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Growing Flowers that Bees Love
Many gardeners want to invite pollinators to their garden. They delight in searching for the best flowers for honey bees and other pollinators. Finding great plant ideas is one of the easiest parts of building a bee friendly garden. However, deciding which ones to get can be a bit more difficult because of the wide selection. To ensure success, select flowers that honey bees like and that will do well in your climate.
Being a gardener for years and a beekeeper, I understand the close connection between plants and pollinators.
My motto is “if I have to dig a hole to plant something – it better feed my bees!” Thankfully, many other people want to help feed pollinators too!
You might be surprised to know that you don’t have to have a large space to make a big difference. Even small gardens can play a role in providing a diverse diet for beneficial insects.
Blooming Plants that Provide Bee Food
Honey bees are not the only ones that benefit from blooming plants. Bumble Bees, Wasps, Butterflies, Moths, Hummingbirds and many other pollinators visit the garden. They will all benefit from your bee friendly garden design.
We know that honey bees gather plant nectar to make honey. Stored honey allows the colony to live through out the cold Winter season when no food is available.
But what else do bees eat? The honey bee diet does not consist of nectar alone. They need pollen. Pollen is protein and it is very important to the colony. Without sufficient pollen, no new baby bees can be raised.
When choosing flowers for bees, try to include a mix of plants that produce nectar or pollen or both!
Do All Flowers Need Bees?
Not all plants need insect pollination . Some are pollinated by the wind. Wind pollinated plants have small flowers that are dull in color and lack any enticing odor.
Plants that do need bee pollination lure insects in with color and odor. The fuzzy bee 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.
Which Flowers do Bees Like Best?
Honey bees will forage on any nectar or pollen producing plants. But yes, they do have preferences. Try selecting as many as possible for your bee garden. Look for flowers that:
- are blue, purple or yellow
- have simple single flower types
- are perennials that return year after year
- choose some flowers that bloom when natives do not
Colors Bees Prefer in Flower Gardens
Honey bees have 5 eyes and these specialized structures help them do the things they need to do – including finding food. However, bees see flowers differently than humans do.
Honey bees can see UV light but red looks black to the bee. They find flowers that are blue, purple and yellow most appealing.
Simple Flowers are Bee Favorites
Some of the best flowers for honey bees have single flowers. This is because the single flower plant invests more energy in nectar production and less in petal formation.
Avoid new hybrids with double flowers and massive blooms, many of them provide no food for pollinators. Today, many new plant varieties are developed for a showy display. They are pretty but not so good for feeding your local bee population.
Perennials: A Good Choice for the Bee Garden
Be sure to plant some perennials for your bees. Returning the next year from root systems or tubers in the ground, they can live for years.
They pack a lot of “umph” for the bee garden because you only have to plant them once. Also, they provide a nice background for showy annuals that you might like.
Choose Some Drought Tolerant Flowers
As you are planning your flower choices, remember to consider the whole season. Fewer natural sources are available during times of drought or even later in the Summer season. This varies a bit from climate to climate.
If you have a problem area that gets very dry during parts of the year, the flowers blooming there may not produce nectar. These spots are a great candidates for drought tolerant plants for bees.
If you have a problem area in your yard that is subject to flooding, creating a rain garden can provide food for area pollinators.
Your garden can become a great food source for pollinators looking for nectar late in the season. Include some fall flowers that bees like in your garden. This helps the colony get ready for Winter.
As always check with local beekeepers to learn the times of the year when providing extra forage is most beneficial.
Flowering Trees Help Feed Honey Bees
Blooming trees can provide large amounts of nectar in one season. Find one that grows well in your climate.
You may already have some native trees that provide food for bees. One of my favorites is the Tulip Poplar Tree. We have these growing wild along the mountain sides and the tree tops buzz each Spring.
Another tree that is native to many areas is the Red Maple. Red Maples bloom very early in the year and are important for colony buildup.
Don’t forget to consider adding a tree to your area if space allows. My list of flowering trees that feed bees will give you some great ideas. Most trees can be planted in late Summer or early Spring.
Honey Bees Like Wildflowers & Weeds
Of course, honey bee colonies have been providing for themselves for thousands of years. It is not only human provided plants that supply their needs.
As you choose the best flowers for honey bees to plant be sure to take native flora into account. Don’t try to compete with native plants.
Find those that fill in the weeks of the year with there are few natural food sources. And don’t forget those important weeds.
When to Plant Bee Flowers
The best time to plant flowers that attract bees will depend on several factors. Will you be starting from seed or buying plants already started?
Choosing seed varieties of flowers to grow does not have to be difficult. You can purchase a meadow mix. Providing a variety of different kinds of flowers is good for the honey bee diet.
Consider your climate and chose plants that will do well. Choose a variety of flowers long bloom cycles.
It is not necessary to have a large space to help. Every blooming flower that produces nectar or pollen counts.
Who Can Help Grow Flowers for Pollinators?
Almost everyone can provide some areas of honey bee habitat! You don’t have to live in an area with wide-open spaces to plant bee friendly flowers.
Suburban gardeners and city municipalities often create plantings to benefit pollinators. These gardens help control run-off water, add beauty to the area too.
Roof gardens can provide much needed bee food 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.
Honey Bees Favorite Flowers
Now its your turn to choose from my list of flowers that attract bees. You are sure to find something that appeals to you and grows well in your region.
If you are looking for an annual plant with a lot of pizazz don’t forget Sunflowers. Some varieties of sunflowers are good for bees. But do your homework – some sunflowers are pollen-less.
Not every blooming plant is a friend to pollinators. Some plants produce nectar or pollen toxic to bees. And others are actually good food sources under normal weather conditions but can be dangerous during a drought, etc.
Final Thoughts on Flowers for Honey Bees
Aren’t you tired of all that grass? Leave some natural areas for the beneficial insects when you can. If you have enough space (or even a few pots), create a bee friendly garden. A popular method for small spaces is to make a container garden for bees .
Many bee friendly flowers are easy to start from seed and quite inexpensive. One easy way to increase the variety of flowers in an area is to make seed bombs with air dry clay. Another similar project uses potting soil and red clay – Wildflower Seed Balls .
Providing food resources for insects is very easy to do. All of the pollinators in your area will benefit from the beneficial flowers in your garden.