There's no sweeter sound to any gardener's ear than the contented buzzing of pollen-happy bees as they flit from flower to flower. Luckily, bee-friendly plants prove to be some of the easiest flowers to find and grow.
That buzz is music to our ears -- knowing that we're supporting pollinating insects while creating a flower-filled paradise in our yard.
And in exchange for providing a host of beautiful and delicious flowers for our little bee-buds, they return the favor by pollinating our vegetables and fruits as well.
If you also plant fruit trees or have a vegetable garden, just adding some bee-friendly plants nearby can increase your harvest yield by up to 24 percent!
What You Need to Know About Bee-Friendly Plants
You may have heard about the alarming drop in the worldwide bee population. The good news is that honeybee populations are starting to recover.
But native bees -- like bumblebees -- also benefit when you add bee-friendly plants to your garden.
Most bee-friendly plants are easy to grow because they're native to the region. As well as ensuring that you'll be able to create a successful bee garden, using native plants also ensures that you you won't have to spend a lot of time and money coddling them.
If you want to increase your garden harvest, support your local native bees and honeybees, and add beauty and drama to your landscape, consider adding bee-friendly plants and native flowers to your garden.
Why are native plants better for creating a pollinator garden that attracts bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds?
Let's find out.
The Relationship Between Bees and Flowers
Your local bees have learned to love the native plants where they live. Over the many generations, they've have adapted to seeking them out for pollen.
Nature is filled with give-and-take relationships, known as symbiotic relationships. We see examples of these relationships in clownfish and sea anemones, cattle and birds, and most importantly, bees and flowers.
Flowering plants rely on bees and other pollinators to reproduce.
Without bees to pollinate flowers, produce fruit, and eventually seed, the plants would simply die off.
However, this relationship isn't one-sided!
Bees rely on pollen and nectar, collected from various bee-friendly plants, to survive.
If bees don't collect these nutrients from various flowers, their hive will run out of food and eventually cease to exist.
Pollen is the yellow powder released from a plant's male flowers. This substance is needed to pollinate the plant's female flowers.
Some flowers have both male and female parts -- the stamen and pistil. But many rely on bees to transfer the pollen from one flower to another.
And while some of this pollen is brushed off on other flowers to pollinate them, bees do keep some of it for themselves. After all, pollen makes excellent food for bee larvae.
So we now understand the role pollen plays in this relationship.
But what is nectar?
Nectar is a sweet liquid produced by many flowering plants. For the plants, nectar serves no other purpose than to attract pollinators to its flowers. Essentially, nectar is a sugary bribe.
Bees store nectar in their stomachs and carry it back to their hive. Then, they deposit the nectar into honeycomb cells, and the honey-making process begins.
If you've ever wondered why a hive's honey tastes different depending on which flowers the bees feed on, this is why!
How do bees and flowers communicate?
Obviously, bees are attracted to flowers because they provide delicious nectar.
But this isn't the full story:
Have you ever wondered how bees find flowers in the first place? Or why they prefer certain flowers in your garden over others?
Knowing the answers to these questions is essential to growing your own bee-friendly plants.
Believe it or not, bees and flowers communicate in ways invisible to the human eye.
First, let's look at how different bee-friendly plants communicate with these pollinators!
Flowers use changing colors, patterns, and scents to attract bees. Many flowers use ultraviolet wavelengths, which are invisible to the human eye but act like a vibrant bulls-eye for foraging bees.
Flower shapes also play a role in pollination. The most bee-friendly plants offer flowers with an open or tubular shape. If a bee can't get to the flower's pollen and nectar, it will continue on its journey without stopping.
Bees also communicate with flowers.
For instance, check out how this bumblebee's vibrations prompt a flower to open:
But bees don't just benefit flowers.
These pollinators are also a vital part of keeping our environment diverse and thriving. Bees are also critical for the agricultural industry.
Why We Need Bees and Other Pollinators
While there are countless insects, birds, and other animals that act as pollinators, bees are by far the most important.
Bees pollinate more varieties of flowers than any other pollinator on earth.
But these insects aren't just essential to the bee-friendly plants in your garden. They also help pollinate most of the world's agricultural crops.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, one in three foods we eat is the direct or indirect result of bee pollination.
The plants we eat rely on this pollination in two ways: to reproduce (creating more plants for harvest) and to produce fruit. Just take a look at some of the most common agricultural crops that rely on bees for pollination:
In recent years, honey bees and other pollinators have been responsible for up to $19 billion worth of annual crop pollination.
In fact, many farmers have started maintaining beehives on the outskirts of their land to ensure adequate pollination. Others hire hives to come to their land and pollinate their crops.
