When honey bees forage for plant nectar and pollen, they search out the very best sources. They care not at all whether the plant is classified as a desirable specimen in the yard or a weed. In fact, some of the most important food plants for bees are considered weeds. Of course, not every weed is beneficial to honey bees and other pollinators. However, before you get over zealous in your gardening chores, consider if those weeds that attract bees?
Early Blooming Weeds that Bees Like
Of course, not everyone can be happy with a yard full of weeds– no matter how many bees they feed. That’s okay.
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For the areas where weed control is a must, search out a bee friendly weed killer (or grass killer). Otherwise, when you are evaluating the state of your backyard or garden, think about leaving some of the weeds that bloom and provide nectar or pollen for bees.
Winter Weeds Feed Spring Pollinators
Weeds are known for being rather hardy as a group. The ones in my garden often grow much better than I would wish. However, some of the late Winter/early Spring weeds provide valuable food for honey bees.
As the colonies are coming out of Winter and venturing outside on warmish days, they are ravenous for fresh nectar and pollen. Even colonies that have good food stores in the hive will actively gather fresh provisions.
Warmer temperatures and lengthening daylight signal that Spring is just around the corner. Colony worker bees are foragers hard at work.
The honey bee colony is working hard to raise more worker bees. They will be needed for the main honey flow once Spring arrives.
Many regions experience wind in late Winter/early Spring. Weeds tend to be low growing so the bees can forage on them – even on Windy days.
Common Weeds Bees Love
These are some of the most popular weeds for early season pollinators. Many grow in several regions across the country. Do you have some weeds not listed that are native to your area? If so, let me know.
Dandelion Plants (Taraxacum spp.)
Dandelions are an important early food source for bees. They are found in bloom from March – October in many regions.
In warmer areas, a few dandelions are often found nestled in warm corners of the yard – even in Winter.
They play a role as an early food source for bees providing both nectar and pollen. However, they are not the first blooming food plant for bees in most areas.
Pollen from the flowers is not that great but the plant is a good nectar source. If you can leave a few dandelions around to add variety to the bee diet that is a great thing.
However, you do not have to leave a lawn full of them for the hungry bees. Instead consider leaving some natural areas with a variety of weeds that bees like. Also, if you enjoy making herbal medicines – how about some dandelion salve?
Chick Weed (Stellaria media)
Chick Weed is a low growing cool season plant that can be invasive. Considered an annual, its foliage may stay green all year in warm climates.
It reproduces from seed. The small white flowers are only open for 1 day however the plant produces many flowers.
Common chick weed is a nectar source for hungry bees. Sometimes, both nectar and pollen is collected from the small flowers. This plant is better suited to a prairie or native area that is allowed to grow wild.
Henbit (Lamium aplexicaule)
Henbit is a Winter annual that only lives for one season. Leaves emerge in the Fall and remain during the Winter months.
In late Winter, henbit blooms and produces seeds that will become the plants for next season.
Henbit features long slender purple flowers and has heart shaped leaves with scalloped edges.
Shallow rooted, these plants are easier to remove by pulling them up before seed sets. However, you might want to consider leaving some in a few areas. They are important sources of nectar for bees.
Purple Deadnettle-(Lamium pupureum)
Purple Deadnettle is also a Winter Annual. It too is a member of the mint family (like henbit) and these two are often confused.
Having the same bloom time, henbit and purple deadnettle are often seen in the same location.
Both of these weeds attract bees in mass on warm Winter days. Providing important nectar and pollen to hungry colonies very early in the season-a time when not many plants are in bloom.
Pollen collected from deadnettle is bright red. The flowers of purple deadnettle (also called red deadnettle in Europe) are not as dark purple as those of henbit. A noticeable characteristic of deadnettle is the purplish leaves at the top of the plant.
Speedwell (Veronica persica)
Speedwell is a low growing annual native to Asia. The plant grows 4”-12” long and blooms in late Winter or early Spring. It prefers partial to full sun and moist loamy soil.
Dainty blue single flowers open on sunny days. This flowering weed attracts small bees and some flies.
My patch of speedwell is covered with foraging honey bees on warm Winter days. Providing nectar and pollen, speedwell flowers are a beautiful addition to a natural area.
Bees with a Red Dot on Their Head
New beekeepers and other bee lovers often see a curious sight. Why do my foraging bees have a red dot on their head – right between their eyes?
While it may seem that this is a fashion statement by the bees, it is not. What you are seeing is pollen.
Depending on the flower structure of the plant they are working, sometimes the bee head comes in contact with pollen covered anthers. This results in a beautiful pollen dot on their head – right between the eyes.
Weeds do Indeed Feed Bees
Resist pulling these weeds that bees like and use for food as long as you can in the late Winter. They provide important nectar and pollen for many types of pollinators – not just honey bees.
When you do need to practice some weed control, do so in a way that minimizes an bad effects for the bees. And when you can, leave a few natural areas scattered here and there.
Weeds can be a part of your bee garden design. Honey bees thrives on a diverse diet.
Having a mixture of many blooming plants is the best way to help the achieve that goal. It might be a weed to us but to a hungry bee… it’s breakfast!