Our editor, Mary Montaut, has put together a comprehensive list of nectar and pollen-bearing plants for your garden:
- Try to have flowers ALL YEAR ROUND in the garden.
- LET THERE BE WEEDS as they are valuable food plants for bees.
However, there is no need to let your garden go ‘WILD’ if you like a more orderly scene as many garden plants provide excellent food sources for bees.
- FLOWERING TREES are especially useful in late winter and early spring as they provide pollen (protein for bees) to build up the brood eg. willow (salix), cherry blossom (prunus).
- MULTIPLE FLOWER HEADS are excellent, either in a spire like a bell flower (campanula), or trailing racemes like wisteria, or flat heads like achillea and ice flower (sedum).
The plant family which includes wallflowers – CRUCIFERAE – are very good for bees, providing both nectar and pollen in plenty.
- FULL SUN plants tend to produce more nectar & pollen.
- THINK SEASONALLY – a plant may be extra valuable because of the time when it flowers.
- Flowers with OPEN FACES are better for bees so NO DOUBLES, flowers with trumpets or long tubes (eg some fuschia) are difficult for bees to access as they have short tongues.
Autumn – Winter Plants for Bees
Hedera – Ivy – the chief source of pollen and nectar overwinter
Chimonanthus (winter sweet)
Spring Plants for Bees
You will probably be feeding your bees with fondant at the start of the year, so it is most important that they have good pollen sources locally.
Many trees which are excellent food sources for bees are too large for most gardens, eg horse chestnut
Willows – salix species are good for pollen
Almond, Flowering Cherry and plum (prunus species), Crab Apple (malus species) and similar early flowering fruit trees will provide both nectar and pollen
Cotoneaster is a great favourite with bees, for both pollen and nectar
Ribes (flowering currant)
Rubus (raspberry and related fruit bushes)
Bulbs and Other Perennial Flowers
Crocus – all types provide rich sources of pollen
Cheiranthus and Erysimum – wallflowers for pollen and nectar
Galanthus – snowdrops are valuable because they flower so early
Muscari – grape hyacinth are good for pollen
Summer Plants for Bees
There is no shortage of excellent flowering plants in this season, but here are a few especially suitable for bees.
Flowering Trees and Shrubs
Acer (maple) most garden varieties provide nectar and pollen
Escallonia for) hedging
Hebe – long flowering season
Philadelphus (mock orange flower)
Roses with single flowers, eg rosa mundi, kiftsgate
Annual and Perennial Flowers
Aubretia – long flowering season
All native geraniums [NB NOT pelargonium]
Kniphofia (red-hot pokers)
Lilium -excellent for pollen
Limanthes douglasii (poached egg plant)
Nepeta (cat nip)
Papaver (poppies) excellent for pollen
Romneya coulteri (californian poppy)
Solidago (Golden Rod)
Herbs are good for bees
Boragio and related herbs like comfrey
Origanum (marjoram, oregano)
Late Summer – Autumn Plants for Bees
Asters, especially multiple heads like Michaelmas daisies
Calluna (ling heather)
Erica (bell heather)
Hydrangea (choose lace-cap varieties)
Hypericum (rose of sharon)
Lamium (dead nettles)
Nemophila (shoo-fly plant)
Sedum (ice plant)
Plants Dangerous to Bees
Aesculus californica [Red horsechestnut – California Buckeye] – Common
Gelsemium sempervirens [Yellow jessamine] – Uncommon
Zigadenus glaberrimus [Sandbog Deathcamas] – Very unusual
Honey Dangerous to Humans?
Coriaria arborea [Tutu bush] New Zealand
Both of these plants may produce honey toxic to humans if they are exclusive sources for the nectar, but the bees suffer no ill-effects.
Recommended Further Reading
***** Ted Hooper & Mike Taylor, The Bee Friendly Garden : Bring Bees to your Flowers, Orchard and Vegetable Patch (2006)
This excellent book lists many garden plants and gives information about each as a pollen and/or nectar source for bees, including notes on the quality of the pollen in some cases. It is profusely illustrated with photographs, and gives exact advice about the varieties of each botanical species which are specially interesting to bees. It has a simple system of a tick in the margin for the Best Plants for Bees. It also includes full notes on the cultivation of all the plants.
IBRA Garden Plants Valuable to Bees (1991/2003) £5.00 stg
Website to Consult: The Women’s Institute has an excellent list of plants and a campaign called SOS for Honeybees – www.thewi.org.uk