Choosing Flowers For Honey Bees
Do you enjoy spending a relaxing afternoon thumbing through seed catalogs. I do. I am always wanting to try new varieties of plants. And being a beekeeper, I like to choose the best flowers for honey bees. Planting for bees and other pollinators is a very earth friendly thing to do.
Why am I so interested in bee-friendly plants? My motto is “if I have to dig a hole to plant something – it better feed my bees!” I love the bright colors and whimsical names in the seed catalogs. (It seems that weeds magically fail to grow in the gardens shown .)
What Do Bees Need From Flowers?
My honey bees are not very concerned with what looks pretty. They are interested in food resources. Flowers provide pollen or nectar to hungry bees. And some plants provide both! Good pollen sources help raise young bees and good nectar sources are needed for bees to make honey.
The flowering plants themselves have evolved to promote pollination. Many provide sweet nectar to encourage bee visits. Some types and colors of flowers are more attractive to pollinators. These flowers are visited and pollinated – resulting in seed formation and more flowers.
Flowers that attract pollinators will make more seed and have more plants like themselves in the seasons to come.
Who Can Help Grow Flowers for Bees?
Almost everyone! You don’t have to live in an area with wide-open spaces to plant flowers. Suburban gardeners and city municipalities often create rain gardens to benefit bees. These gardens help control run-off water, add beauty to the area and feed bees.
Roof gardens can provide much needed flowers for bees in a city environment. And a few pots on a windowsill helps a hungry bee find food.
Many State Highway Departments have programs to plant strips of wildflowers that add food, shelter and beauty to the landscape.
Diversity is the Key for Honey Bee Diet
Every blooming flowers that produces nectar or pollen counts. And, if you have room a variety of flowers for bees will promote better bee health. Use different kinds of plants, this gives a diverse diet. And it’s not just food for honey bees, other pollinators will benefit as well.
Honey bees and other pollinators want food. They are looking for nectar or pollen. Do all blooms feed honey bees? No, they do not. Be sure to read the label and do your research before shopping.
Today, many new plant varieties are developed for a showy display. These hybridized plants have double flowers with massive blooms and many petals. This is the type of flower that impresses most gardeners.
They are not the best plants for bees, butterflies etc. Take the time to walk past the new hybrids and look at some of the older more simple flowers.
Some of the best flowers for bees have single flowers. They provide nectar and pollen that is easily accessible to pollinators. And, single flowered plants usually produce more nectar as well.
Single flower plants invests more energy in nectar production and less in petal formation.
There are so many creative ways to provide flowers for pollinators.
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Do Honey Bees Have Favorite Plants or Flowers?
Honey bees will forage on any nectar or pollen producing plants. But yes, they do have color preferences.
Honey bees find flowers that are blue, purple and yellow most appealing. Blossoms with red or pink hues are not preferred by honey bees but will be used if more desirable flowers are not available.
Choosing seed varieties for flowers for bees does not have to be difficult. You can purchase a meadow mix.
This large selection of various flower seeds will feed honey bees, bumble bees, butterflies, humming birds and more – for less than $15 !
Some of the flowers are annuals but some are perennials that will return year after year.
Bee Gardens – Spread Out The Bloom
Choose a variety of flowers for bees that have a long bloom cycle. Your goal is to provide food throughout the season. Once option is to find a type of plant with a continuous bloom all season.
Planning your bee garden blossoms occurring in stages through out the Summer, increases nutritional variety in the honey bee diet. This blooming cycle can last well into Fall – when one stops blooming others begin.
I enjoy starting seeds each Spring. Zinnias, cosmos and a few vegetables are my favorites. If you want more info on seed starting – check out this post – from Kris @ Attainable Sustainable.
Don’t Forget the Native Flowers
Take the native flora into account. Do you have native nectar producing plants blooming in May and June? If so don’t try to compete, choose flowers that honey bees like with bloom times in July – September.
In this way, you are supplementing the natural food sources. Of course, this applies to all pollinators not just honey bees.
In my area, we have an explosion of wildflower blooms during Spring. The summer is hot and dry. A few large planters filled with blooming flowers will provide some fresh nectar during the dry months.
My Favorite Flowers For Honey Bees
Aren’t you tired of all that grass? Leave some natural areas for the bees when you can. If you have enough space (or even a few pots), create a bee friendly garden.
A mix of annual and perennial flowers is good. Chose flowers that you love and flowers that honey bees and other pollinators can enjoy.
I love sunflowers. The enormous flowers we see are actually made up of hundreds of tiny flowers. Honey bees enjoy foraging on the individual flower segments. One of most easily recognized of the flowers, the sunflower is available in many different heights.
Most produce nectar, pollen or both and will delight the honey bees in your area. Seeds produced in the fall are also a treat for birds. Read the seed packet, some new varieties are pollen-less.
Rudbeckia Goldstrum is a variety of coneflower that boasts a bright yellow display. This is one of the flowers that honey bees love that can be grown in a large mass. In the fall, birds will feast on the seeds.
But don’t leave those seed heads too long or you may have more rudbeckia than you desire. Rudbeckia Goldstrum can be a perennial in some areas. I have several areas that reseed each year but I would not term mine as aggressive.
Native to the United States, Horsemint (Monarda punctate) is a long blooming perennial. This sun loving plant is a beneficial flower to plant for bees. It is a favorite of other pollinators as well. Mint has been known to have a mind of its own. Plant it in a pot or corral it in.
Trees Provide Flowers for Bees too
Blooming trees can provide large amounts of nectar in one season. Many are available for purchase.
One of my favorites is the Tulip Poplar Tree. This large trees is native to my area. It grows very tall and has large flowers in April. Some years, the Tulip Poplar produces a lot of nectar.
Another tree that is native to my area is the Red Maple. Red Maples bloom very early in the year and are important for colony buildup.
I Love Little Gardens Too!
In my little gardens, I love to plant zinnias, daisies, asters and Echinacea. Searching through the seed catalogs and finding flowers that honey bees like is a fun part of beekeeping. Some plants can be purchased at your local garden center. Most catalogs have sections of plants preferred by pollinators.
Many seeds are easily started inside and transferred outside later. By choosing perennial flowers, you will be building a honey bee sanctuary that will grow over time.
Even though we do sometimes need to feed our bees sugar syrup. The very best food source we can give our honey bees is natural nectar.
Whether you are a beekeeper, nature lover or gardener, try to choose flowers that bees like – this year.
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