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Top Honey Plants for Producing Honey

Honey bees gather nectar from millions of flowering plants. These honey plants help the colony produce food that is essential for their survival. Many beekeepers hope to collect excess honey from their hives. Choosing to include some of the best plants for honey production on your property, may stimulate the bees to produce an even larger crop.

Best Plants to Help Honey Production

Pink clover plants in bloom one of the top honey plants for bees image.

Healthy honey bee colonies need to have a variety of sources of pollen and nectar.  Just like humans, they are not as healthy if they must rely on only one plant for all their nutrition.

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In normal situations, foraging workers have a wide variety of food sources to visit. They gather nectar and pollen from many native plants including weeds. But, not every flower in their foraging area is of equal value.

Some people say you can’t plant enough flowers to make a difference – due to the large area bees travel. But, this does not stop beekeepers that hope to boost honey production.

Of course, large plantings could be the most beneficial. But, even smaller food plots could possibly result in a larger honey harvest. At the very least, they may provide a more diverse diet for the local bees.

What is a Honey Plant?

Any flower that produces nectar – could be called a honey plant. 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.

Honey bee gathers nectar from honey plant image.

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 relies on bees.

Some flowers produce a small amount of nectar or even none at all – even under good conditions. Other plants are major nectar sources that attract bees.  Some of these are wildflowers that grow naturally.

These flowers are dependable as a good bee food source even if the weather isn’t perfect. This helps honey bees and native bees benefit too. These bee-friendly plants include everything from small flowers to trees!

Best Bee Plants for Honey Production

Among blooming plants, some are well-known as reliable producers of nectar.  The members of the following plant families are common in most bee gardens to boost bee nutrition.

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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)
Honey bee foraging on clover plant image.

Clovers are Major Honey Plants

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 large fields of clover in order to produce Clover 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. And, 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 lawn clover may be the only thing in bloom. This does help keep the colonies from starving but is not enough to produce a honey crop. Large fields of clover would be a different thing and could result in a harvest.

Bees are Attracted to Soybeans

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.  Other course, this is true in any agricultural setting and a special danger for migratory beekeepers.

Growing Mints and Salvias

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.

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.

Lavender is a bee friendly plant that produces a lot of nectar for honey production.  If you can find a type that grows well in your climate, you should consider planting some lavender for your colonies.

Large field of canola plant in bloom for rapeseed honey image.

Canola Oil

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.

Providing both nectar and pollen, bee 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.

Honey bee gathers nectar from sunflower to make honey image.

Sunflower Honey

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 yield from 30-100# per acre.  And let’s be honest, not much is more beautiful than a field of sunflowers.

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.

Honorable Mention Honey Plants

Even though these plants do not usually make the “best” list for honey production, they are unique and worth considering.

Borage

Both Borage (Borago officinalis) 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.

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.

Buckwheat

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) must be included in this section of honey plants.  Though it is not grown much commercially, buckwheat is still used as a cover crop in some regions. 

Bees love buckwheat flowers and beekeepers sometimes grow a bit to supplement late season nectar sources. 

The resulting honey from a patch of buckwheat is dark and quite strong – most people leave it for the bees.

Patch of buckwheat honey plants in bloom image.

Goldenrod Honey

Goldenrods are a member of the genus “Solidago“. There are so many varieties of Goldenrod available for bee food. In some regions, they can be a major honey plant.

But for most areas, the importance of Goldenrod is its top place as a late season nectar plant. One of the last true food sources for most bees before Winter.

Milkweed

Milkweed (Apocynaceae) has over 55 different species.  Some of them are so melliferous that you can shake nectar from the plant.  To find the best suitable plants for your area – check the Xerces Society’s Regional Milkweed Guides.

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.

Plants to Avoid in the Landscape

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 can be toxic to bees. So don’t go ripping them out-but they are not the best ones to add to your bee garden.

What are the top plants for honey production that you should plant? Well, that will depend to a degree on where you live.  Some bloom well and produce nectar in a wide range of climate conditions.  Others are specific in their growing range. 

Planting for our bees is a lot of fun for gardeners. But, in order to produce a marketable honey crop, you need to have a very large space in bloom. 

However, even small plots can help your colonies produce a bit more honey this year. Don’t be afraid to think big some flowering bushes are very attractive to bees.