Winter Plants for Bees

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The idea of flowering Winter plants for bees may seem a bit weird at first. Aren’t bees gone during the cold months? Yes, some bees do die, some hibernate and honey bee colonies cluster together in the hive to stay warm. But, some bees forage on cool Winter days. Adding some plants with Winter flowers is a bit boost for area pollinators.

Honey bee foraging on winter plant blooming crocus.

You don’t have to be a beekeeper to want to add more flowers that honey bees like to your landscape. I enjoy adding plants that bloom at various times of the year – its a great way to feed bees and beautify your outdoor spaces.

How Winter Plants Help Bees

In most areas, Winter is not a honey production time. But, that does not mean the foraging honey bees and other insects – like bumble bees do not enjoy a fresh snack.

Fresh pollen and nectar signal that Spring is approaching. This encourages the hive to increase egg laying and hopefully have a good brood pattern of new bees for Spring work.

Best Flowering Winter Plants for Bees

For the purpose of choosing good Winter plants for bees, I am focusing on those that have an average bloom time from November through February.

They may be present other times of the year too. But, these are the months when Winter bee forage is at a minimum.

Honey bee foraging on purple winter flowers.

Crocus (Crocus sativus)

Crocus are well-known harbingers or Spring. Their colorful flowers emerge from corms planted the previous Fall. There are several different cultivars of Crocus that you can plant. I have seen my bees visiting different types in my gardens.

One of the most beneficial things about them is that they return next year. Also, being quite cold hardy, a bit of snow or freezing weather does not ruin the bloom. A nice early food source that brightens up the bleak Winter landscape.

Red blooming camelia flower with yellow center.

Camelia (Camelia spp.)

Camelias are available in so many types that it can get rather confusing. With more than 250 species and thousands of cultivars, choosing one for the bee garden is not easy.

The two best known ornamentals in the US are Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua – and all the varieties that have been developed from them.

Both are evergreen shrubs that may grow quite tall. The blooms and leaves on Camellia japonica are larger and less fragrant that sasanqua. The bloom time varies a bit depending on the cultivar.

Camellias can provide an important source of nectar and food for pollinators during Winter. Be sure to select a cultivar that does well in your climate.

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Evergreen white winter clemantis in bloom.

Winter blooming Clemantis (Clemantis cirrhosa)

Normally thought of a Spring blooming plant, there are several winter blooming Clemantis. Maintaining the classic twining form, some are evergreen and others are semi-evergreen.

Several cultivars are available which bloom times beginning in late December. Cleamatis cirrhosa var. balearica has creamy white flowers that provide nectar and pollen to hungry bees.

Paper bush blooming in winter.

Paper Bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha)

This shrub is native to China and the Himalayas and provides a lot of beauty to the Fall and Winter garden. Large buds appear in Fall, followed by a cluster-like bloom in December.

Hardy in zones 7-10, it came be grown in zone 6 with some Winter protection. Edgeworthia can reach a height of 7 feet but you can keep it pruned to a smaller size. It makes a great background or specimen piece for the garden.

Purple winter blooms on hellebore plant.

Hellebores (Helleborus spp.)

Hellebores are sometimes referred to as Christmas Rose. Their dark green shiny leaves add a bit of interest to the Winter shade garden. Blooms appear in Winter when not many other natural food sources are available for bees.

When choosing hellebores for Winter bee food, look for the cultivars that have simple blossoms. Open-faced flowers with easy access to the nectar rich flower centers is best. Hellebores are only one of many perennials suitable for the pollinator garden.

Honey bee foraging on blooming mahonia in winter.

Mahonia (Mahonia aquifolium)

Mahonia, also know as Oregon Grape, is hands-down my favorite winter plant for bees. This spikey evergreen shrub can always be depended on for bee food. When we occasionally have extreme cold for a few days ( 5° F), Mahonia’s bloom is damaged but not destroyed.

The shrub does have pointy leaves so choose a place on edges of the garden away from play areas. Very little maintenance is required once it is established.

Reddish bloom of red maple trees.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple trees are one of the earliest nectar and pollen sources for bees. They provide a lot amount of food for many pollinators.

Honey bees are not the only ones that benefit from the reddish blooms. Native bees are also attracted to them.

The blooms appear long before leaves make their appearance. Look for red tree tops in your area in late Winter and you may see bee foraging on red maple blooms. Though, sometimes the temperatures are too cold to allow the bees to fly.

This native of the eastern deciduous forest, red maples are beautiful all year long. They grow fast and get rather tall. In the Fall, you will experience breath taking Autumn color.

Clump of white flowered snowdrops.

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Snowdrops are members of the Amaryllis family. They appear in late Winter and may emerge from a light snow cover. They provide rich pollen for honey bees that are able to forage on a warm day.

Small clump of winter aconite with yellow blooms.

Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis)

Winter aconite is a member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family. Native to Europe and parts of Asia, the plant produces bright yellow flowers (that are cup shaped) in late Winter. They provide by pollen and nectar to foraging pollinators.

Bulbs planted in groups give the best garden affect. They are poisonous though – so don’t plant in areas with pets or children.

Pollinators (Not Just Bees) Benefit from Winter Flowers

As you design your garden area, keep in mind the need for year-round pollinator food – bee-friendly Winter flowers.

For hungry pollinators in need of nourishment, a few container bee plants can seem like a large buffet. This is especially true on a warmish Winter day.

This is just a starter list – you will find many more plants to add to your Winter and early Spring garden.

Bee friendly shrubs and bushes like native willows do well in moist areas and provide an important source of pollen.

Native witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) begins to bloom in November with some flowers hanging on into December.

One of the easiest ways to help to boost bee pollination efforts in your area is to offer a diverse food source. This promotes healthy bees.

FAQs

What do bees pollinate in the Winter?

Bees make use of any nectar and pollen on days when temperatures are warm enough to fly. Honey bees are shipped across the country to pollinate plants such as almonds.

What plants produce pollen in Winter?

There are several pollen producing plants that bloom in Winter. Crocus, primrose and snowdrops can be seen blooming even when the ground is covered in snow.

Do bees like Winter Honeysuckle?

Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is a favorite of honey bees during Winter – but it can be an invasive plant in your region. Get the facts about invasive plants and bees before you plant this one.

A Final Word

In general, bumble bees forage in cooler temperatures than honey bees – but they too benefit from winter flowers. Don’t expect to see the bushes buzzing with bees in snowy weather – but on those warmer Winter afternoons you may see a winged friend fly by.

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