Best Trees for Bees

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In addition to offering shade and beauty to your yard, choosing the best trees for bees benefits all of the hungry pollinators in your area. When choosing plants that provide food for bees trees are often overlooked – but they should not be. If you have the space in your landscape, nectar producing trees are a great way to offer a large food source.

Honey bee foraging on white blooms of a tree image.

Small or large, flowering trees can be valuable food sources for bees and other pollinators. In addition to food, they provide shelter and shade for many other life forms. This contributes to having variety in the things bees eat (nectar source) and promotes good health.

Trees that Feed Bees

With a wide variety of growing conditions and mature sizes, you have a lot of different varieties to consider when adding one to your yard.

Of course, not every tree is attractive to bees. Some blooming plants even repel bees because they don’t need them. They do not rely on insect pollination so they have no need to lure in pollinators.

Keep in mind that many trees have a shorter bloom time than some other flowers. But, trees provide an abundance of nectar and pollen for hungry bees in one spot for easy foraging.

Top Pollen or Nectar Trees for Bees

Here are some of the best flowering trees for bees. Many of them bloom at times other food sources are not available. This makes them an even more valuable resource.

1. Red Maple

Red maple trees in Fall bloom.

In my region, the native Red Maple trees (Acer rubrun) are one of the earlier nectar providers for bees. They are large trees that can be planted in many regions of the country.

They are absolutely beautiful in Fall. But, be aware that wilted Red Maples leaves can be toxic to horses.

In a warm Winter season, it is not uncommon to see Red Maple pollen being brought in to the hive in January. This fresh pollen and nectar is one of the first signals to the colony that Spring is coming.

This encourages the colony to increase their efforts of raising bee brood. The queen bee starts to lay more eggs and the race for Spring is on!

Red Maples grow wild here – so most people do not bother to plant them. However, if you live in a neighborhood lacking a woodland area-this is one tree to consider. You can order Red Maple Trees online or look for one at your local garden center.

2. Wild Cherry Trees

Native wild cherry in bloom.

Wild Cherry trees (Prunus avium) are another early blooming food source for honey bees.  Because parts of the plants are poisonous, most people do not choose them for a yard tree. There wilted leaves are also toxic to livestock.

However, you will see them in flower along the roadsides in early Spring. They provide important early forage for growing bee colonies. If you have a lot of these in your area, try to find a suitable tree that bloom before or after the Wild Cherry.

The fruit produced from good bee pollination feeds wildlife later in the season. Plums also serve well for this purpose. They are closely related to Black Cherry (Prunus serotina).

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3. Red Bud

Honey bee foraging on red bud tree in bloom.

Do Bees Like Redbud Trees? Oh yes they do. The Eastern Redbud tree (C. candadensis) is just about the perfect bee tree in my opinion.

This native tree grows throughout most of the Eastern US. Several different cultivars have been developed as well. 

As a smaller under-story tree, the Redbud fits into any garden plan. I rarely have fewer than 4 or 5 growing in my yard. They are rather short-lived and I find myself replanting every 20 years or so.

In early Spring, this tree produces flowers before leaves appear.  Beautiful magenta flowers attract bees and other pollinators for several weeks. 

It is an important early pollen sources for many types of insects – not just honey bees. Butterflies, wasps, carpenter bees and bumble bees and enjoy the bounty of this beautiful tree specimen.

4. Tulip Poplar

Tulip poplar tree in bloom with bees gathering nectar.

Another popular tree for beekeepers is the Yellow Poplar or Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).  Locally, we just call these “poplar trees” and they offer an abundant nectar source.

These are tall native trees that are fast growing with large beautiful leaves. Each Spring huge yellow and orange blossoms fill the top of the tree. 

In a year when nectar production is good and flying weather cooperates, you can stand under the tree and hear the buzzing bees in the top.

Poplar honey is a local favorite. A strong colony can make a good honey crop from this tree. They also make nice shade trees but need a lot of space. They grow very tall.

5. Basswood/Linden Tree

Mature linden trees in bloom.

Commonly called Basswood trees – this is a good tree for a medium sized space. Members of the Linden tree family (Linden .tilla sp- Tilia americana) bloom a little later in the Spring.

This makes them a good choice for those of you who want to extend the Spring season. The two most popular varieties with beekeepers are the Silver Leaf Linden and the Littleleaf Linden.

