Bees of all species are struggling to adapt to an increasingly toxic world. As a result, many caring gardeners are creating bee havens in their gardens, and being rewarded by these enthusiastic pollinators. A garden full of bright, seasonal flowers can nourish your local bees through every season. We’ve put together 18 of the most beautiful and nectar-rich blooms for your bee garden.
Early Spring Flowers
Bees coming out of hibernation need a quick and easy source of nectar. As such, it’s helpful to have a few of these early-blooming flowers out in the garden for your bees. nothing says, “welcome back!” like tasty spring flowers.
1. Violets (and Violas)
Pretty spring flowers don’t just attract children and winter-weary gardeners. Bees flock to these early bloomers to revive after a long, cold winter. Violets are hardy perennials that pop up soon after the ground has thawed. They’ll bloom all summer long if you let them, feeding your bees all through the season.
Colorful crocuses are some of the first flowers to poke their heads up through the snow. In fact, they might ever precede your bees. There’s nothing bees like better than seeing flowers full in bloom when they first wake up. Plant a few clusters of these early-bloomers in the garden to nourish those sleepy bees.
3. Witch Hazel
The lovely, large, witch hazel shrub blooms between January and March, depending on your location. Its bright, golden flowers attract bees, and its long season helps get them on their feet for the summer. These stunning bushes add great structure to the garden too. In addition, you can also use this medicinal plant to make your own tinctures.
4. Honeysuckle (or Honeyberry)
Honeysuckle sounds like a plant bees would adore, doesn’t it? This trellising plant is gorgeous and deeply scented. It blooms in late spring and early summer, providing an ideal transition for bees between spring and summer blossoms.
Note that it doesn’t grow above zone 5, however. If you live in the north, consider honeyberry (also known as haskap): a close cousin of the common honeysuckle. Haskap blooms in early to mid spring, and grows happily in zones 2-5. Along with feeding your bees in springtime, you’ll be able to eat the sweet berries in summer!
Now, it’s the height of bee season, and your garden is in full bloom. Between the squash blossoms and the pansies, you may think the local hive is satisfied. But they’re not. Bees are busy, and have an overwhelming urge to be out working collecting nectar and pollinating plants. They need a productive summer to have a healthy winter, so let’s keep those busy bees working!
Dandelions have been given a bad reputation in suburbs across America, but these cheery, yellow flowers are adored by bees. Their early summer blossoms help build up honey-stores in the hive. Save some space for dandelions in your garden, and harvest the greens for your salads and stir-fries. The neighbors may be a bit disappointed in your lawn, but the pollinators will thank you.
6. Bee Balm
This hardy perennial is also known as Monarda. It spreads easily and grows tall and beautiful all through the summer. The flowers is sure to draw bees and butterflies to your garden in droves. Bee balm’s bright flowers make great bouquets and a flavorful tea, and are full of easily accessible nectar. Not only is it perfect for your bee garden, it’ll attract hummingbirds as well!
Of course, bees love roses. Everyone loves roses. Plant wild moss roses or cascading rugosa species. The hybrid varieties are lovely as well, but they’re less attractive to bees than the effusive old varieties. Roses are perennials and they can take over the garden if left to their own devices. Give them a low wall to climb on instead, and nurture them with potassium-rich soil.
Sweet-smelling, low growing clover is a bee’s delight. If you have a small lawn in your garden anywhere, sow it in clover. It creates a prettier ground covering than grass, and is much more bee friendly. Both white and red clover are attractive to bees, though I prefer red because it can be harvested for a delicious syrup to keep us healthy during the long winter months.
9. Bachelor’s Buttons
Tall, graceful bachelor’s buttons are another bee favorite. They’re an annual, but readily re-seed themselves, and so return year after year. They are also known as cornflowers because they grow freely in cornfields alongside poppies. Mingle these blue beauties with poppies in your own garden and watch the bees go wild with excitement.
Who doesn’t love lavender’s beautiful blooms and soothing scent? It grows well among the clover and roses, and bees just adore it. Honey made from these fragrant flowers is delicate and flavorful, so if you have hives of your own, you definitely want to include it in your bee garden. Even if you’re just attracting wild bees, lavender is a delightful ally. Pick a few flowers at their peak and infuse them in raw honey for the ultimate summer indulgence.
Bees love all kinds of berry flowers. As such, blackberry bushes are a wild-spreading option for bees if you have a lot of space to play with. Smaller gardens may be better suited for strawberries or blueberries, so choose a berry bush that fits your space, and your taste in fruit. Bees aren’t picky when in comes to berry flowers!
There’s something about bright yellow flowers that bees can’t resist. Calendula blossoms are particularly attractive because they’re wide open and easy to gather from. These “pot marigolds” are delightful flowers to grow in containers along a balcony or on your patio.
After all, large rural gardens aren’t the only bee-havens available. Make your small yard or window box a pollinator paradise. Then, harvest the calendula flowers, steep them in oil, and use that all winter as a skin-saving moisturizer.
Mingle daisies in amongst your bee balm to form tall, consistent, perennial boarders along walls and fences. Daisies are fun, informal flowers that draw bees, butterflies, and friendly people to your garden. They’re easy to grow, and once established, are low-maintenance flowers with few pests.
Tall cosmos are one of the best flowers for bees. They’re annuals that freely re-seed in soft soil, and come in a wide variety of hues from golden yellow to deep purple. Pollen gathering is easy for bees when cosmos are in the garden. If you dead-head these flowers, they’ll blossom all summer long, feeding all your visiting pollinators and filling the whole yard with color.
We often forget that bees need more than just spring and summer flowers to thrive. Winters are tough, and long. As a result, your friendly local hive needs to stock its shelves to get through the cold season. Planting late-blooming flowers is a great way to help the bees prepare for another polar vortex.
All mint species will take over your garden if you’re not careful, but the bees won’t mind. Mint spreads quickly and is seriously hard to kill. Even packed-down soil with poor drainage won’t stop mint, believe me! But along with being nearly indestructible and healing stomachaches all over the world, mint’s late-season blooms also provide essential support to bees.
Plant this aromatic herb in pots to keep it under control, or alongside your compost pile to freshen the scent. Tuck it in a tea garden with rosemary, bee balm, melissa, and lavender, and enjoy. Mint is irrepressibly cheerful, irrepressible in general, and keeps local bees on their wings.
If you want to build a bee garden, don’t hinder the goldenrod! We often think of this tall, autumn flower as a weed, but goldenrod is a helpful ally to humans and insects alike. Infuse the golden blooms in local honey as a powerful anti-allergy aid. I like to steep fresh goldenrod in white wine for a springtime allergy tonic. Because goldenrod blossoms until frost, it’s as helpful for hungry bees preparing to weather the long winter.
Bees prefer yellow or orange sunflower varieties. I like to plant them alongside a shed or bright wall to make them pop against the September sky. Furthermore, sunflower heads are big and wide, so there’s room for several bees to pollinate at once. Give your local insects a chance to gather together on the sunflowers and over-indulge a bit before the winter sends them into hibernation!
Traditionally known as Michaelmas daisies, asters blossom in mid-early autumn. Their nectar can be gathered late in the season to top off the hive’s storehouse right before the frost comes and puts a stop to all food-gathering. Put a few baskets of maple-red asters on the porch and plant a row of them in the garden for gorgeous autumnal decor.
Planting a garden that will attract and sustain bees throughout the seasons is a beneficial project, whether you live in the city or way out in the woods. You’ll be doing your part to support these essential insects, while making your garden more beautiful than ever.