A Guide to Wildflowers for Bees

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If you are looking for a way to make a positive impact on the local ecosystem, consider planting wildflowers for bees and other pollinators. The vibrant blooms bring color to your landscape and provide food for our buzzing friends. In this guide, you will learn about some of the best – most dependable wildflowers that help feed bees. You can use them to create an inviting bee haven in your backyard.

Beautiful meadow of wildflowers suitable for bees and pollinators.

Bee populations have been on the decline in recent years. Can planting flowers that bees love reverse the problem? Likely not, but it is one small step in the right direction to possible help lessen the effects of a loss of bee habitat.

Include Local Bee Friendly Wildflower Species

As you plan your bee garden, there are several reasons to include native wildflowers.

  • more productive
  • some are very adaptable
  • diverse food source
  • good for all bees

Wildflowers that are native to your growing area will likely grow better. They are more suited to the growing conditions (soil, climate etc) than developed hybrids.

If fact, they may outperform other plants in providing nectar and pollen for bees. Wildflowers are a viable nectar source for honey production in some regions – making them top honey plants.

No matter where you live in the United States, there are likely some bee friendly wildflowers around already.

Some of them will be quite adaptable – others only grow well in specific climate conditions. Find something that will do well in 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. Mass plantings are great but try to include different plants when you can.

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. 

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.

Bluebells plants in bloom.

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.

Yellow cowslip wildflower in bloom.

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.

Yellow dandelions flowers in bloom in yard.

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 nectar for bees more in some areas than others.

Easter red columbine growing in mass.

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.

Purple blooms of foxglove wildflower.

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.

Red blooming clump of Indian Paintbrush.

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.

Pink blossoms on Musk mallow flower.

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.

Purple daisy-like bloom of new england aster.

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.

White flowers on Oxeye Daisy wildflower.

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.

Field of white clover in bloom.

10. White Clover (Trifolium repens)

There are many species of clover for 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.

Wild blackberry plants with white bloom.

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.

Meadow of bright colored flowers.

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.

Seasonal Variety

As you are choosing wildflowers to plant for bees, consider the plants that are already growing in your area. The bees can only work so many flowers at one time.

Having a long bloom period is more important that having a short bloom with heavy nectar. Choose plants that compliment those that nature already provides.

If, like many of us, you have an abundance of wild blooms in early Spring – adding wildflowers that bloom later in the year will make more of an impact on the bee population. Don’t compete with nature – compliment it.

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.

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.

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 benefit bees if the growing conditions are bad. Healthy plants produce more flowers with more nectar and pollen. 

Though some bee plants are more drought tolerant than others and thrive in dry conditions. Choose a variety that continues the best selection possible.

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 Invasives

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 bee 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.

FAQs

How can I identify native wildflowers in my region?

Learn about local wildflowers through online guides, books, native plant societies in your area or local agriculture agencies.

Can I plant wildflowers in pots or small spaces, or do I need a meadow?

Sure, you can provide important nectar and pollen to hungry bees by incorporating bee friendly wildflowers into your container gardens.

Are there specific wildflowers that are best for honey bees vs. native bees?

Some flowers work well for all bee species. Others are better suited for pollinators with a longer tongue. Plant a variety of flower types for best results.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when growing wildflowers for bees?

Some common mistakes are choosing the wrong plants for your growing conditions, using pesticides that kill or harm visiting bees and accidently choosing an invasive species.

Final Thoughts

What if you don’t have fields to dedicate to plants for bee food? That’s okay. Even a small area or a collection of pots or containers of bee friendly 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. These winged visitors may just help pollinate your vegetable garden.

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