The Best Plants to Attract Bees to Your Garden

By Claire Mitchell. Posted in the Gardener’s Corner – 3rd July 2019.

Hello, my name is Claire Mitchell and welcome to my guide to finding bee-friendly plants that will not only look great in any garden but will also help wildlife to flourish.

Bees play a crucial rule in our environment and are the world’s most important crop pollinator.

Without the mighty bee, our planet would change beyond recognition.

Sadly, due to the aggressive use of pesticides and habitat loss, the bee population is rapidly declining.

The chart below reveals the rate of decline:

Chart showing decline of bee populationThe chart and data points above are sourced from Nature Communications.

By providing species-level, national-scale estimates of change, our study found evidence of declines across a large proportion of pollinator species in Britain between 1980 and 2013. These overall declines are in addition to the losses that occurred before 1980.

Nature Communications 26th March 2019

In July 2019, I published a detailed guide on how gardeners can attract more bees to their garden.

The article covers topics such as pesticides to avoid, pre-made bee houses you can buy, the importance of water and an overview of bee-friendly plants you can grow in your garden.

Below you’ll find a list of my favourite top 20 bee-friendly plants that I think you should consider planting in your garden.

I’ve sorted the list by season so your garden can become a bee and flying insect haven all year round.

Bee-Friendly Plants – Top 20

Different bees will be active at differing times of the year so we suggest you pick a range of plants that flower from spring to winter.

Don’t forget; it’s not just bees that will love these plants but also other pollinators and flying insects.

Spring

Apple Trees

Bee-friendly apple trees

Apple trees are among the most popular and easiest fruit trees to grow in your garden. With thousands of different apple varieties to choose from, the oldest varietals — like Bramley and Cox — tend to be the easiest to cultivate. Apple trees are very hardy and easy to maintain; they require pruning every year with feeding from June (with a well-balanced fertiliser). Young trees will require the most amount of care but older and larger trees tend to be more resistant.

Apple trees, like other fruit trees, are very beneficial for bee populations. In fact, because apple trees are pollinated by bees, the two are vital to one another’s success. A good tip is to produce several different apple varietals in flower during the same period in spring because apples are cross-pollinated. Opt for trees which produce a lot of large flowers, like the Royal Gala, to attract more bees.

Primrose

primrose for attracting bees

Primroses can be grown as both annuals or perennials, and they are favoured for their tolerance to cold temperatures and most soils. Flowering in early spring (March), they do best with access to both full sun and partial shade. They grow to their full size at about 2-5 years after planting.

Primroses are a known boon for local bees and an excellent source of nectar. It’s ideal to get your primroses planted by February so that Queen bees can establish their colony. As such, primroses are often a perfect early source of food for bees, as well as an attractive flower to brighten up your outdoor spaces. Primrose flowers also sustain worker bees throughout the summer.

Marjoram

Close up Majoram bee-friendly plant

Marjoram is a perennial herb which is native to the UK. Grown with aromatic leaves and tiny flowers of pink, purple or white, marjoram also consists of a central four-seeded fruit. Marjoram has many different names worldwide, including oregano (not to be confused in the UK). Marjoram flowers through summer into early autumn.

Marjoram is among the most attractive flowers for bees in the UK, being popular with many different bee species, including bumblebees and honeybees. Many pollinators find marjoram flowers irresistible, making them perfect plants for bee-friendly gardens. The flowers require a sunny space and do not cope well through winter, so you have to reduce the old flower stems in winter for regrowth the following summer.

Crocus

Crocus is a fairly low-maintenance perennial flower which produces a very early pollen source for bees. Emerging in late winter and early spring, their shoots are hardy enough to survive through crisp winter snow and ice. They come in a wide variety of colours, making them a welcome addition to a colourful spring garden.

Crocus plants are not limited to spring flowering, with different varieties blooming through autumn. They prefer full to partial sun with well-drained soil. To attract bees, you should plant crocus in large clusters. This also rewards gardeners with a beautiful carpet of deep colour.

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley is a perennial flower often found on woodland floors. With attractive and elegant looking bell-shaped flowers, they grow as creeping stems drooping delicately to the side. You can add this to your garden for flowering throughout May and June. The flower is deeply linked with British and European folkloric cultures and fairy tales.

Lily of the Valley is a bee-friendly plant which also offers decorative potential. They will make a great addition to a bee-friendly garden by encouraging the flow of nectar as early as May. Your best propagating the flower by divisions in semi-shaded areas with dappled light.

