When choosing plants that provide food for bees one type of plant is often overlooked – TREES. If you have the space in your landscape, nectar producing trees are a great way to offer a large food source. In addition to offering shade and beauty to your yard, choosing the best flowering trees for bees benefits all of the hungry pollinators in your area.
Flowering Trees that Attract Honey Bees
Give some proper thought when choosing any type of “bee tree” for your garden. They can provide shelter and shade for many life forms. Some flowers even thrive in shade to semi-shade locations.
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Having a suitable trees the offers nectar or pollen early in the year, with nectar rich flowers nearby offers a long window of food sources.
Of course, not every tree is attractive to bees. Some plants even repel bees because they don’t need them. They do not rely on insect pollination so that have no need of bees.
However, most of the flowering trees that produce fruits are attractive to honey bees. There are many sizes and types to choose and you should be able to find one suitable to your area.
In spite of having a shorter bloom time than some flowers, trees provide an abundance of nectar and pollen for hungry honey bees – many of them at times when a lot of flowers are not blooming.
Top Trees for Bees
- Red Maple
- Wild Cherry
- Japanese Maple
- Red Bud
- Crape Myrtle
- Tulip Poplar
- Black Tupelo
- Black Locust
- Southern Magnolia
Choosing the Best Bee Trees for Your Yard
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 before choosing a tree.
Choose a Tree Suitable to Your Location
Before rushing off to the nursery to fill your yard with trees, it is time to do some careful planning. Anytime you are planting you must consider your planting zone and climate. Luckily, there are bee friendly trees that will grow in any zone.
However, trees have other characteristics that must be considered. Note the mature size of the tree-how big will it get? Your tree should compliment your backyard not be so large it endangers your home.
What about seed or fruit drop? Some trees are messy or unsuited for small areas. Having several weeks of decaying fruit on the ground can be a hassle in a small backyard. Think it through carefully.
Fill in Gaps with Nectar Trees
Before buying a tree for your garden or yard, take a moment to look around. Not just in your immediate yard but the neighbor. Bees can easily fly a mile or two to gather food.
Do you see any trees that are already in place and beneficial to bees? If so, consider planting a tree that will bloom at a different time.
Filling in the “food gaps” or times when other bee food sources are not in bloom is one good way to help save bees.
If you have many late Spring flowering trees in your region, a plant that blooms before or after that time period is greatly beneficial.
The pollen and nectar provided by each plant is slightly different. By providing bees with a variety of food sources we are promoting better bee health.
Early Spring Trees that Help Bees
As the Winter months begin to wind down, early Spring bees are hungry and anxious to get started on the new season. Any plants that bloom early, regardless of occasional frosts etc, are wonderful food sources for hungry pollinators.
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 must be getting ready for Spring.
Red Maples are a Bee Favorite
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.
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 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.
Wild Cherry Trees – Native Plant for Pollinators
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.
However, you will see them blooming along the roadsides in early Spring. They provide important early nectar for growing bee colonies. The fruit produced from good bee pollination feeds wildlife later in the season.
Small Trees for Bees
Perhaps you do not have the space to plant a large tree. No worries – there are many mid-size and small trees that provide food for honey bees. Some are native plants while others are imports. Many of them fit well in a small backyard landscape.
Bloodgood Japanese Maples
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 blooms 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 bloom season. Compact in size, the Bloodgood- Japanese Maple is very attractive to bees when in bloom.
Do Bees Like Redbud Trees?
The Easten 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.
In early Spring, this tree blooms before leaves appear. Beautiful magenta blooms attract bees and other pollinators for several weeks. It is an important early pollen sources for many types of bees – not just honey bees.
Crape Mytrle Varieties that Feed Bees
Another tree that is a good fit for smaller spaces is the Crape Myrtle. There are many cultivars of this plant available for purchase.
Some sources claim that bees do not visit Crape Myrtle blooms. My bees however have not read those books and visit my blooming Natchez Crape Mytrle (Lagerstroemia x Natchez) in late Spring/Early Summer.
During this time, the big Spring bloom time is over. The Crape Myrtle provides some fresh food for the bee colonies in a time when many other things are not in bloom.
The Natchez Crape myrtle is a beautiful specimen plant with peeling cinnamon bark. See here on Amazon ( Natchez Crape Myrtle)
Best Nectar Trees for Honey Bees
Tulip Poplar Trees Provide Abundant Nectar
Another popular tree for beekeepers is the Yellow Popular or Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Locally, we just call these “popular trees”.
This large native tree is 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.
Popular honey is a local favorite. A strong colony can make a good honey crop from the bloom of this tree.
Apple Trees are Good for Bees
Apple trees rely on honey bees and other pollinators for good cross pollination. By providing sweet nectar to attract bees, pollen is moved from bloom to bloom.
This results in a larger apple crop and a bee colony with fresh food stores. When you are planting apple trees for bees, always keep the bees in mind when planning any herbicide or pesticide applications.
Native Sourwood Trees of Appalachia
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, you may consider planting a Sourwood tree for your bees.
Sourwood Honey is a local favorite that is prized about all other varieties. If you ever get a chance to taste it, don’t miss the opportunity.
Black Tupelo is a Great Honey Tree
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 pollinators.
These trees provide enough nectar for some hives to make a honey crop each year. The increased pollination produces a good fruit crop that is enjoyed by birds.
Linden Trees- Basswood for Honey Bees
Commonly called Basswood trees – they can be a good tree for a medium sized space. Members of the Linden tree family (Linden .tilla sp) bloom a little later in the Spring. This makes them a good choice for those of you who want to extend the Spring bloom season.
The two most popular varieties with beekeepers are the Silver Leaf Linden and the Littleleaf Linden. These trees boast of being very versitile 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.
Black Locust Trees Aid Pollinators
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.
Southern Magnolia Trees Attract Honey Bees
A classic feature of the deep South, the Southern Magnolia tree (Magnolia grandiflora) grows to be a very large tree. Know for its ever green leathery leaves, the tree boasts large white blooms 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.
Final Thoughts on the Best Nectar Trees for Honey bees
Bees are attracted to trees that offer much needed pollen or nectar. Trees also 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. As you are designing your outside living space, take a moment to consider some of the flowering that bees like. Maybe 1 or 2 of them will fit into your special outdoor space.