Attracting bees and pollinators to your garden is as simple as planting the right flowers, shrubs, and trees. This list includes over fifty types that you can plant for bees through all the seasons.
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 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.
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 seed 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