Garden plants for bees

Our editor, Mary Montaut, has put together a comprehensive list of nectar and pollen-bearing plants for your garden:

General Rules

  1. Try to have flowers ALL YEAR ROUND in the garden.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. FULL SUN plants tend to produce more nectar & pollen.
  6. THINK SEASONALLY – a plant may be extra valuable because of the time when it flowers.
  7. 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.

NO                            YES

Autumn – Winter Plants for Bees

Hedera – Ivy – the chief source of pollen and nectar overwinter
Chimonanthus (winter sweet)
Daphne bholua
Lonicera fragrantissima
Viburnum

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.

Flowering Trees

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
Hawthorn (crategus)

Shrubs

Berberis
Cotoneaster is a great favourite with bees, for both pollen and nectar
Doronicum
Mahonia
Philadelphus
Pyracantha
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
Cytisus (broom
Escallonia for) hedging
Eucryphia
Hebe – long flowering season
Philadelphus (mock orange flower)
Roses with single flowers, eg rosa mundi, kiftsgate
Skimmia

Annual and Perennial Flowers

Aubretia – long flowering season
Centauria (cornflower)
Echium
All native geraniums [NB NOT pelargonium]
Helianthus (Sunflower)
Impatiens
Kniphofia (red-hot pokers)
Lilium -excellent for pollen
Lavatera (mallow)
Limanthes douglasii (poached egg plant)
Lithodora
Nepeta (cat nip)
Papaver (poppies)  excellent for pollen
Phacelia tanacetifolia
Romneya coulteri (californian poppy)
Solidago (Golden Rod)

Herbs are good for bees

Boragio and related herbs like comfrey
Lavandula (lavender)
Mentha (mint)
Origanum (marjoram, oregano)
Rosemarinus (rosemary)
Thymus (thyme)

Late Summer – Autumn Plants for Bees

Asters, especially multiple heads like Michaelmas daisies
Calluna (ling heather)
Erica (bell heather)
Gaillardia
Hydrangea (choose lace-cap varieties)
Hypericum (rose of sharon)
Lamium (dead nettles)
Nemophila (shoo-fly plant)
Sedum (ice plant)
Stranvaesia

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?

Rhododendron Ponticum
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