50+ Flowers and Trees to Grow in a Bee Friendly Garden
Use this list of more than fifty flowers, shrubs, and trees to plan your bee-friendly garden. They’re listed by season in which they bloom, so you can plan to have pollinator-friendly blooms all the year-long.
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It can be a little overwhelming to understand what you should plant to create a bee-friendly garden. In the end, it comes down to avoiding pesticides and planting trees, shrubs, and flowers that are rich in pollen and nectar. It’s not just about summer flowers though.
Many pollinators hibernate in winter, but some like honeybees will fly out looking for food on sunny winter days. If there is forage about and the weather is warm and dry enough, they can be flying around in January. Other insects begin waking up much earlier than you would expect, and many solitary bees and bumblebees emerge in early spring. Autumn is another important time for pollinators, especially honey bees. It’s then that they’re making last-minute preparations to collect food for winter.
What to plant in a bee-friendly garden
There’s a saying that a flowering tree is worth more than a field of wildflowers when it comes to supporting bees. If you have space to include a tree or shrub, it can make more of an impact than adding bulbs and flowers. Below are flowers and plants that are rich in bee food and that will bloom throughout the seasons. Try adding at least one for each season to your own bee-friendly garden. Planning for flowers all year round will help local bees and pollinators and benefit your garden.
Flowers for Bees in Early Spring
Hazel, crocus, tansy, daphne, witch hazel, anemone, willow, dandelion, ivy (Hedera helix), elm, gorse, tulip-tree, Mahonia japonica, old species tulips (modern varieties have pollen grains that are too large), hellebore, forget-me-knots, cotoneaster, serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), maples (Acer sp.)
Flowers for Bees in Late Spring
Raspberry, blackberry, tulip-tree, oil-seed rape, white clover, flowering quince, sweet chestnut, apple, cherry, black currant, red currant, autumn-sown broad bean, hawthorn, sycamore, comfrey, kale, crab apple, rosemary, gooseberry, bluebells, linden, black locust, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)
Summer Flowers for Bees
Viper’s bugloss, globe thistle, willowherb (fireweed), melissa balm, thyme, heather, sunflowers, borage, poppy, rudbeckia, lavender, catnip, mint, sage, coriander (cilantro), squash, pot marigolds, foxglove, geranium, hollyhock, clematis, milkweed, wild rose, spring-sown broad bean, oak (for honeydew), blackberry, marjoram, white bryony, cornflower, linden, medicinal valerian, lacy phacelia, germander speedwell, gladiolus, angelica, single dahlias, fennel, delphinium, crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia sp.)
Autumn Flowers for Bees
Aster, goldenrod, blackberry, alliums (both garden varieties such as onion and garlic as well as ornamentals), anemone, chrysanthemum, cosmos, anise hyssop, viper’s bugloss, mahonia japonica, hemp agrimony, lemon verbena, verbena bonariensis, ivy (Hedera helix), hebe, sedum spectabile, delphinium, heather
Winter Flowers for Bees
Ivy (Hedera helix), winter heathers, snowdrops, crocus, cyclamen, primroses, strawberry tree, mahonia, Fatsia japonica, winter-flowering honeysuckle
Some flowers don’t produce food for bees
While there are many ways to encourage honey bee populations, probably the most satisfying way is growing plants that produce nectar and pollen. By planting flowers attractive to bees you’ll be sure to have an immediate impact since you’ll be able to see the bees hard at work in your garden. Honey bees fly up to one-and-a-half miles to collect food so even if you don’t know of a hive in your immediate vicinity you can be sure that there will one further afield that will find your garden.
Knowing which plants and flowers are best for honey bees can be confusing. You’d initially think that it’s big colorful and showy flowers to go for but these are usually the least appropriate. Pollen and nectar are at the center of the flower, generally, and flowers with a lot of petals block access. They’re bred to look pretty, not to help pollinators. Sometimes highly bred flowers lack the parts that produce nectar and pollen too.
Wildflowers are Bee-friendly Flowers
Wildflowers are one of the most important sources of year-round forage. By planting them, and making room for flowering weeds, you are encouraging a host of wildlife including honey bees. Buying a good wildflower seed mix will ensure that the varieties that grow will be the right ones and that you’ll have flowers all year long. Vipers bugloss, meadowsweet, field poppies, yarrow, and evening primrose are some of the flowers you’ll find in these mixes and though they aren’t as flamboyant as conventional garden flowers they have their own special beauty and charm.
Another important thing you can do is allow dandelions to bloom early in the year. They’re a very important source of food for insects from February to April, when very few other flowers are blooming. The pollen and nectar in dandelions pack a wallop of energy for pollinators — though not complete in nutrition they do support bees massively. Think of them like potatoes — they’re a source of high-energy food that propels bees into spring and helps keep them from starving. If you’re concerned about them spreading, cut them shortly before they go to seed.
Why are honey bees important?
Honey bees are far more important to our everyday lives than most of us know. Aside from honey and beeswax, one in three bites of food we eat exists because of bees. Some crops need pollinators to stimulate flowers into producing food. This includes strawberries, coffee, almonds, apples, and lemons to name a few. I’d go so far as to say that these crops aren’t vegan, at least if they’re commercially produced.
While some food is the direct product of pollination, other vegetables need it to reproduce. For example, you can grow carrots and parsnips without pollination. However, in order for them to produce seeds for next year’s crops, they need insect pollination.