These trees boast of being very versatile in growing conditions and are more pollution tolerant than some. Very attractive to bees, Linden trees produce large amount of nectar from their fragrant white flowers.

6. Fruit Trees

Honey bee foraging on white blossom of apple tree.

Many fruit trees provide a beneficial food source for bees. For example, Apple trees rely on honey bees and other pollinators for good cross pollination.

By providing sweet nectar to attract bees, pollen is moved from one flower to the next. This results in a larger apple crop for the owner and the bees have good food to eat.

When you are planting fruit trees for bees, always use caution when planning any herbicide or pesticide applications.

7. Sourwood Trees

Worker bees foraging on sourwood tree blooms.

Sourwood trees (Oxydendrum arboreum) are native to the Appalachian mountain region. While they can grow in many regions, nectar production is relevant to elevation.

Trees at the higher elevation produce more nectar. If you live in a mountainous or foothills area of this region, you may consider planting a Sourwood tree for your bees.

Sourwood Honey is a local favorite that is prized above all other varieties. If you ever get a chance to taste it, don’t miss the opportunity.

8. Crape Myrtle

White blooms of crape myrtle attractive to bees.

There are many cultivars of this Crape Myrtle available for purchase that are a good fit for smaller spaces. Some sources claim that bees do not visit Crape Myrtle.

My bees however have not read those books and visit my Natchez Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia x Natchez)  in late Spring/Early Summer. 

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During this time, the big Spring nectar season is over. The Crape Myrtle provides some fresh food for the bee colonies in a time when many other things do not. The Natchez Crape myrtle is a beautiful specimen plant with peeling cinnamon bark.

9. Black Tupelo – Great Nectar Tree

Black tupelo trees in swarm.

Black Tupelo (Nyssa slyvatica) is a showy native tree that grows very large. Known as a swamp tree it is adaptable to other growing conditions.

A beautiful specimen tree, Black Tupelo provides abundant nectar for many types of pollinators. In good weather conditions, they provide enough of a nectar (or honey flow) for honey bee colonies to make a crop. The increased pollination produces a good fruit crop that is enjoyed by birds.

10. Japanese Maples

Honey bee foraging on japanese maple blooms.

If the idea of a large Red Maple doesn’t appeal to you, the small Japanese Maple “Bloodgood” (Acer palmatum  atropurpureum ‘Bloodgood’ ) attracts bees to the flowers in my yard each year. 

The tiny blossoms are difficult to see – you have to look closely. However, the bees don’t seem to have any trouble finding them.

It does bloom a bit later in the Spring but that is good because it extends the season. Compact in size, the Bloodgood- Japanese Maple is very attractive to bees.

11. Southern Magnolia

Large white bloom of magnolia tree

A classic feature of the deep South, the Southern Magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora) grows to be very large. Known for its evergreen leathery leaves, it boasts large white flowers that can be up to a foot across.

The fragrant blossoms attract many kinds of bees, beetles, moths and other pollinators with a bounty of nectar and pollen.

With a native range extending as far as New York, some cultivars can survive in colder regions too. They are a good choice for anyone wanting this spectacular specimen for their garden.

12. Black Locust

White blooms attractive to bees on black locust tree.

The Black Locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) is well known for the abundant nectar that it produces. In spite of this wonderful food for bees, and the showy fragrant blossoms – this is not a tree to plant in your yard.

If you see them in nature, give them a nod for helping to feed our pollinators. However, they are just an all around mess in many ways.

Rapid growth, weak wood and thorns are at the top of the list. Don’t choose this one for the bee garden.

13. Cherry (Yoshino) (Prunus x yedoensis)

White blooms of yoshino cherry.

Cherry (Yoshino) (Prunus x yedoensis) One of the most beautiful trees for the landscape when in bloom, it attracts many pollinators.

Fair warning, do not plant it close to the house. Over the years, the root system grows up out of the ground – becoming a danger to home foundations. I eventually had to cut mine down which was a great loss to my bees.

14. Catawba – Southern

White blooms of southern catawba tree.

Catawba (Southern) (also called Catalpa) Catalpa bignonioides spp). This is a beautiful ornamental specimen that provides good food for bees. But, wow – it sure is messy.

Pollinators love the blooms and it attracts the hawk moth resulting in Catawba worms that my daddy loved to use for fish bait.

15. Bee Bee Tree

Evodia tree about to bloom.

Bee Bee Tree (Korean evodia (spp.). This is an exotic species that claims a lot of favor from beekeepers. They are known to produce a lot of nectar.