Summer

Chives

Chives are an easy to grow perennial herb which sprouts edible purple flowers that are ideal for promoting bees. As an indispensable daily herb, they make a valuable asset to your window box, balcony or herb garden. To grow, sow seeds in early spring in small pots ready for germination. Once grown, they’ll be easy to maintain provided you keep them well watered over summer.

For chives to be beneficial to bees you need to allow their flowers to grow. You can still cut down some of the stalks for cooking. The edible purple flowers are particularly attractive to bumblebees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and honeybees.

Lavender

Lavender is one of the most attractive plants for pollinators. Richly aromatic and fragrant, lavender is a shrub that is both easy to grow and maintain, provided you prune and keep them well-maintained. Many varieties of lavender are hardy with silver-grey evergreen foliage, but ensure you plant in areas of full sunshine. Expect them to bring colour into your garden through June, July and August.

Lavender is particularly useful for bees because it flowers in midsummer. This is a period when very few other flowers are out for bees to forage. The larger lavender cultivars tend to be the most attractive for bees, particularly when planted as dense hedges. They are among the best plants for a bee-friendly garden.

Viper’s Bugloss

Viper’s bugloss is a blue flower named after its spotted stem which is said to resemble a viper. It is a hairy plant consisting of fairly dense spikes and funnel-like flowers of blue. The flower is typically found in chalky and sandy landscapes such as cliffs. They typically bloom from May into September and provide food for a number of important insects.

Viper’s bugloss is not typically found in gardens or garden centres, but it is a native British species which is very beneficial for local bees and other pollinators. Because it produces nectar throughout the day, it is particularly important as a late afternoon nectar provider for bees. It needs planting near full sunshine in well-drained soil.

Heather

Heather consists of a variety of bee-enticing flowering calluna which often dominates moorland and heathland landscapes. They are hardy plants which flower throughout the year, depending on the varietal. They require sunshine and open areas but can tolerate partial shade and are ideally planted in spring. They require lime-free soil.

Heather is a real boon for bumblebees and honeybees, among others, as it provides a rich nectar. Famous for the production of heather honey, heather can be strategically planted for year-long nectar production with winter heathers (such as Erica Erigena and Erica Carnea) providing much-needed pollination in winter months. Small heather gardens are an ideal way to attract bees throughout the year.

Marigolds

Marigolds are both annual and perennial herbaceous plants that are part of the daisy family. Grown in a wealth of attractive summer colours, they are ideal garden flowers due to their long blooming period and easy-to-maintain growth. Plant these flowers through March and May for a full summer to autumn bloom. They are best maintained with direct sunlight with well-drained soil.

Contrary to popular opinion, marigold flowers are ideal bee-friendly plants owing to their single-flower tops with easy-to-access nectar. Marigolds also repel some insect pests, making them ideal for bee-friendly gardens. Opt for non-hybrid single-flower marigolds for better bee attraction.

Autumn

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle is a native British wildflower which can be easily grown in your garden. Generating one of the sweetest scents, the honeysuckle is a woody climber which often twines around local trees and shrubs. Often found in hedgerows and woodland areas, the flower blooms as a cream-coloured trumpet with an orange buff. They bloom between June and September with red berries ripening in early autumn.

Honeysuckle offers a lot of value to local wildlife, both bees and birds alike. Bumblebees benefit from honeysuckles prized nectar and bees act as important pollinators for this plant. Bumblebees have become well adept at feeding on honeysuckle which aids in their autumn feeding.

Salvias

Salvias are a large genus of 900 mint family plants encompassing shrubs, annuals and herbaceous perennials, including the herb sage. Plants tend to grow through April and May for flowering from June through November. All varieties enjoy full sunshine, making south-facing areas ideal. Care depends on the variety you grow, with many hardier perennials cut back in spring or autumn.

Salvias are ideal plants for bees and pollinators, particularly those of the herbal variety. Many of the more colourful bedding plant salvias are not as good for native British bees because of their long flower tubes. For bee-friendly salvias, look for Salvia Nemerosa, a small perennial with blue flowers, or clary sage, a versatile hedgerow plant with midsummer pink flowers.

Asters

Aster is a perennial flowering bee-friendly plant genus grown throughout Europe. The UK’s native species is the sea aster which grows in salt marshes and flowers in late summer. Often known as autumn daisies, asters come in a wide variety of colours and are found in just about every garden in the UK. Their late flowering in September makes them an ideal autumnal colour bringer. They also cope with both light shade and direct sunlight.

