When planning our landscapes and gardens we sometimes overlook the very best choices. These are the native plants. When choosing native shrubs for bees, you are not only providing a food source but also cover and shelter for other insects and wildlife. There are a wide variety of plant types to consider and some a more suited for one area than another. Compare the various features and sizes and choose a few native shrubs for your garden.
How to Choose Native Shrubs for Your Bee Garden
The United States is blessed with a wide range of growing conditions. Long cold Winters visit some parts of the country. Yet, hot dry weather is common in other areas. The same can be said for precipitation with areas known to be wet and those that are dry.
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When searching for the best native shrubs for bees, you will notice some overlap. Many plants do well over a large region, while some may live-but not grow well outside of their native range.
Consider the difference between plants that live vs plants that do well. An individual specimen may be able to sustain life in a spot that is not perfect. However, unhealthy plants often do not produce as much nectar for the bees to collect. Or even pollen needed to raise young bees.
A healthy productive native shrub may be a better choice than a bush that is a known bee plant but not suited for your growing conditions.
No matter which region you call home, you are sure to find some good bee plants to fit your area. Check with your local extension office to find those that have a reputation for doing well.
Popular Native Shrubs that Benefit Bees
Native plants are those that occur naturally in your given region. No one planted them there – or if they did – known one remembers it. They are always a good choice because they have a history of growing well in your climate.
Covering a wide range of growing conditions, the United States offers a lot of ecological diversity. From the mountains to the plains, coastal marshes and arid desert, pollinators search for food.
For those of you who want to help, you have a lot of choices. There are many developed cultivars or shrubs that help feed bees. Some are great resources but here are a few native plants to consider too.
Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus)
Sometimes called Bubby Bush, Spice Bush or Sweetshrub is native to the Appalachians south of New England. This this bee friendly native shrub has small blooms that are not very noticeable. But, the leaves and blooms are fragrant when crushed and were often used to make potpourri.
Carolina Rose (Rosa Carolina)
Carolina Rose, also called “Pasture Rose”, is a deciduous shrub that grows well in a wide variety of soil conditions. Native the the Eastern half of the United States, it is beneficial to many pollinators and wildlife too-providing habitat.
This shrub is deer resistant and even though it likes moist soil, it is drought tolerant. However, it does have many thorny branches so keep that in mind when planting. A good choice for a naturalized area or a rain garden to control erosion.
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
This blooming shrub is native to most regions of the United States. It is highly adaptable to many different soil types. The beautiful white flowers bloom in mid-summer and are very attractive to bees. The berries produced feed other types of wildflower later in the season.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Buttonbush is a common site in New England. But, this native shrub for bees grows well across a great part of the country. From Alabama to California, this shrub has several types and loves wet conditions. It is even salt tolerant.
Button bush is especially attractive to pollinators with longer tongues such as butterflies – but bees visit it too. Great for mass plantings or naturalizing.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
There are several varieties of Elderberry. Most are native to the Eastern and mid-sections of the United States. Elderberry is an excellent native shrub for bees providing both pollen and nectar.
The resulting berries from ample bee pollination are enjoyed by wildlife (birds, small animals etc). And, many people harvest the berries and use them to make wine, jams or homeopathic medicines.
Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
Highbush Blueberry is native to the continental United States from Texas to Maine. It can reach heights of 8 feet (though of course you can prune it to a small space). In addition to offering food for hungry bees in Spring, the resulting berries feed local wildlife. Another plus is the beautiful red leaves that showcase the arrival of Fall.
Oregon Grape (Berberis aquifolium)
Oregon Grape is a popular plant with beekeepers. It is native to the western US but it grows well in many locations. My shrubs feed bees here in upstate South Carolina in late Winter. This is an especially good forage choice for colonies getting ready for Spring.
Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)
Pussy Willow is a narrow upright growing shrub, this native serves as an important early season pollen source for honey bees and native bees. There are many varieties of this shrub with many being native to the northern half of the United States. However, many of them grow well in other regions. It is good to cut them back every few years to encourage growth of new stems.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier stolonifera)
Dwarf Serviceberry is a low maintenance shrub that is great for native gardens. It is native to the northeastern and north-central United States.
The blooms are attractive to bees and other pollinators and like Highbush Blueberry, it offers beautiful Fall color. With very little pruning required, this well-behaved native shrub is a great addition to your bee garden. There are other types of that can be a pain to manage – check your variety when purchasing.
Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum)
There are many varieties of Sumas. This one is a valuable native shrub for bees that is native to the eastern half of the United States. It needs a bit of space. This plant can grow up to 20 feet tall and likes to form thickets. It is very valuable to pollinators and could be part of a natural planting area.
Other Bee Friendly Native Shrubs to Consider:
- Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)
- Black Willow (Salix nigra)
- California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)
- Canyon Gooseberry (Ribes menziesii)
- Cliff Fendlerbush (Fendlera rupicola)
- Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
- Dwarf Coastal Manzanita (Arctostaphylos edmundsii)
- Eastern Teaberry (Gaultheria Procumbens)
- Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus)
- Lemonade Sumac (Rhus integrifolia)
- Mountain Pepperbush (Clethra acuminata)
- Meadow Sweet (Spirea alba)
- Western Snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis)
- Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Shrubs Provide Important Habitat for Many Pollinators
One of the most remarkable things about using native plant species is that you are not only helping bees. Many other pollinators and forms of wildlife will enjoy the nectar, pollen, fruit, foliage or even cover provided by these plants.
Including a few native shrubs for bees help provide a diverse habitat. Some serve as host plants for caterpillars, moths, wasps and beetles. Without a viable food source these important insects would fail to live and reproduce.
Choose a few that will thrive in your location (that is the key) and include them in your bee friendly garden. If you really want the commercialized cultivars that are developed from natives, do your research and make sure they are still bee friendly.