Wildflowers for Bees: A Guide to the Best
All bee populations have been on the decline in recent years and people want to help. One way to support bees and other pollinators is to plant wildflowers. Many of them provide a valuable source of nectar and pollen for hungry insects. There are several benefits of planting wildflowers for bees. With many different options to consider, you are sure to find some plants that fit your situation.
Benefits of Growing Wildflowers
There are several reasons that including wildflowers in your bee garden is a good idea.
- more productive
- some are very adaptable
- diverse food source
- good for all bees
Better suited to the growing conditions than developed hybrids, they may outperform other plants in providing nectar and pollen. They are a viable nectar source for honey production in some regions.
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Some types of flowering bee plants are found all across the United States. And, others only grow well in specific climate conditions. You can find something that fits your area’s growing conditions.
Honey bees and native solitary bees benefit from a diverse food source. Different types of nectar and pollen makes for a healthy diet.
Of course, being a beekeeper, my focus is always on the honey bee but there are many native bees that depend on wildflowers for food.
What is a Wildflower?
The term wildflower actually covers a wide range of plants. It refers to a flower that grows wild without any help or human intervention. It is not a hybrid or a cultivar that has been developed to have showy blooms etc.
They grow naturally in the environment. Most are native plants that thrive in the growing conditions where they developed.
Normally, they can be transferred to another region that has similar growing conditions and do well there too.
Some of the plants we call wildflowers are actually ornamentals that have escaped and taken a walk on the wild side. No matter where they originated, they are growing in nature without the aid of a gardener.
11 Best Wildflowers for Bees
In a list that would number in the thousands, it is difficult to pick only a few. However, here are some of the most notable specimens.
1. Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
Bluebells have bell shaped flowers that are usually deep blue to violet. But, they can be white or pink. The plant grows from a bulb.
Very fragrant blooms appear from mid April to late May. Best growing conditions are bright woodlands, open fields or along hedgerows.
2. Cowslip (Primula veris)
This herbaceous perennial is a member of the primrose family. An early Spring bloomer, it is often found growing in shady locations. But, it can do well in open pastures also.
The yellow flowers are actually quite pretty and have a nice fragrance. Cowslip is actual one of many herbs that feed bees. They do self seed but are not obnoxious about it – you should be able to control them.
3. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Native to parts of Europe, dandelions can be found in many parts of the world. The plants provides both pollen and nectar for hungry Spring bees.
Always valuable as a pollen source, dandelions produce more nectar in some areas than others.
4. Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
A tall perennial, full sun to half shade red flower up to 24” tall native to most regions of the US – likes dry to average soil.
5. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Foxglove is a hardy biennial that is especially attractive to long tongued bees but honey bees will also work the blooms. It will do okay in shade but really thrives in a full sun location.
6. Indian Paintbrush (Orobanchaceae)
Indian Paintbrush is a member of the broomrape family. Also called “painted cup” it is attractive to a variety of insects – including wild bees. Can be found in most eastern states of U.S.
7.Musk mallow (Malva moschata)
Musk mallow is a perennial wildflower that is native to England. However, it is a favorite for cottage gardens. It does well in dry soil and is very attractive to bees.
8. New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
This aster grows well in most areas of the country. Lavender-pink blooms appear on plants up to 6 feet tall.
Performs well in most soil types and full sun to partial shade. A late season bloomer it is attractive to bees birds, butterflies and is deer resistant.
9. Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
This herbaceous perennial grows from 1 – 3 fee tall with beautiful white daisy flowers. One plant can have up to 40 flowering stems.
They bloom all Summer. Plants produce a lot of seed and spread by rhizomes too. Considered invasive in some areas.
10. White Clover (Trifolium repens)
There are many species of clover that are attractive to bees. However, White Clover is one of the most noticeable. It grows well in most regions of the United States but performs better in the cooler areas.
11. Wild Blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis)
There are many species of blackberries found in North America. In some areas, they are important honey plants that produce a lot of nectar – maybe even enough to produce a honey crop.
In other regions, they are largely ignored by honey bees. Possibly due to the fact that other plants bloom at the same time.
Tips for Creating a Wildflower Meadow
Those of you with a little extra space have the opportunity of growing wildflowers for bees in a meadow setting.
These are often semi-wild areas. They are seeded with certain varieties of plants and then allowed to grow un-mowed – at least for a season.
Key Items to Consider When Planting
- Consider your climate and growing conditions
- Include a variety of flowers for a long bloom time
- Choose self-seeding wildflower species
The best plant in the world will not have flowers that attract bees if the growing conditions are bad. Healthy plants produce more flowers with more nectar and pollen.
Bees use nectar to make honey that is vital for colony survival. Pollen is collected as a protein source to rear young.
Yes, some flowers are more drought tolerant than others but it is best to start with the best selection possible.
Include a diverse selection in your seed mix that includes several different types of bee flowers. A field of one type of plant is beautiful to see.
Large fields of sunflowers provide bees with ample resources. However, they all bloom at the same time – then they are gone. Still, many annuals are a plant of choice for meadow gardens.
If the flower is self-seeding, this means they produce a lot of seeds that fall to the ground and come up next season. No work for you – the flowers plant themselves. Now that sounds like some awesome gardening.
When to Sow Seeds
A wildflower mix provides food and habitat for many types of wildlife. They also beautify areas that might otherwise be barren.
Meadow wildflower plants are easy to grow. But, some seeds require stratification before germination. These are best planted in the Fall so they can over-winter in the soil.
Others are best planted in early Spring – as soon as the soil warms. Check the package label for each type of wildflower you want to include.
For a late season nectar source, consider adding some goldenrod to the garden. Even children can get involved by planting seeds with air dry clay or red clay seed balls.
Avoid Plants that are Invasive
Native wildflowers are great but invasive exotic species can be a problem. Also, a plant that is invasive in one region of the country may be easily controlled in another. For example, Knapweed is a good food source but very invasive in some areas.
In general, invasive plants are not good for bees – even if they do provide food. Check with officials in your growing region to clarify the status of any plants that you are considering.
Our goal is to make things better for all bees – not to cause more problems in the environment.
Compliment Local Nectar Sources
One of the first steps in providing more wildflowers for bees is to learn what you already have. You can plant even more of what is available natively or choose flowers that bloom at different times.
Your state agricultural extension agencies are a good place to start when seeking knowledge about local flora.
Most areas have native plant societies or groups that share this valuable gardening information too. And don’t forget local beekeeping associations – beekeepers know what their bees love.
What if you don’t have fields to dedicate to bee food? That’s okay. Even a small area or a collection of pots or container plants can contribute food for beneficial insects.
Having plentiful pollinators around is good in many ways – bees help plants reproduce by producing more seeds for next year.
When choosing plants for your garden, consider adding a few wildflowers for the bees. When planted in mass, they make a striking display. But, having a few here and there can still be a beneficial food source.