And with around 80-percent of wild plants relying on these bees for survival, we aren't the only living creatures who need the bees to ensure our food supply.
Where are the bees going?
Unfortunately, our bee population had been dropping for several decades.
There are a variety of reasons for this decline, but most experts say the following are the primary causes:
But, regardless of why the world's bee population is declining, the average gardener can plant bee-friendly plants to help them recover and thrive.
Because without these pollinating powerhouses, home gardens and large farms won't be able to produce enough food.
And while there may not much the home gardener can do about commercial agriculture, there's no reason we can't pick up some of the slack. Especially when it's so easy and adds so much beauty and color to our yards.
Imagine how many bees we could support if every home added bee-friendly plants to their landscape!
Home gardeners can still offer a huge helping hand to their local bee colonies.
All they need to do is add flower beds, especially those filled with nature's more bee-friendly plants.
By providing native flowering, bee-friendly plants to your garden or landscaping beds, you can help keep the local bee population going strong. And that means both honeybees and native bees!
And by planting a variety of species that flower throughout the spring, summer, and fall, you'll ensure that these essential pollinators never go without a good meal.
How to Create Your Own Bee-Friendly Plant Garden
When it comes to flowers, bees aren't very fussy. And that makes the chore of creating your own bee-friendly garden an extremely easy one!
In most cases, choosing a few bee-friendly plants is all it takes to draw local bees to your garden.
But for the most effective pollinator garden, we recommend following a few general guidelines:
Choosing a location
When choosing the location for your bee-friendly plants, you have to take into consideration the needs of your chosen plants. But you also have to pick somewhere that will attract the most bees.
To do that, you'll need to think like a bee.
You want at least part of your bee garden to be covered by shade during the day. If part of your garden has tree cover or other shelter, this will also help protect visiting bees from heavy rain.
On top of choosing the best general location for your garden, the placement of your bee-friendly plants is also important.
The best strategy is to plant your chosen flowers in organized clusters. That allows your bee visitors to indulge in — and more efficiently pollinate — one type of flower with ease.
Some bee species will bounce between different varieties of flowers. Others, though, prefer to feed on only one type at a time.
Scattering your flowers might look more aesthetically pleasing if you're going for that wild-grown look, but it also means that these selective bees can't feed or pollinate as efficiently.
If their flowers of choice are too far apart, they may even return to the hive without getting their fill of nectar.
At the very least, you want to have a covered space in your bee-friendly plant garden that offers temporary shelter from the wind and rain.
But that's not all you can do!
Avoid mulching around your bee-friendly plants. Or at least leave some spots of bare soil uncovered.
Many native bee species, including the adorable bumblebee, burrow into the ground to nest. If your entire garden is covered in mulch, these bees won't be able to get the most out of your bee-friendly plants.
If you must mulch your entire pollinator garden, consider leaving out some empty pots of soil or dirt.
These pots will provide shelter for burrowing bees in your garden. Just remember to place them somewhere that won't get soaked from rain or sprinklers.
Of course, once you have your garden in place, you should check any of these structures for inhabitants before moving pots, dumping soil, or making any other changes that could harm your resident bees.
Many eco-conscious gardeners overlook a key piece of caring for their local bees: water!
While bees rely on the flowers of bee-friendly plants for pollen and nectar, they also drink plain old water. And this resource can be difficult to find, especially in dry months.
So what can you do?
If you already have a birdbath in or near your pollinator-friendly garden, then you'll probably see bees and other insects taking advantage of this convenient water source.
But if you don't already have standing water nearby, you should keep a bowl of water in your garden.
To create a bee water bowl, pick out a shallow dish that you don't mind keeping outside. Before filling the dish with water, add pebbles and rocks of varying sizes until it's about half-full.
From here, you can add water to the bowl. But don't completely submerge the rocks!
Your resident bees will use these dry rocks to safely drink from the bowl — without risk of drowning.
Caring for your garden
Caring for your bee-friendly plants is pretty much the same as any other garden. But there is one critical thing to remember:
Hopefully, you already avoid using insecticides in your garden or use an organic alternative. But if you do use these chemicals, now is the time to stop.
Insecticides might prevent infestation from harmful insects like aphids and leafcutters, but they can also hurt or kill entire bee colonies.
You should avoid using chemical insecticide on your bee-friendly plants. But we also encourage you to reconsider using these chemicals on any of your flowering plants.
If you're in search of an insect-repellent than won't harm your local bees, you do have some options.
