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How to Choose Native Shrubs for Your Bee Garden
When planning our landscapes and gardens we sometimes overlook the very best choices. These are the natives. When choosing native shrubs for bees and other pollinators, you are not only providing a food source but also cover and shelter for other insects and wildlife. Compare the various features and sizes and choose a few native shrubs for your bee garden area.
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. No matter which region you call home, you are sure to find some plants to fit your area.
When searching for the best bushes for bees, you will notice some overlap even in native shrubs. 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.
Native Shrubs for Pollinators
Native plants are those that occur naturally in your given region. They are a good choice because they are likely to do 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 will find many different types of shrubs that help feed bees and other pollinators. Many are developed cultivars and that is great. But also, consider adding a few native plants to your garden too.
Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus)
Sometimes called Bubby Bush, Spice Bush or Sweetshrub, this bee friendly shrub has small blooms that are not very noticeable. 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. It is beneficial to many pollinators and wildlife too. However, it does have many thorny branches so keep that in mind when planting.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Buttonbush is a native shrub that grows well across a great part of the country. From Alabama to California, this shrub has several types and loves wet conditions. It is especially attractive to pollinators with longer tongues but bees visit it as well.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
There are several varieties of Elderberry. It is an excellent native shrub for bees providing both pollen and nectar. The resulting berries from ample bee pollination are enjoyed by wildlife. 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. 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. It is good to cut them back every few years to encourage growth of new stems.
Service Berry (Amelanchier stolonifera)
Also called Running Service Berry, this low maintenance shrub is great for native gardens. 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.
Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum)
There are many varieties of Sumas. This one is a valuable native shrub for bees if you have 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 Native Wildlife Shrubs to Consider:
- Black Sage (Salvia mellifera)
- Black Willow (Salix nigra)
- California Buckeye (Aesculus californica)
- Canyon Gooseberry (Ribes menziesii)
- Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
- 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)
Final Thoughts on Using Native Wildlife Shrubs for Bees
One of the most remarkable things about planting native shrubs for bees 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. Choose a few that will thrive in your location and include them in your bee friendly garden.