With US bees dying at an unprecedented rate, are you doing your part in bolstering the bee population? Beekeeping is a wonderful way to support bees, but it’s not the only thing you can do. Planting flowers that attract bees will provide much needed food for pollinators near you, and can require as little space as a windowsill.
From herbs and ornamentals to hardy winter bloomers, bees benefit from a plethora of plants. This list is by no means comprehensive, but we hope it will help you get ideas for your gardening space. If you have any doubts about whether your land or climate is suitable for any of these plants, you may want to reference your USDA hardiness zone or consult with your local gardening center.
Dos and Don’ts
Do: diversify and maximize blooms
To help bees make the most out of their active months, it’s ideal to have plants that bloom at different times across the seasons. Early spring and late autumn blooms will be especially helpful for early foragers or bees going for their last harvest before hunkering down for the winter. It is also ideal to have a variety of flower shapes – from flat to tubular – to accommodate bees with different tongue sizes. Be sure to prolong your plants’ blooms by removing dead blooms and leaves.
If you have a grass lawn, consider replacing it with colorful pollinator plants to make better use of your space and save water. You can also make a compromise by allowing your lawn to share space with flowers that attract bees, such as dandelions, clovers or siberian squill (more on squills below).
Don’t: plant treated or hybridized plants
It is extremely important to avoid using any insecticides, herbicides, or pesticides on your plants – even organic ones contain substances that are harmful to bees. Pesticides contain neonicotinoids, chemicals that are a known danger to bees. If we’re going to do our part in helping the declining population of bees, we must be adamant about keeping our gardens chemical-free. When purchasing plants from nurseries, make sure they haven’t been treated. Also, avoid hybridized plant varieties, as they are often less beneficial for bees (more info on this here).
Flowers that Attract Bees
USDA zones 4 – 8. Full sun. Blooms early Spring – Fall.
Whimsy, joy, colors – pansies have it all, and bees love them. They are great for containers or ground cover, but are often treated as annuals because of their ability to spread quickly. Bred from their predecessor the wild pansy, the many types of pansies can bloom in early spring or later in autumn.
North American pussy willow © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden
Pussy Willow (right)
USDA zones 4 – 7. Full to partial sun. Blooms early Spring.
These North American wetland shrubs have a beautiful greyish hue and fur-like blooms. Their blooms mark the arrival of spring, making them a perfect treat for early foraging bees. Humans may also enjoy using their dried stems as decorations.
USDA zones 2 – 8. Full to partial sun. Blooms early Spring.
These beautiful blue blooms have a stunning presence that you can enjoy for a few weeks each year. If you have a grass lawn, you can make the most of your space by planting Siberian Squill bulbs throughout it. Their colors will make your lawn pop in early spring, and the plants will recede just in time to let you start mowing in late spring. Just make sure they have good drainage to prevent bulb rot, and be cautious about their ability to spread quickly.
USDA zones 3 – 9. Full to partial sun. Blooms late Winter, early Spring.
Snowdrops are known to announce their arrival by poking out of the snow. They are great for climates with mild to cold winters. Just keep in mind that the flowers will be dormant by summertime, so the soil in which the bulbs rest will be barren.
USDA zones 2 – 8. Full to partial sun. Blooms in Spring.
With their colors and sweet scents, these flowers will attract bees, hummingbirds, and possibly your neighbors too. Peonies benefit from cold winters to aid their bud formation. Try to place them in loamy soil in a spot protected from wind.
USDA zones 4 – 10. Prefers sun. Blooms Spring – Fall, depending on variety.
Milkweed not only serves as food to bees, but it is also the only host to monarch butterflies. These plants are great food sources for bees, but beware of their complex flower structures, for bees can get trapped or lose a leg in them. Many varieties are drought-resistant and prefer sun (browse varieties here).
USDA zones 4 – 9. Full to partial sun, but shade tolerant. Blooms Summer.
As you may guess from the name, bees love these North American prairie flowers. The blooms almost resemble little fireworks, and come in befittingly vibrant shades too. Favoring warm climates, you can enjoy these perennials’ lush, colorful blooms year after year, and so will bees and other winged things.
USDA zones 5 – 9. Full to partial sun. Blooms Spring, Summer.
Bees love them for their nectar, humans love them for their scent and flavor. Everyone wins, and with many different varieties of lavender to choose from, you’ll likely find one that will settle happily in your garden. The plant can do well in many climates, but prefers warm climates and well-drained soil. It is rather drought resistant once established. (Read about the different varieties’ climate preferences and bloom times here)
USDA zones 2 – 9. Full to partial sun. Blooms Spring, Summer.