Here are some of our favorite alternatives to chemical insecticides and the pests they work against the best:
Insects / Pests
aphids, spider mites, powdery mildew
slugs, snails, beetles
(wrapped around the plant's stem)
bees and butterflies
aphids, ants, white flies, caterpillars
Our favorite thing about these natural pest-control options is that they act as repellants rather than poisons. So you can keep pests away from your bee-friendly plants without causing any actual harm to them.
Before using any insecticide or pesticide on your bee-friendly plants, even if it is labeled as natural or organic, we recommend researching the ingredients first.
After all, the last thing you want to do is inadvertently hurt your local bee colony.
The Best Bee-Friendly Plants for Your Garden
We've finally come to the fun part of starting a pollinator garden -- choosing the best bee-friendly plants.
One of the most important tenets of creating a bee-friendly garden is choosing plants that will bloom in succession. The goal is to keep a steady supply of pollen and nectar available throughout spring, summer, and fall.
While most of these bee-friendly plants do just fine in a wide variety of climates, we recommend checking your area's hardiness zone before going out and buying a supply of seeds or transplants.
If you find that your geographical region is either too cold or too hot for most of the flower varieties we've listed below, we suggest reaching out to a regional university's horticulture or agriculture program. Or even a local gardening club.
With help from one of these organizations, you should be able to find native, bee-friendly plants better suited to your local climate.
That said, let's get started!
For bees, the start of spring means preparing for the next generation.
And here's what that means:
After a long winter, bees need to collect plenty of pollen and nectar to replenish their hive supplies. Or, if they're a solitary species, they need to replace personal energy lost during the winter.
They'll also need more water than usual to liquefy thickened honey.
Toward the end of spring, young worker bees will be entering the field for the first time!
During the spring, your local bee colonies will be out in full force collecting tons of valuable pollen and honey.
In this important time of year for colony development, what bee-friendly plants can you keep in your garden?
The crocus is an extremely dainty flower that is one of the first to emerge after winter's frost has dissipated.
With strong scents and a range of colors, these bee-friendly plants draw bees out from their winter slumber. And with a bloom that sits somewhere between an open and tubular shape, these flowers are the perfect size and shape for foraging bees.
Here's how to grow them:
- Crocuses grow from corms, a type of bulb and will return year after year. For the best results, plant crocus corms in your garden a few weeks before your area's first expected frost.
- If you choose to mulch your garden, you'll need to remove it in the early spring or late winter if you want your crocus sprouts to break through the soil. You can also spread crocuses in a blanket across your yard for a beautiful burst of spring color.
- These bee-friendly plants are hardy in Zone 3 through Zone 8. However, different varieties may have different temperature tolerances.
Lilacs are bee-friendly plants that make great shrubbery for any landscape.
These fragrant flowers draw in all types of pollinators from far and wide. But bees are particular fans of the lilac. Since lilacs bloom in large clusters, bees can easily bounce from blossom to blossom as they collect pollen and nectar.
Take a look at what you can do with this plant:
- The most common type of lilac bush blooms in mid-to-late May, making it one of the best bee-friendly plants for late spring.
- Most lilac bushes grow between 5 and 15 feet tall. We recommend planting these bushes as a backdrop to your garden or along your house.
- Lilac bushes are hardy in Zone 3 through Zone 8. But some varieties of these bee-friendly plants can survive into Zone 2 and Zone 9.
Roses technically toe the line between a spring and a summer bloomer.
But since most of these bee-friendly plants bloom closer to the end of spring, they can help bridge the gap between crocuses and lilacs and the strong summer bloomers.
Bees love roses because they produce large quantities of decadent nectar.
However, remember this:
The most important thing about using roses as one of your bee-friendly plants is choosing the right varieties.
However, remember this:
The most important thing about using roses as one of your bee-friendly plants is choosing the right varieties.
- Roses come in a range of shapes. But when we think of a rose flower, we normally think of double-petal varieties.
- However, these dense clusters of petals are extremely difficult for most bees to penetrate. Instead, you want to plant single-petal varieties that offer a nice, open bloom.
- Roses are great bee-friendly plants because there are so many different cultivars. We recommend visiting your local nursery or garden center to find the best rose bush for your particular climate
Once the heat of summer hits, your resident bees will need plenty of water to maintain their own body temperatures as well as the temperature of their hives.
In addition to keeping themselves cool, the local bee colonies will also start thinking about winter. That means collecting as much pollen and nectar as they possibly can.
Fortunately, summer offers plenty of bee-friendly plants to include in your garden.
As the name implies, bee balm is one of the best bee-friendly plants for summer.
Growing this North American woodland plant is easy:
- The blossoms of these bee-friendly plants look like a cross between wild honeysuckle and daisies. You can find different shades of bee balm in pinks, yellows, and white. But the most popular color is vibrant purple.
