted in mass groupings, they create beautiful islands of color throughout your garden landscape. They also feed a multitude of pollinators-not just honey bee.

Butterfly Bushes

Not everyone is a fan of Butterfly Bushes (buddleia). While providing long fronds of beautiful blooms, not every variety offers a lot of food to pollinators.

However, since they are such a popular plant with homeowners, I feel they should be mentioned. Some cultivars are more attractive to bees than others. Check with your local nursery to find the best one for your area.

Also, be aware that some varieties are consider invasive. Even though invasive plants can feed bees – the disadvantages usually outweigh any benefit in the long run.

Even a small backyard may have room for a couple of butterfly bushes. Even if they are not a major food source for bees, they do add diversity to the bee diet.

Butterfly Bushes can get rather large. They may reach heights of 5’ of more but in cold regions, they will die back to the ground during Winter. Here in South Carolina, I cut mine back to the ground each Spring.

Anise Hyssop

Annise Hyssop (Agastache) is a wonderful plant for your bee garden. It has a long bloom period and 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.

Ajuga

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.

picture of lavender blooming ajua in bee garden

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.

Perennial Flowers Bees Love

In addition to the top five most popular perennials for bees, you have many other plants to consider. Check out this list and you are sure to find some that will grow well in your climate.

  1. Purple Coneflowers/Rudbeckia spp.
  2. Bee Balm/Monarda
  3. Butterfly Bushes (some cultivars)
  4. Anise Hyssop
  5. Ajuga
  6. Astilbe, /Astilbe spp.
  7. Bellflower/Campanula spp.
  8. Betony/Stachys monieri
  9. Black-eyed Susan, coneflower/Rudbeckia spp.
  10. Blanket flower/Gaillardia
  11. Blazing star/Liatris spicata
  12. Butterfly weed/Asclepias tuberosa
  13. Catmint/Nepeta spp
  14. Chrysanthemum (open types)
  15. Clematis/Clematis spp.
  16. Common poppy
  17. Common yarrow/Achillea millefolium
  18. Coral bells/Heuchera spp.
  19. Cornflower/Centaurea spp.
  20. Fennel/Foeniculum vulgare
  21. Foxglove or beardtongues/Penstemon spp.
  22. Garden speedwell/Veronica longifolia
  23. Globe thistle/Echinops ritro
  24. Hosta/Hosta spp.
  25. Lavender
  26. Lemon balm/Melissa officinalis
  27. Lupine/Lupinus spp.
  28. Mints/Mentha spp.
  29. Sedum/Sedum spp.
  30. Stokes aster/Stokesia laevis
  31. Sunflower/Helianthus
  32. Swamp milkweed/Asclepias incarnata
  33. Sweet alyssum/Lobularia maritima
Worker bee on Baby Blue Eye flower in garden image.

Create Diversity in Your Pollinator Garden

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.

This book from the National Wildlife Federation has some great ideas on attracting bees. Choose a wide variety of flower types, colors and bloom time. This type of planting provides a long bloom season with many different food sources.

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.

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.

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