With their star-shaped blooms, these plants are a beautiful addition to any garden, and can make a great ground cover. There are several different varieties, including the wild ground phlox. This variety bears its pink blooms in early spring, which is the reason Native Americans dubbed the April full moon the “Full Pink Moon.”
Annual. Full sun. Blooms Summer.
Zinnias come in many colors and will attract both bees and butterflies to your space. They are relatively easy to plant and will bloom in abundance all summer long if dead flowers are removed.
Annual. Full sun. Blooms Summer.
Like zinnias, marigolds are annuals that can bloom all summer long if properly groomed. Their edible blooms can brighten up your salads as well as your garden, and they are even known to repel pests and animals, such as nematodes.
USDA zones 2 – 8. Full to partial sun. Blooms in Summer.
These flowers are sometimes considered weeds because of their ability to spread easily, but kept in check, they are an invaluable resource for bees and have medicinal value as well. To keep their spread in check, just cut off the dead flower heads before they re-seed.
USDA zones 3 – 10. Full sun. Blooms late Spring, Summer.
Resist eating their tasty purple flowers and the bees will thank you! This perennial tolerates cold climates rather well, and is a great way to add a fresh, oniony taste to salads, dishes, or eggs.
LATE SUMMER, FALL
USDA zones 5 – 9. Full to partial sun. Blooms late Summer.
These flowers, found in purple, pink, and white, bloom on grass-like spiky leaves that can grow 1 – 5 feet tall. They are relatively low maintenance, and are rather tolerant of drought, pests, and cold weather. Butterflies will also thank you for having liatris in your garden.
USDA zones 3 – 10. Full sun, but tolerates some shade. Blooms Spring through Summer.
Mint is invigorating with its fragrance and flavor – and bees go crazy on their flowers too. Mint is a great choice if you’re looking for an herb that’s low maintenance. They make good ground cover and a tasty kitchen ingredient. Easy to grow, but easy to lose control of too, so be careful about their spread.
USDA zones 5 – 9. Full sun. Blooms Spring, Summer, Fall.
It’s great in stuffing, sauces, and herb pots! Bees love sage’s beautiful flowers, and these perennials are rather easy to grow. Of all the flowers that attract bees, make sure to incorporate this one into your autumn squash dishes.
USDA zone 9 – 11. Full sun. Blooms Summer through Fall.
Nasturtiums can keep bees buzzing in your garden well into autumn. Their edible blooms will bring a burst of color to your outdoor space. To maximize the amount of blooms they have, water them regularly and opt for poorer soils. Most nasturtiums are annuals, but some varieties are perennials in zones 9 – 11.
USDA zones 3 – 9. Full to partial sun. Blooms late Summer, Fall.
These are flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and bring a burst of yellow to your garden. As members of the sunflower family, they can grow up to three feet tall! They make excellent borders, but spread very easily, so be careful about placing them in – or letting them grow into – other plants’ space.
Full to partial sun. Blooms Summer, Fall.
Also known as starflower, borage’s star-shaped blooms start out pink and mature into a beautiful blue. Borage is considered a good neighbor for tomatoes, which bees also love. These plants are annuals, but they re-seed readily, so keep an eye on their spread.
USDA zones 5 – 9. Full sun. Blooms Summer, Fall.
Irresistable to bees and pun-lovers alike, placing one of these shrubs by a walkway will prove to be a wonderful way to pass the thyme. These perennials bear bee-loving flowers in pink or purple, and can grow up to one foot tall.
Full sun. Blooms mid-Summer, Fall.
This perennial has pink, purple, or white flowers, and its late blooms will be appreciated by your bee friends. Oregano provides excellent ground cover and is rather hardy. Harvest its leaves for cooking or medicinal purposes. Drying them will help you make use of its reported immune-boosting properties throughout winter.
Plant for Bees, Plant for Change
They say flowers that attract bees also bring good tidings for the gardener. Okay, maybe they don’t say that, but there’s something undoubtedly powerful about planting pollinator blooms. The art of gardening is not only a form of relaxation, but also of creating change. With every haven we create for bees, we make clear our stance on their importance, we designate ourselves as their allies, and we become leaders in the movement to create a world that is nourishing to the very creatures that nourish us too. Gardening is no longer a hobby – it is a grassroots movement.
Want to learn more about flowers that attract bees?
Check out these great resources:
Fall Blooming Plants for Bees – Overall Gardener
Planting a Bee Garden – Beverly Bees
Bees and Other Pollinators Love These Flowering Plants – Resilience
5 Early Season Plants Which Attract Pollinators to your Garden – Eartheasy Blog
Siberian Squill – Wisconsin Horticulture
Pussy Willow – The Honeybee Conservancy
Goldenrod – Landscaping.About