Q&A: Attracting Bees

Can you recommend some plants that are particularly attractive to bees? I’m hoping to lure many bees toward my vegetable garden so they will also pollinate my veggie plants and help ensure a good harvest.

Answer: The right flowers, fruit and vegetables in your garden will welcome visitors such as bumblebees and solitary bee species (those that don’t form a hive, including mason bees).

Two factors contribute to a successful bee garden: the flowers should be planted in full sunlight and they should be planted in groups. Flowers grown singly or in twos or threes may fail to attract bees. Bees often overlook flowers grown in shade, even though the produce pollen and nectar.

 Unfortunately, some of the most spectacular garden flowers are of no use to the bee. In contrast, many flowers dismissed as weeds, such as dandelions and forget-me-nots, provide a rich source of food. One of the best and easiest things you can do to make your garden more bee-friendly is to forget the weed killers and let your lawn and beds go wild.

If you’re not ready to let go of the neatness of your well-tended garden, the next best thing is to leave a patch to run wild, starting by sowing a wildflower mix.

In addition to wildflowers, try these plants:

  • Snowdrops, winter aconite, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths, which supply much-needed pollen and nectar after the long winter months.
  • Purple and white butterfly bushes, Michaelmas daisies and sedum, which supply the bees with final sustenance before the winter
  •  Tulips, forget-me-nots and dandelions for late sprin into summer
  • Salvia x superba and catmint for summer, along with fuchsia, cornflowers, yarrow, goldenrod, geranium and bellflower (Campanula)
  • Plenty of herbs, including sage, thyme, marjoram, basil, rosemary and lavender, plus fruits like raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries.

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6 thoughts on “Q&A: Attracting Bees

  1. I usually have lots of honey bees and bumblebees in my garden. I will have to pay more attention to which flowers they prefer. I know that every year when my small crocuses open, the honey bees love them.

  2. I have lots of annual bachelor’s button(cornflower), cleome(rocky mountain bee balm) and cosmos growing in my yard. Cleome is adored by the bee’s. is self seeds and it grows huge. grows up to 5ft tall. there were sooo many bees in my yard last summer when it was blooming. when you’d walk toward the garden in the morning all you could here is the buzz of the bees. we have an endangered type of bumble bee that comes to my yard. it has a red bottom. so I try to help the bees the best I can. The only plant in my yard that isnt beneficial to either bee’s or butterflys is iris. Oh bees also love blue mist spirea, it is sooo pretty.

  3. The best information on native bee gardening is that provided by the Pollinator Partnership. It gives general information and lists of plants by ecoregion. http://pollinator.org/guides.htm
    It is wiser to reduce non-native plants to a minimum or to do without them. Some of the ones listed above provide no food for pollinators. I have been photographing and studying pollinators for years and I hardly ever see any visiting flowers such as: snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, dandelions or tulips.

  4. I have many bee attracting plants in my zone 8.5 to 9 yard. Oregano, is awesome important to keep in contained area slightly invasive but not bad. Cuphea of many kinds, David Verrity is an orange yellow variety that the bumblebees love, it grows to about 3.5 feet tall and wide. Regular pink cuphea is a honey bee favorite. Black and Blue Salvia attracts bumblebees for three seasons, this one is fairly invasive and requires a little work to keep in bounds but oh so worth the beautiful dark blue flowers. Mint also, invasive but wonderful in a contained area.

    Last comment going organic, using 2 inches of 2nd year compost instead of mulch and a good dose of compost tea five times a year does wonders. My bees have increased every year since I started this routine.

  5. My northern, zone 5 garden has lots of agastache which attracts bees of all kinds. Their favorite is ‘blue fortune’which clumps and is controllable.(Not an overzealous reseeder!). Grows about 3 to 4 feet in sun or slightly part shade with abundant light purple flower spikes atop stems, made up of many small flowers which bees love,(and butterflies).

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