Considering some new plants for the garden? If you want to help pollinators, it is very easy to add a few flowers that attract bees. Your blooms will also feed butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and hundreds of beneficial insects. Part of the delight (and agony) of bee friendly gardening is deciding what to plant.
Plant These Types of Flowers for Bees
A beautiful flower garden is a sight to behold. It adds beauty to your yard and landscape year-round. But, being beautiful is not enough to help bees. They do not visit your garden for its beauty. Bees are attracted to flowers for a food reward: nectar or pollen.
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Some flowering plants attract bees with the lure of sweet nectar. When the bee is collecting nectar, pollen grains are moved from one flower to another. This is pollination – now a seed or fruit is produced that can grow into a new plant.
Characteristics of Attractive Flowers
Choosing flowers that attract honey bees to your garden is not hard to do. But, honey bees and smaller insects are more attracted to certain types of flowers. These include:
- simple flower shapes
- certain colors
- nectar reward
Simple Flower Shapes
Simple flower shapes with easily accessible centers are most desirable. Single flowers with open petals are a bee favorite. Fancy blossoms featuring double flowers can be worked by honey bees but they have to work harder to reach the center.
And, plants with long tubular blooms such as honeysuckle or columbine are more appealing to bees with long tongues. Bumble bees, butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate them more.
Luckily, our honey bees are not completely left out. Some plants have extra floral nectaries were bees can get a sip of nectar without going in the flower.
Bee Favorite Flower Colors
Honey bees see flowers and plants differently that humans. However, they do have good color vision and the ability to see UV light. Their special sight abilities and olfactory cues help them find useful plants.
Bees do seem to prefer certain colors- namely those in the UV light spectrum. Purples, blues, white and various shades of yellows are especially appealing. But, they will collect rich nectar from any flower regardless of color.
In addition to color, some flowers attract bees with fragrance. It is the female workers who are responsible for collecting resources needed for the hive.
They will fly up to several miles if needed but are glad to take advantage of good food sources closer to home. What is a good food reward? That depends on the plant and growing conditions.
Some bee plants provide a more consistent food reward while others can be richer or less depending on rainfall etc.
Bees need nectar but be sure to include some pollen producing plants too. The colony can not raise new babies without it.
Avoid plants that have been highly hybridized. These are the extra fancy specimens we often see in garden centers.
These plants are developed to look beautiful and not produce seed. (Some homeowners dislike messy seed pods). While this may look great in your garden, these plants produce much less to zero pollen.
High Nectar Flowers that Attract Bees
The amount of nectar produced and it’s concentration (or sugar content) varies a lot of one plant to another.
Growing conditions also play an important role in nectar secretion. Plants that produce nectar even in dry conditions are very beneficial even if they are not the richest nectar sources. And, bees helps flowers in return by providing pollination of the plant.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache spp.)
Anise Hyssop is one of the most bee-attractive native flowers in North America. Happiest is full sun to part shade, the purple or white flowers appear in Summer. There are several species to choose from and some have a sugar concentration of up to 40%.
Aster (Symphyotrichum spp)
You will find many varieties of aster to fit into a wide range of growing conditions. They grow well in wetland conditions to meadow settings. Aster becomes an important fall nectar source for honey bee colonies. White, pink or blue blooms appear in late Summer into Fall. Sugar concentrations in nectar range from 24-40% or more.
Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)
With the word “bee” in the name you know this flower must be attractive to bees. Monarda does not disappoint as a bee magnet. This excellent pollinator plant attracts many different kinds of insects.
Among the numerous varieties – Spotted Beebalm is a major honey plant in some regions. Happiest in part shade, red, purple, white or pink flowers appear mid-Summer.
Blanketflower (Gaillardia spp.)
Know for it’s brilliant bright colors, blanketflower is attractive to honey bees and many native bees too. Several varieties are available. They grow well in full sun and become covered with blooms during the Summer. Nectar concentrations hoover around 32% in good conditions.
Blazing Star (Liatris spp.)
This plant can become a major focus in the garden. Easy to grow they do well in poor soil – even during times of little rain. Liatris grow from tuberous corm and enjoy full sun. The lavender blooms attract honey bees, butterflies, moths and humming birds.
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
Blue Vervain is a wetland-adaptable plant that is easy to grow and establish. It is tolerant of wet conditions unlike many other bee flowers. Blue blooms appear in Summer. Also serves as a host plant for caterpillars.
Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)
Fireweed loves cool climates and high altitudes. It is considered one of the best honey plants in North America. Bees produce a light buttery flavor honey from fireweed. In fact, the flavor reminds me of Sourwood.
Growing well in sun to part shade, pink flowers appear in Summer. The average sugar concentration is around 35%.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea spp.)
Purple Coneflowers must be included in any discussion about flowers attractive to bees. These plants are so easy to grow – even a new gardener can be successful. In addition to nectar, honey bees are often seen gathering pollen on cone flowers.
The common purple flowered versions are the most prolific producers. Doing well in full Sun, purple flowers appear in Summer. Once established they grow well without much maintenance.
Salvia (Salvia spp.)
The salvia family offers a lot of diversity being available both as annuals and perennials. Flower colors include white, red, pink, purple and blue. Blue flower varieties are most attractive to honey bees.
Salvia grows well in sunny locations with average to dry soil. They bloom in mid-Summer and some varieties have nectar concentrations of 40% or more.
Don’t forget the weeds that attract bees. These can be especially beneficial early in the season. Delay those garden chores a couple of weeks if you can!
If space is big issue, consider some ideas for vertical gardening stands. You will be surprised at what you can do with good soil and water.
A Diverse Food Source for Bees
Honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinators benefit from a variety of nectar and pollen sources. Each type of flowering plant that produces nectar or pollen contains different vitamins, minerals etc.
This is why commercial migratory hives used for crop pollination sometimes suffer poor health. There may be plenty of food available but it is all the same. Our mono agriculture system plants large plots of one thing.
Mix it up and choose bee friendly flowers of different kinds. Think outside the box – or pot – and do some creative bee garden design.
- Do you have an area that stay wet and moist most of the season? Develop a small rain garden in high wash areas.
- If you have an area that is hard to mow, is it a great place for a mini meadow of wildflowers? Make your own flower seed balls with the kids and have fun placing them around the area.
- Bees need water too! Do you have room for a small pond of water garden? In addition to clean drinking water, some water loving plants feed bees.
- Throw in some perennials bees love to have plants that return year after year.
- Flowering trees can be valuable bee forage. Of course, not everyone has room for trees but if you do, consider planting a couple. There are also many flowering bushes that bees love to consider.
- Low on space – don’t despair. Container gardening works for pollinators too and there are many different varieties to consier.
Where to Use Plants that Don’t Attract Bees
No matter how bee friendly you are, there will be some situations in the garden where bee visitors are not quite as welcomed. Plant flowers that attract bees well away from narrow sidewalks and play areas. Give the bees plenty of room to work.
The bees attracted to the flowers may feel threatened with foot traffic constantly going past. Choose from my list of flowers that repel bees or are less attractive to insect for these areas.
You are unlikely to experience a bee sting if you remain calm. Honey bees are not aggressive away from the hive. But, they will defend themselves. Observe from a distance and enjoy the beauty of nature.
You don’t have to be a Master Gardener to grow flowers that attract honey bees to your yard. Your local garden center is a great place to begin your search. Even if the selection is small, they will be familiar with growing conditions in your area.
Another great resource is online ordering with its great variety. When ordering flowers seed or plants online – always check the reviews of the seller.