Honey bees gather nectar from millions of flowering plants. Some flowering plants are great producers of sweet nectar. These honey plants help the colony produce food for themselves, and hopefully some for the beekeeper. Choosing to include some of the best plants for honey production on your property, may stimulate the bees to produce an even larger crop.
Healthy honey bee colonies need to have a variety of sources of pollen and nectar. Just like humans, they are not as healthy without a diverse diet. When we consider the best flowers for bees, those that are known to produce abundant nectar play an important role in bee life.
What is a Honey Plant?
Any flower that produces nectar – could be called a honey plant – in the most general terms. But, in beekeeping terminology, the word honey plant refers to blooming plants known to produce abundant nectar.
The term Melliferous is often given to them – meaning “yielding or producing honey”. The copious amounts of nectar allow our bees to make honey for them and us.
Best Honey Plants for Bees
How do you know which as the best honey plants for your region? Well, anytime we are dealing with a growing plant – growing conditions and climate play a role.
As conditions vary – so does nectar production. But, here are some of the most common plants that have a reputation for increasing honey production.
Clover (Trifolium spp.)
Clover and bees seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Almost all types of clovers can be good plants for honey production.
With over 300 types of “Trifolium” flowers to choose from, you are sure to find one that does well in your climate.
In fact, some regions of the US grow fields of clover in order to produce large amounts of Clover Honey (A particular mono-floral product like Tupelo or Sourwood Honey.
Soil and weather conditions affect the harvest but White Sweet Clover and Yellow Sweet Clover can yield around 200 # of honey per acre.
Even a small-scale beekeeper can supplement bee forage by having a small patch of clover in a nearby field.
All bees will enjoy the blooms of white clover that appear in the lawn over Summer. June and July can be hot and dry in my region and white clover bees love may be the only thing in bloom.
This does help keep the colonies from starving but is not enough to produce a honey crop.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender is a bee friendly plant that produces a lot of nectar for honey production. The highly fragrant blossoms are very attractive to bees.
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Both Borage and Tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia) are members of the Boraginaceae family. Both are very good sources of nectar for bees and may yield enough to produce a honey crop.
Their unique blue flowers are attractive to bees and offer a rich nectar source. Borage can be grown in plots almost anywhere.
Tansy is native to the Southwestern US and often grown in the desert regions of California and surrounding areas.
Many varieties have a fairly long bloom season which means sustained nectar for a while. If you can find a type that grows well in your climate, you should consider planting some lavender for your colonies and yourself.
Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.)
Sunflowers are not always a major plant for honey production but they can be. Grown in a commercial operation under the right growing conditions, they can have a honey yield from 30-100# per acre.
And let’s be honest, not much is more beautiful than a field of sunflowers. There large easily accessible flower heads are very appealing to working bees.
Growing sunflowers to boost your honey harvest is possible on a smaller scale too.
Be sure to choose a type of sunflower that feeds bees – not all do. And having a way to keep the plants irrigated during the hot Summer can help.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
Buckwheat must be included in this section of honey plants. Though it is not grown much commercially for the seed, buckwheat is still used as a cover crop in some regions.
The resulting honey often makes the top ten list for best honey in the world – even though it is quite strong and many people leave it for the bees.
Bees love buckwheat flowers and beekeepers sometimes grow a bit to supplement late season nectar sources. I grow a small patch of buckwheat for bees at the end of Summer.
Mints and Salvias
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) can be grown in a large pot or in a small field setting. This herbal plant has been known to produce several hundred pounds of honey per acre.
In fact, there are many herbal plants that help feed bees. This is a win-win for the small homestead. A great way to grow herbs for yourself and fed the bees a bit at the same time.
Mints are beneficial to bees though many of these plants should be tightly controlled or they will escape. Most salvias are well behaved and do well in a large planting or as features in your yard.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Goldenrods are a member of the genus “Solidago“. There are many varieties of Goldenrod available, you are sure to find one that does well in your climate.
In some regions, goldenrod is a major honey plant. Not always a consumer favorite, the late season food source is beneficial to hungry colonies.
The most important thing about goldenrod for bees is the season of bloom. It’s end of season bloom is one of the last true food sources for most bees before Winter.
Canola (Brassica napus)
While bees will gather nectar from crops such as turnip greens or even broccoli, canola is the winner in the Brassicaceae family.
A major nectar source, canola (also called Rapeseed) makes use of bee pollination in many regions of the world include Canada.
Pollination of canola is a major source of income for some commercial beekeepers.
On the downside, canola honey crystallizes very quickly and can be a problem for beekeepers wanting to delay their harvest.
Also, the fact that most of the canola grown in the US is genetically modified is troubling to some.
Soybeans (Glycine max)
Soybeans are another major crop that is attractive to honey bees. These plants are mostly self-pollinating and do not rely on bee pollination.
But, some varieties produce nectar that is high in sugar content. So honey bees do forage in soybean fields.
Some beekeepers report harvesting soybean honey from time to time, but there is always the danger of colonies being killed due to pesticide use.
Of course, this is true in any agricultural setting and a special danger for migratory beekeepers.
Milkweed (Apocynaceae spp.)
Milkweed boasts over 55 different species. Some of them are so melliferous that you can shake nectar from the plant.
Milkweed is very beneficial to other pollinators too – not just bees. However, some varieties can be aggressive so keep that in mind when you choose a place to plant them.
Common milkweed is known for being a little too happy in some locations. However, if you have the space to keep it contained it is a great nectar plant.
To find the best suitable plants for your area – check the Xerces Society’s Regional Milkweed Guides.
Known Families of Nectar Producers
The members of the following plant families are commonly used in most bee gardens as reliable producers of nectar.
Many are annual plants that must be reseeded each year but you will find some perennials too. There are even some great trees for bees including fruit trees etc.
- Fabaceae (clovers, redbud, soybean, black locust)
- Lamiaceae (mints, sage, thyme, bee balm, basil, salvia, lavender, lemon balm)
- Brassicaceae (turnip greens, broccoli, canola)
- Asteraceae (sunflowers, dandelion, cosmos, echinacea, zinnias)
- Rosaceae (apples, peaches, crabapples, blackberry)
- Boraginaceae (borage, tansy)
Does Plant Selection Make a Difference?
Some people say you can’t plant enough flowers to make a difference – due to the large area bees travel looking for food. But, this does not stop beekeepers that hope to boost honey production.
Sure, large plantings would be the most beneficial. But, even smaller food plots could possibly result in a larger honey harvest or life-saving food stores for Winter.
Flowers use nectar to lure pollinators like honeybees, butterflies, native bees and insects to the bloom.
Pollination helps the plant produce seed. But, not every flower needs help from bees.
Not all Honey Plants are a Good Idea
If you have these plants in your landscape, please don’t rush out to dig them up. In the high majority of cases – everything is just fine.
However, bees will gather food wherever they can – even if the nectar might be bad for them.
In some situations: nectar from azaleas, rhododendron and a few others are not a good choice. These plants can be toxic to bees. Don’t go ripping them out-but they are not the best ones to add to your bee garden.
Also, some invasive plants feed bees – some even allow a honey harvest – but they may not be best for the ecosystem.
When you are consider new flowers, be sure to think of the whole impact they may make on the environment.
What are the top plants for honey production? Well, that will depend to a degree on where you live.
Planting for our bees is a lot of fun. You may not produce a huge honey crop, but even small plots can help your colonies produce a bit more honey this year.