Clover for Bees

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If you want to help support bee populations, choosing the best clover for bees is one viable option for your bee garden. Clover is easy to grow and offers a rich source of nectar and important pollen. With its charming blooms and reliable food source, clover serves as a beacon for bees. It offers sustenance and vital nutrients crucial for their survival.

Honey bee forages on white dutch clover in field.

 By selecting the right clover species, you can help hungry bees in your area. A large or small patch of clover can be an important part of establishing a diversified honey bee habitat.

Factors Affecting Clover Selection for Bees

As with any plant, you must consider growing conditions. Only healthy plants produce the optimum amounts of nectar.

Some varieties of clover thrive in cooler climates with well-drained soil. Others are better suited to warmer temperatures and different soil types.

Even in the best conditions – different clover species offer varying levels of nectar and pollen production, influencing their value as bee forage plants. Overall, clovers tend to do well in times of drought or (nectar dearths).

Longevity matters too. Some clover species are perennial, while others are annual or biennial. Perennial clovers establish long-lasting stands that provide consistent forage for bees year after year. They are an excellent addition to a wildflower meadow for bees.

Top Varieties of Clover for Bees

Each clover species offers unique characteristics, from nectar abundance to blooming duration, influencing its suitability. Let’s begin with the varieties that most beekeepers and gardeners are familiar with.

  • white clover – including Dutch White
  • crimson clover
  • alsike clover
  • red clover
  • yellow sweet clover
Taller stalks of white clover and dense spread of dutch white clover.

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

White clover is probably the most well-known member of the clover family. It has a wide distribution and is a prolific bloomer. A herbaceous perennial, it is a favorite among beekeepers for its abundant nectar and pollen production.

Its low-growing habit and resilience make it ideal for lawn or pasture integration, providing a continuous food source for honey bees throughout the growing season.

Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens var. ladino)

Dutch White is a “type” of white clover – sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. However, it’s larger blooms are highly attractive to honey bees. It is a robust grower and able to tolerate close mowing and still thrive.

Suitable for lawn areas, pastures and as cover crop mixes, it has earned a place in the world of bee forage.

Vibrant blooms of Crimson Clover in a field - a bee favorite.

Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)

Crimson Clover is so beautiful that is could be grown as an ornamental. The vibrant crimson-hued flowers provide a significant nectar source.

It is an annual clover that must be replanted but the bloom period extends into the cooler months. A great choice for providing forage into the Fall.

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Field of blooming alsike clover with visiting bees.

Alsike Clover (Trifolium hybridum)

Alsike clover stands out for its delicate pink flowers. It loves wetter soil conditions, making it a valuable option for beekeepers in regions with higher moisture levels. It prefers silty clay loam soils.

This perennial clover species provides reliable forage for honey bees throughout the summer months. It provides food during times when other nectar sources may be limited.

Large red pink blooms of red clover.

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

While Red Clover is not the best clover for honey bees – other pollinators will make good use of it. And, some honey bees will visit red clover.

If the nectar is abundant, they can reach deep within the floret – much like Bumblebees. With its striking pinkish-red blossoms, red clover offers a valuable late-spring to early-summer forage option for bees.

Red clover is a biennial legume that helps enrich soil fertility through nitrogen fixation (as do the other clovers).

It also attracts pollinators to the garden or agricultural fields. Considered invasive in some regions – check with your local extension agent before planting.

Honey bee foraging on yellow sweet clover.

Sweet Clover (Melilotus officinalis)

Yellow Sweet Clover (yes there is a similar white too) is considered a noxious – invasive plant that bees love. This biennial clover has a two year cycle. In the second year it sends up tall stalks with yellow flowers.

Found growing wild in many locations, it is a very attractive to honey bees and is a known honey plant. You may not want to start a patch of your own sweet clover but it is good to know if you already have it.

Planting and Cultivating Clover

Some folks do consider clover to be a weed. But, they are one of those weeds that feed bees. Yes, you can plant it.

Planting clover for bees begins with soil preparation. Clover thrives in well-drained soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0.

Choose quality clover seeds from reputable suppliers. This reduces the chances of contaminants and gives you the best chance of a high germination rate.

Applying an inoculant to clover seed ensures the best strain Rhizobium bacteria for highest germination.

Select varieties of clover for bees that are suitable for your climate and soil conditions. Consider mixing different clover species to extend the blooming period and provide a long season of bloom.

Once established, a perennial clover meadow for bees requires little care. Annual varieties need to be replanted each season of course.

FAQs

What types of clover is best for bees?

It is commons recommended to mix two different clovers together when planting for bee forage. Both White Clover and Crimson Clover are very attractive to honey bees.

How do you plant clover for bees?

The best way to plant clover is to prepare the soil by removing all grass, weeds and other vegetation. Seed can be spread and raked in – the use of an inoculant will increase germination.

Why do bees like clover so much?

Clover is valued for bees because it produces an abundant amount of nectar under the right conditions.

Is white clover good for bees?

White clover provides both nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators.

A Final Word

Try one to include one of these top varieties of clover into your bee-friendly landscape. It is a small thing that beekeepers and gardeners can do to help honey bees and promote ecosystem health.

If you already have some areas of clover nearby – be sure to let them bloom a bit – especially during hot dry weather when bees are most in need.