Asters are perfect bee-friendly plants because they sustain populations through autumn. Asters like novi belgii (known as the New York aster) are reliable attractions for bees and other pollinators through September. Honeybees and sweat bees are drawn to autumnal asters as they are known to bloom until November, providing much-needed late-season pollen and nectar.

Hardy Fuscia

Fruschias can be hardier then their delicate exteriors suggest, withstanding cold temperatures and blooming through autumn. As hardy autumnal bloomers, they are ideal to light up dull shades in the garden. The plants require little care and can be incorporated into hedge areas, hanging baskets or containers as well as summer beds. With cultivars flowering from late spring up until the first frosts of winter, they make for very versatile shrubs.

Fuschias are also great bee attractors, producing pollen and nectar for an extended period of time. This is vital for colder months when other bumblebee favourites are out of bloom. They are highly recommended to promote a bee-friendly autumn garden owing to their single-flower makeup.

Hebe Autumn Glory

Hebe Autumn Glory is an easy to grow, hardy shrub which produces attractive flowers from July through November. Its leaves are bronze tinges with deep green foliage and violet-blue flowers. Best grown in areas of half-sun with shelter from wind, Autumn Glory is compact enough to fit into tight areas for welcome patches of autumnal colour.

Because of Hebe Autumnal Glory’s long flowering period, it makes an ideal addition to a bee-friendly autumnal garden. The shrub is a particular favourite of bees and butterflies owing to their short spikes of flowers which can potentially last until winter. They also have some tolerance to drought, making them hardy and reliable shrubs.

Winter

Winter Flowering Clematis

Winter flowering clematis include a host of clematis flowers which last from November through until early spring. Some examples, like clematis cirrhosa varietals, are evergreen shrubs which climb other stalks to display attractive white flowers. Flowers are generally sweet-scented and hardy. All types require good drainage in cultivated soil within a warm and sheltered position either in full sun or with part shade.

Winter-flowering clematis is a vital lifeline for early honeybees and queen bees that have just emerged and are hunting for much-needed food. Because nectar is so rare in winter and very early spring months, these flowers are crucial pollinators which will attract a wide variety of wildlife, making them a very bee-friendly plant. The bell-shaped flowers of many clematis are particularly attractive and accessible to bees.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’)

Mahonia aquifolium is a flowering evergreen shrub which can grow up to 1m in height. They produce dense sections of yellow flowers and deep blue berries (reminiscent of grapes). These shrubs offer year-round interest as the leaves change in appearance through both spring and winter, from yellow to a purple-like flush.

As a recommended plant for pollinators, bees are attracted to this cultivar through winter and spring. At other times of the year, the sharp leaves provide perfect cover against predators or other unwanted garden invaders. This hardy shrub will easily withstand British winters, even in the north, so long as they are partially protected and not in the open.

Ivy

Ivy (or hedera) is a climbing evergreen which just sings winter and Christmas. There are many forms of ivy (of which there are a lot of perennials), and many are easy to sustain with most soils. Aside from their evocative wintry leaves, ivy is an incredibly valuable plant for bees, offering vital nectar and pollen during the colder autumn months when insects are building their stores up for winter.

Once a bane of some gardeners, their value to honeybees, in particular, mean that they should be promoted through winter. Over 80% of a bee’s autumn pollen will have been foraged from ivy. That’s not to mention the berries which provide perfect resources for birds and hibernating animals.

Rosemary

Rosemary is more than just a fragrant, perennial herb with value in the kitchen, it produces beautiful needle-like leaves with white, blue, pink or purple flowers. The herb is harvestable year-round, with flowers blooming through in spring. When planted along a path, they produce an intoxicating and guiding aroma. You can plant year-long but seeds can take some time to germinate, making young plants the best to cultivate.

Herbs like rosemary are known to be bee-friendly. Bees are pollinators of rosemary and seem to love these fragrant bushes just as much as humans. To make the most of your rosemary, plant them in accessible areas among other winter pollinators.

Winter Flowering Heather

Winter flowering heather plants are a species of heather which is hardy enough to withstand and flower in colder climates. They provide a blanket of much-needed colour to your garden whilst sustaining the local wildlife and producing a rich aroma. They are indispensable additions to your winter garden and are perfect for small spaces.

They are particularly valuable because of the profusion of flowers which appear as early as November which can last well until spring, supplying newly buzzing bees with their needed pollen. Through winter, heather is best mixed with other winter colours for an attractive and vibrant garden ecosystem.

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This guide was created by Claire Mitchell and posted in the Gardener’s Corner. Published 3rd July 2019.