- Picking spent blossoms from your bee balm plants will help encourage further flower production.
- Since bee balm is a member of the mint family, you might even notice a fresh, clean fragrance filling your garden during the summer months!
- Bee balms do best in Zone 4 through Zone 6. But most varieties can survive in up to Zone 9 with proper care.
According to a two-year study, lavender blooms are actually one of the most bee-friendly plants around!
- These super fragrant flowers might look too small for the average bee to access, but they are actually just right.
- And since lavender grows in clusters, bees can effectively bounce from plant to plant with relative ease.
- The most important thing when growing lavender is to not overwater it. While these plants are extremely drought-tolerant, they can succumb to overly moist soil.
- Most lavender plants are only hardy from Zone 5 through Zone 9. But more cold-resistant varieties of these bee-friendly plants are being developed as we speak!
The sunflower is a classic backyard garden addition. But these over-sized yellow flowers are also great bee-friendly plants during the summer.
The sunflower's large blooms offer tons of nectar for hungry bees and other pollinators.
There are two types of sunflower you can plant in your garden: annual and perennial. While perennial varieties will come back every summer, they won't actually bloom until at least their second year.
Sunflowers are a great option for backyard gardeners who want to utilize more bee-friendly plants in their landscaping.
But be aware:
As far as bee-friendly plants are concerned, black-eyed Susans are some of the most foolproof.
You might also see these wildflowers marketed under the names Gloriosa daisy or brown-eyed Susan.
Look how easy this plant is to grow:
- These bright yellow flowers bloom throughout the entire summer and are extremely tolerant of heat and drought. They are also self-seeding and thrive in all types of soil.
- The coloring on these flowers attracts all types of bees — but especially honeybees — and the blooms provide plenty of nectar throughout the summer months.
- Black-eyed Susans even extend into fall with some blooming through October!
- If you want to grow these bee-friendly plants in your own garden, you're in luck. Black-eyed Susans thrive anywhere from Zone 3 through Zone 9.
As the summer months draw to a close and temperatures slowly drop, winter is on everyone's mind.
This includes the bees.
While bees spend summer collecting tons of pollen and nectar for their winter food stores, some will continue collecting into fall.
To help out these last-minute foragers, you can plant one of the bee-friendly plants below!
Until very recently, the stonecrop flower was known as a type of sedum.
But not anymore:
- While the name has technically changed, you will probably see these bee-friendly plants marketed under both names!
- These plants are succulents, meaning they do well in hot and dry conditions.
- The most popular type of stonecrop, Autumn Joy, is a great addition to any pollinator garden.
- Since these bee-friendly plants bloom from late August to November, they help fill the gap between summer and winter for your resident bees.
- Whether you opt for a tall, bushy variety of stonecrop or one that blankets over rocks and soil, these plants offer carpets of bee-friendly flowers.
- Most stonecrop plants are hardy from Zone 4 to Zone 9. Autumn joy, though, is also hardy in Zone 3.
Goldenrod has a bad reputation:
- Somehow, goldenrod has developed a reputation for triggering hay fever in allergy-prone individuals. However, this meadow flower is actually hypoallergenic!
- Instead, the culprit is the very similar-looking ragweed.
- Many home gardeners avoid using this flower in their garden because of this wives' tale. But goldenrod is actually one of fall's best bee-friendly plants.
- Most varieties of goldenrod begin blooming in July or August and continue into October.
- Since goldenrod is native to North America, you can find varieties to suit pretty much any climate. Goldenrod thrives in Zone 2 through Zone 8.
Help Nurture Nature with Bee-Friendly Plants
As you can see, creating a pollinator garden is as simple as choosing a handful of bee-friendly plants and planting them in the ground!
Since most bees are attracted to native wildflowers and other reliable bloomers, growing these flowers is extremely easy and low-maintenance.
Even if you live in a particularly hot or cold climate, there are several bee-friendly plants that will thrive in your respective hardiness zone.
And drawing in pollinators with these bee-friendly plants can help attract bees and even butterflies to your fruit and vegetable crops or other garden flowers.
Adding shelter and water to your garden, as well as avoiding the use of chemical insecticides, will help ensure that your resident bees' needs are met. This will help them feel safe and comfortable returning to your garden throughout the year.
Plus, if you work to include a wide range of bee-friendly plants that bloom at different times of the year, your pollinator garden will offer a steady supply of pollen and nectar throughout your region's bees' entire active season.
So, now that you know the ins-and-outs of creating your own bee-friendly garden, are you ready to create a pollinator paradise in your own backyard?
Maybe the next step will even be raising your own hive!
Featured Image: CC0 via Pixabay