Planting Flowers for Bees is a Good Idea
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 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 .) And choosing bee friendly plants is such an easy thing to do.
How Flowers Help Bees
My honey bees are not very concerned with what looks pretty. They are interested in food resources. Many flowers provide pollen or nectar (or both) to hungry bees.
Honey bees are not the only ones that benefit from flower plants. Bumble Bees, Wasps, Butterflies and many other pollinator visit the flower garden.
Pollen is as important as nectar. Good pollen sources help raise young bees and good nectar sources are needed for bees to make honey.
Do Flowers Need Bees?
Not all plants need help from bees for pollination. Some are pollinated by the wind. Their light weight pollen is easily carried on the wind to other flowers of the same kind.
For the plants that do need insect pollination, they have a plan. These flowering plants have evolved to promote pollination. They provide something that bees need.
Sweet nectar produced by nectar glands in the bloom or other locations of the plant encourage bees visits. While the bees are sucking up nectar, their fuzzy bodies collect pollen and move it from bloom to bloom.
The result is pollination and the plant is now able to produce seed or fruit. 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.
What Flowers Can I Plant for Bees?
Every blooming flower that produces nectar or pollen counts. And, if you have room a variety of flowers for bees and butterflies you 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.
Do all blooming plants feed honey bees? No, they do not. Not every blossom feeds bees, it may not provide nectar or pollen. 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.
But fancy blooms 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. Single flowered plants usually produce more nectar as well.
This is because the single flower plant invests more energy in nectar production and less in petal formation.
There are so many creative ways to provide flowers for pollinators.
You really do not have to have a lot of space. Think in terms of micro gardening, even small spaces can make a difference.
Which Flowers do Bees Like?
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 of 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 $20 !
Some of the flowers are annuals but some are perennials that will return year after year.
Bee loves weeds too! Before you decide to spray weed killer, consider leaving them for a few weeks. And always choose the least harmful spray to use.
When to Plant Flowers for Bees?
The best time to plant your bee attracting flowers will depend on several factors. Of course, your climate plays a role in planting or seed starting.
Also, some varieties of plants bloom the first year and others take up to 2 years before blooms appear. There is another consideration when choosing flowers for bees. This is bloom time.
Choose a variety of plants with different bloom times. Even better are varieties that have a long bloom cycle. Your goal is to provide food throughout the season.
Plan your bee garden to bloom in stages throughout the Summer. This 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.
Wildflowers Provide Food for Bees Too
Of course, honey bee colonies have been providing for themselves for thousands of years. It is not only human provided plants that supply their need.
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. Any nectar producing plants that can take the heat are important to my bees.
A few large planters filled with blooming flowers will provide some fresh nectar during the dry months too. This may help prevent the bees from digging into honey that is stored for the Winter.
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. Not all sunflowers provide pollen ! Read the seed packet, some new varieties are pollen-less.
Rudbeckia Goldstrum is a variety of cone flower 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.T
Flowering Trees Feed Bees
Blooming trees can provide large amounts of nectar in one season. Many are available for purchase. Find one that grows well in your climate.
One of my favorites is the Tulip Poplar Tree. This large tree 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 Bee 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 ready to bloom from your local garden center. Read the labels and ask questions to ensure those plants have not been treated with anything toxic to bees.
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. They provide pollinator food each year. But don’t overlook the annuals that are beneficial as well.
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.
While you are at it, you might install some type of bee waterer. This can be a small pond or large fountain with safe drinking areas.
Whether you are a beekeeper, nature lover or gardener, try to choose flowers that bees like – this year.