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Choosing Wildflowers for Bees

When considering which blooming plants are good for bees, there is one group that is often overlooked.  Perhaps, this is because this group of flowers is happy to stay in the background.  They are not always the showiest blossoms in the bunch. They are often tiny and you have to really look to see them.  Yes, I am talking about wildflowers.  They are a viable nectar source for honey production in some regions. Let’s explore advantages of having some wildflowers for bees around your neighborhood.

Wildflowers Provide Food for Many Pollinators

Blooming wildflowers that are good for bees in a meadow setting.

The term wildflower actually covers a wide range of plants.  Some members of this group are native to the area where they live.  Perhaps, they are transferred to another region that has similar growing conditions and do well there too. 

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Or, in some cases – our 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.

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. 

Some of these bee plants are found across the United States.  And, others only grow well in specific climate conditions.

If you have the occasion to slow down and really look, you will likely find many of them in your yard, pasture or nearby woodland. 

Some are seasonal and only noticeable in Spring or Fall – others bloom all through the growing season if weather conditions are good.

Tips for Creating a Wildflower Meadow

Those of you with a little extra space have the opportunity to grow a meadow of wildflowers for bees in your area. 

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.

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. There are a few things to consider as you plan your plot of wildflowers for bees.

Meadow of bright colored flowers.

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 wildflowers

Plants need good growing conditions in order to thrive.  Healthy plants produce more flowers with more nectar and pollen.  Bees need both.  Nectar is used to make honey that is vital for colony survival. 

Pollen is collected as a protein source to rear young.  But, the best plant in the world will not have flowers that attract bees if the growing conditions are bad.

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Yes, some flowers are more drought tolerant than others but it is best to start with the best wildflower seed selection possible.

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 – providing more food than the bees could possibly collect – then they are gone.

Include a diverse selection in your seed mix that includes several different types of bee flowers.  This should result in some that bloom early, mid-season and late season. 

Pollinators in the area have a varied diet and a consistent source of food. As the daily temperatures warm, bees will come out looking for food even on cool days.

There are many bee friendly perennials to consider.  Perennial wildflowers plants return again year after year.  But annuals are often the plant of choice for meadow gardens. Annuals grow fast, bloom and then fade away. 

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.

Learn to Recognize Local Wildflowers

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.

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.  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 not to cause more problems in the environment.

Field of dandelion wildflowers in bloom.

Best Wildflowers for Bees

In a list that would number in the thousands, it is difficult to pick the best wildflowers that help bees. However, these are some of the most notable specimens.

For most gardeners, choosing wildflower seed mixes is the easiest way to make a pollinator meadow. Be sure to choose one that fits your climate – hopefully it will contain a few of these.

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.

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.

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.

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 – like dry to average soil.

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.

Indian Paintbrush (Orobancaceae)

Indian Paintbrush is a member of the broomrape family. Also called “painted cup” it is attractive to a variety of insects – even bees. Can be found in most eastern states

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.

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.

White clover blossom.

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.

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.

When to Sow Seeds

These plants are easy to grow. But, some wildflower seeds require stratification before germination. These are best planted in the Fall so they can over-winter in the soil. Then, they emerge next Spring when temperatures warm.

Many types 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 in the mix.

A wildflower mix provides food and habitat for many types of wildlife. They also beautify areas that might otherwise be barren.

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.

Having plentiful pollinators around is good in many ways – bees help plants reproduce by producing more seeds for next year.

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