Wildlife

What Are The Best Plants For Bees?

bees sitting on Allium sphaerocephalon
Written by Chris Lee

What could be more charming than sitting in your garden, watching the bees dance from flower to flower? And while their gentle buzzing certainly adds to the natural ambience, bees are also an integral part of our ecosystem.

Bees are the world’s most important pollinators and we rely on them to pollinate up to a third of all the food we eat, as well as 80% of flowering plants. 

Sadly, bees in the UK are under threat and, given how impactful they are on the success of our crops, losing them would be catastrophic. 

A small child points a finger at a bumblebee on a flower
Bees need our help!

Thankfully, as a gardener, you have the opportunity to make a difference. Attracting bees into your garden is not a huge benefit to your plants, but you can also rest assured knowing you are making a positive impact on the planet as a whole.

So if you have decided to embark on cultivating a bee-friendly, Earth-enhancing garden then this article is sure to set you on the right path.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Which flowers bees love.
  • Which trees are the bee’s knees.
  • Which herbs will bring them flying in.
  • What to avoid.

Let’s get to it.

Choosing the Right Flowers

As we’ve said, bees bring life to your garden and vice versa.

 The nectar that bees forage for is packed with sugar which gives them the energy to stay busy. The pollen provides vital proteins and oil to keep them healthy.

It’s interesting to note is that different species of bee have tongues of different lengths, so choosing a variety of flower shapes will allow more bees to enjoy your garden.

When it comes to choosing the right flowers a good, solid goal is to aim to cater for as many different species of bees as possible, as well as picking plants that flower in different seasons ensuring that you are providing for them all year round.

Crocus

A firm favourite among hairy-footed flower bees and queen bumblebees, these springtime flowers are the perfect start to their busy year. Not only do these plants add a delightful splash of colour to your garden, but they provide vital shelter for bees who will often take refuge in them overnight. If you’re lucky you should catch them leaving in the morning, laden with pollen.

A honey bee takes refuge in the petals of a crocus
A honey bee takes refuge in the petals of a crocus

Phacelia

According to bumblebee expert Dave Goulson, Phacelia is “perhaps the single most attractive plant for bees on the planet.” With a sweet scent, pretty blue flowers, and ferny leaves, this summer flowering plant produces an abundance of nectar and pollen, and is sure to keep your garden buzzing.

Sedum

This traditional classic flowers late into summer and early autumn. Its large umbrella-shaped blooms are super accessible for hungry bees, making this a popular plant for several types of the species.

Winter Flowering Honeysuckle 

This highly fragrant plant sports gorgeous, tubular flowers making them perfect pitstops for winter-active bumble bees. A native plant and intrepid climber whose flowers are followed by berries, which will also attract many species of birds.

Lavender 

Bees adore lavender and this perennial plant grows back year after year. What’s more, it flowers during the midsummer gap – a time where, surprisingly, there is little forage and honey bees are at their hungriest. Lavender also repels moths, fleas, flies, and mosquitoes so this fragrant flower really is the gift that keeps on giving! 

Trees for Bees

If you are fortunate enough to have space, planting a tree is a wonderful, forward-thinking way to provide food and shelter for bees far into the future. Equally, for those among you with a more modest-sized garden, ornamental fruit trees are an elegant alternative to keep the bees happy without compromising on valuable space! 

Apple Trees

Not only does this tree bear one of the world’s most popular fruits, it is also irresistible to honey bees. Whilst the bees keep your apple tree producing healthy fruits and seeds, the tree provides the bees with the energy and raw material they need to produce delicious honey: Certainly one of nature’s sweetest treasures!

A busy bumble bee pollinates an apple tree’s blossoms
A busy bumblebee pollinates an apple tree’s blossoms

Holly Trees and Bushes

As well as its signature, spiky foliage, this festive plant also produces small white flowers in springtime which provide an abundant food source to help bees thrive. Come autumn, its berries will also attract plenty of birds and other, wildlife keeping your garden brimming with life.

Sophora Japonica

Also known as the Chinese Scholar Tree, this ornamental plant grows to around 100cm in height. With delicate pea-shaped flowers and feathery foliage, this miniature marvel flowers late into summer and early autumn making it particularly helpful for bees.

Bee-Friendly Herbs 

Not only are they great for our cooking, but lots of herbs are also loved by bees too. These plants are also especially good for small gardens, so bear in mind that even if you only have a patio to work with, you can still encourage bees to visit you! 

Borage

Nick-named “Bees Bread” because of its nectar-rich blue flowers, this magical little herb refills its nectar every two minutes! Not only will it keep bees well-fed, you can also add its delectable, edible flowers can be added to salads, or frozen in ice cubes to chill your summer cocktails.

Oregano

A fragrant and essential culinary herb, oregano is loved by honey bees, bumblebees, and a whole range of solitary bees. It flowers in a range of pretty pink shades and the leaves can be added fresh to a wealth of dishes or, alternatively, can be frozen or dried to be used throughout the year.

Chives

This herb can be eaten fresh from the garden and is easy to grow from seeds. For bees to benefit from chives however, you need to allow them to flower. The purple florets provide plenty of nectar and are particularly well-loved by bumblebees. 

bee flying over rosemary plant
Bees can’t resist Rosemary!

Rosemary

A brilliant food source for bees with a long flowering season, this hardy and fragrant herb can also be harvested for its needles and added to a variety of meats, poultry, and fish. Flowering in summer it provides plentiful nectar to keep your bees from buzzing off!

Plants To Avoid

Whilst there are plenty of plants that will attract bees into your garden, there are also plants that will repel or even harm them. When trying to encourage bees to visit it’s always advisable to do a little research when introducing a new plant into your garden.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of a few no-nos to get you started.

Rhododendrons

This popular plant with its spectacular blooms sadly holds a nasty secret – its nectar is toxic to bees! 

It is considered such a danger that beekeepers will commonly keep their hives closed until the flowering season has ceased. 

Furthermore, if the honeybees are able to overcome the toxicity, the resulting honey is often contaminated and not fit for human consumption. We strongly advise that you avoid including this poisonous plant when creating a refuge for bees.

Basil

It might be great in your cooking but bees can’t stand the smell of basil, in fact, it actively repels them. Thankfully, as mentioned before there are plenty of other herbs they do like, so you can still enjoy cultivating a lush and varied herb garden without the bees turning up their noses!

Cucumber

This refreshing vegetable is not a favourite among bees who find their peels bitter and acidic. In fact, gardeners often place cucumber peels to ward off bees and wasps. 

When welcoming bees is the aim, cucumbers are best left off the menu.

And there you have it…

Hopefully we’ve given you plenty of ideas to give friendly bees a helping hand. And helping bees really does help your garden as well as our planet’s delicate ecosystem. 

Regardless of the size of your garden, you can still make a real difference to the bees in your area. Just take care to keep your bee-friendly plants in “bee-range” – they won’t be able to reach anything over 100 ft!

With so many plants to choose from it won’t be long until your garden is completely buzzing, in fact, we’re convinced it’s going to be the bee’s knees!

About the author

Chris Lee

Chris is interested in nature and the good things that happen when people are in it. He is a freelance writer, with writing published about cycling, green living, and ways to make a difference without fundamentally restructuring your lifestyle.

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