But, it can become an invasive bee plant in some regions – so that is something to consider. I grew one from seed and watched it for 10 years but it never bloomed. Others have had better luck and produced a flowering tree.

16. American Sweetgum

Fall colors on American Sweetgum tree.

American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) is a medium – fast growing tree that can reach heights of up to 75′. It enjoys some sun and will grow in a variety of soil conditions.

In addition to providing food for bees, it produces fruit and seed that are consumed by many birds. However, the dried burr-like fruit is a nightmare in the yard. We have Sweetgum trees in the pasture but I would not choose this for a backyard setting.

17. Serviceberry

Blooms and fruit of serviceberry tree.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) is often considered a large shrub but it can reach small tree size. The plant produces white flowers in early Spring that attracts bees and other pollinators. Small fruit is produced in mid-summer that is enjoyed by birds.

18. Hazel Alder 

Hazel alder catkins on tree near stream.

Here in upstate South Carolina and in many areas of the country, you will find Hazel Alder(Alnus serrulata). This tall shrubs/small trees bloom very early in the year.

While they are wind pollinated and do not need bees, you may find some bees visiting. If you find them on your property, consider leaving them. They can provide beneficial early pollen.

19. Horse Chestnut

Horse chestnut tree in bloom with white flowers attractive to bees.

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is closely related to trees in the maple family. This non-native tree can grow very large. In early, May large flower heads appear that are attractive to bees.

One thing that makes this tree beneficial to bees is the long bloom period. Flowers can last for up to a month.

20. Sycamore

Winged seeds of sycamore tree.

Sycamore Maple (Acer Pseudoplatanus) are a hardy tree that do well in cities – in spite of pollution. It is very popular with bees who are attracted to the blooms – and beekeepers who actually harvest some honey from the tree.

But, in addition to being messy in the yard, Sycamore trees produce an over abundance of seeds which spread across the countryside.

21. Willows

Spring pussy willow trees in bloom with foraging bees.

There are so many varieties of Willows (Salix spp.) They can reach the height of small trees but you can keep them pruned back to a large shrub if you wish. I prune mine after they bloom each year.

Most bloom early in the season and provide important food to bees. My favorite are the pussy willows – sometimes they even bloom when it is snowing.

Choosing the Best Flowering Trees for Honey Bees

It is easy to plant a young tree in your backyard and watch it grow to maturity. However, you do have some things to consider if you want to find the perfect match.

  • is the plant suitable for your climate?
  • will it fit into the space that you have and be a nice addition to the landscape?
  • what about seed or fruit drop? Some trees are messy or unsuited for small areas.

Fill in Food Gaps with Nectar Trees

Another consideration is to take a moment to look around and identify other pollinator food sources.  Not just in your immediate yard but the neighborhood. In good weather, bees fly several miles to gather food.

Do you see any trees that are already in place and beneficial to bees? When are they in bloom? Try planting a tree that will bloom at a different time. 

Filling in the “food gaps” or times when other bee food sources are not available is one good way to help save bees.

If you have many late Spring flowering trees in your region, bee plants that bloom before or after that time period provides a bigger impact.

Also, the pollen and nectar provided by each plant is slightly different.  Variety in vitamins and minerals in the diet promotes better bee health. 

Bees need nectar for energy but pollen is important as well. Bees need pollen to raise young – the next generation that will harvest honey this season.

South Catalpa tree in bloom and with seed pods.

FAQs

Which trees help bees the most?

Depending on climate and other available forage – large overstory trees such as Tulip Poplar, Basswood and Red Maple provide an abundance of bee food.

What tree makes the best honey?

A subjective question for sure – in my area I must say that honey produced from the Tupelo trees and Sourwood trees are highly sought after.

Are maple trees good for bees?

Many types of maple trees provide a lot of nectar and pollen for honey bees and native pollinators too.

Final Thoughts

Bees are attracted to trees that offer the things they need – pollen or nectar. But, we also enjoy the face that trees add value to our lives and beauty to the garden or backyard.

Due to our failure to “look up”, we sometimes fail to understand how important blooming trees can be for pollinators. Maybe 1 or 2 trees will fit into your special outdoor space.

Avoid those, like the Goldenrain Tree, which are very invasive and threaten native ecosystems. Of course if space just will not allow a tree – you have many native shrubs and flowering bushes that bees love.

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