Although we’re much more aware of the threat to bees these days, they’re still threatened by lack of forage (food), inbreeding, commercial pesticides, climate change, parasites, and disease.
More Ways to Support Bees
It may seem overwhelming but there are things that you can do to help save bees. Purchasing organic produce and local honey can make a huge impact, as can planting bee-friendly flowers. You could also become a beekeeper yourself, avoid using pesticides and herbicides, and petition the government for the protection of bees. Whatever routes you choose, know that you’ll be making a difference for pollinators, and the environment, everywhere.
- Save our Bees: how to ID and help Bees in the Garden
- What to do if you spot a swarm of bees
- Getting started with beekeeping
We’re having real problems here in Australia at the moment with people feeding our bees unnecessarily. I like your post because it’s all about educating people, and I was even confused with whether or not this was a good or bad thing initially. Thanks!
I have a lot of vitex agnus castus seeds
And I will plant them in the next year, and I will raise them to full bloom.
But there was a problem.
When I look at vitex agnus castus related articles and videos, I can see that only butterflies and bumble beets are attached to flowers
I do not know if my beloved honey bee likes it
If I plant 500-2000 vitex agnus castus, will bees be able to give me delicious honey?
That’s a lot of Chaste Tree Berry! Remember that honeybees are best with a variety of plants and flowers that bloom throughout the season. If you grow only one type, the food it produces will be ready at once and the bees will go hungry at other times of the year.
Thanks rae. I found some Echium on Pinterest to add to my For the Honey Bees board. Nice list of plants for all seasons Tanya! I will be adding them to my board as well. Thank You all!
I didn't see Echium on the list. The most unusual feature of Echium vulgare is the protection of the nectar inside the flower from vaporization (when it’s hot) or flushing away (when it rains). Additionally this plant produces nectar throughout the day unlike most plants which produce ectar for a short period of time. If the bees have a good access to Echium they can collect between 12-20 lbs of nectar a day. The honey does not crystllize for 9-15 months.
Is – ECHIUM VULGARE –
a PERENNIAL? If so, what ZONE? Is it an INVASIVE? I have a 250 sq. ft. bed next to another 125 sq. ft. bed that we created for BEES & BUTTERFLIES last season. Now I’m concerned that maybe the Joe Pye Weed, Echinacea, Globe Thistle, Yarrow Rudebeckia, Lemon Thyme, etc… weren’t good choices? Maybe these aren’t large enough planting beds either.
My Zone is 3 to 4 with a tempermental 5… if one’s fortunate, which I have been blessed! I’d love some imput from other BEE GARDENERS?
You mentioned kale. Forgive my ignorance but mine doesn't flower. What am I missing?
Great post Tanya. X
I hope I'm doing my bit Tanya – every year my bee-friendly plants increase – they are also Elaine friendly – it is what gardening is all about for me.
Elaine, the bees in your neighbourhood must love you! You have such a beautiful and natural garden that I'm sure it must be one of their favourite hang-outs.
Great post. By helping the bees we are helping ourselves too, which is why my allotment association have given me permission to keep bees on my allotment. I am having some lessons on the farm at work with the detainees and the detainees are also building me a hive (there are some advantages to working in a detention centre!!!. Still raining here, no let up yet! xxx
Slave labour…cool! ;) Joking aside, that's a marvelous way to get inmates involved in something both engaging and beneficial for society. I'll bet they're having a lot of fun helping you out too!
So when are you planning on placing the hive on the allotment? I know how excited you must be! :)
I've already started planting…though I don't think I'll be putting any O.S.R. in my garden…the farmers plant enough of that for all of us!!
Obviously none of us know why the bees are less prolific, but I bet all that concrete we keep laying and all these 'fancy' low maintenance gardens aren't helping any!!!
I'm not a huge fan of oil seed rape but the bees LOVE it. Unfortunately the honey it produces tends to crystallise so beekeepers aren't as fond of it either.
And I think you may be on to something with your theory on modern "gardening" ;)
We have lots of flowering plants and vegetables and fruits around here…thanks you for a lovely post–I'm going to copy and paste that list of seasonal stuff so I have a guide!
That's great Akannie! And it sounds like you're already a honey-bee haven :)
I have found the best way to feed the bees with plantings around my neck of the woods is really volume. Honey bees anyway bumblers are solitary, but honey bees will often pass up small pockets of flowers to hit the "three 100 foot rows of lima beans" Ala Sunnybrook above. Also flowering trees even the non decorative types are a huge boon for honey bees.
Aren't strawberries self pollinating now?
It makes sense that they like large swathes of plants…when a bee finds a good supply they come back to the hive and tell the rest of their sisters about it with a 'waggle-dance'.
Strawberries can be self-pollinating but their yields aren't great if insects aren't helping them along. Also, if they're not pollinated by bees (or by hand) then the fruits tend to be a bit deformed looking – no doubt from a plant fertilising itself (inbreeding).
You wouldn't really think of it as a bee plant but I had 3 100 foot rows of lima beans last year and the area sounded like a bee hive, they went nuts over the little flowers. I think beans are self pollinating but they must put out a good bee food.
Bees LOVE beans Sunnybrook! I've just had a google and apparently Lima beans do self-pollinate but when bees are around helping in the pollination-party then your crops will be all the more bountiful.
I try to think of bees when I'm considering a purchase for the garden. I try to buy single flowers now instead of doubles, I actually prefer more simple flowers actually so I think it suits me as well as them.
That's wonderful Jo and I'll bet you have tons of bees buzzing around your garden :)