Top 10 bee-friendly plants
Certain plants are not only beautiful but they also provide ample food and suitable habitat for bees and other beneficial insects.
We have assembled a list of the top 10 most bee-friendly plants for you. This overview should help you turn your garden into a paradise that will attract these diligent nectar collectors. Having bees in the garden evokes an atmosphere of a romantic countryside idyll, but most importantly, these insects are absolutely essential for our ecosystem. Here you can freshen up your knowledge and remind yourself why it is crucial to take care of the bees.
Top 10 of the most bee-friendly plants
Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold and this also applies to how bee-friendly many garden plants are. This is the list of the 10 most bee-friendly plants for your garden and balcony with a useful table with an overview at the end.
The raspberry (Rubus idaeus) has a long flowering period, which extends from May to August. The production of nectar and pollen of this plant ranges from good to very good. It is also an important food source for wild bees. It grows in gardens, in forests and on paths in semi-shady to sunny areas. Because it spreads via root shoots, regular maintenance or an installation of a root barrier is essential in order for the entire garden not to be completely swarmed with raspberries.
9. Balcony plants
Insects are especially grateful for any nectar and pollen source in heavily populated, urban and built-up areas. The most bee-friendly balcony plants are oregano (Origanum vulgare), sunflower (Helianthus spec.) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Also, the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), the globeflower (Trollius europaeus), all species of lilies (Lilium spec.) and the Eranthis hyemalis are valuable places of refuge for both honeybees and wild bees. This combination would, by the way, provide a bee with enough nectar per one flight. The classic balcony flowers are unfortunately all too often hardly helpful: geraniums (Pelargonium), for example, are beautiful to look at but offer nothing to the insects.
The common melilot (Melilotus officinalis) is not referred to as yellow sweet clover just by chance. The name hints at the sweetness of the nectar, which the flowers of the melilot overflow with. It blooms from July to September and its yellow flower is of great value to honeybees. Some specialised wild bees can also benefit from the melilot, also due to the four-month flowering period of this plant. Melilot thrives very well in sunny locations and on poor soils. It is a great candidate for the ‘wild meadow inspired’ part of a garden and improves the soil on which it grows because it collects nitrogen (part of the legume family).
The blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) got its name because of its thorny, black shoots. It is considered a valuable bee pasture because it is one of the early flowering woody plants. From April to May, when bees are encouraged to fly by the warming temperatures, the blackthorn provides valuable nectar, sufficient pollen, and thus helps the honeybees, wild bees and butterflies. In addition, the blackthorn is almost always infested by aphids, which excrete honeydew as an additional source of energy for insects. The white blossoms have a wonderful scent and the resulting fruits can be eaten raw or processed after the first frost – or used as winter food for birds. The blackthorn is very frugal and can thrive virtually everywhere except in flooded areas.
6. Common sainfoin
The common sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) is a perennial plant valuable as an exceptional source of nectar and pollen. Because it is very rich in protein and improves less fertile habitats as a deep-rooted leguminous plant, it has been and is used as a fodder plant and green manure. But its aesthetic value is not to be underestimated either. The pink blossoms of the sainfoin appear from May to June and the feathered leaves on the upright stems can be very easily integrated into a classic herbaceous garden bed. Additionally, the sainfoin can beautify dry and difficult to plant in areas of the garden. The sainfoin prefers sunny, warm locations.
Tip: Although this article focuses predominantly on bees, you can read about tips for an insect-friendly garden here.
The common ivy (Hedera helix) is an important source of food for bees and butterflies later during the season, as it is considered one of the few true autumn bloomers. From September to October, the greenish-yellow, spherical umbels offer easily accessible nectar and pollen for various species of wasps, beetles, flies and bees. In addition, the dense tangle of shoots and evergreen leaves provides a home for small animals in need of protection. It should be noted that the plants only bloom when they are about 8 to 10 years old and have climbed up a pillar or a wall. Ivy grows on all soils – except pure peat – and in shady to sunny locations. During winter this plant does not tolerate direct sun well.
The silkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is also known as the ‘parrot plant’ in German because the shape of its fruits is reminiscent of the exotic bird. The silkweed is a perennial native to eastern North America and grows there in the wild. For bees it seems to be an absolute magnet, which is not surprising given the enormous nectar and pollen production. It blooms between June and August. Interestingly, each flower is equipped with a harmless trap that holds the legs of the flower visitors. When the insect is released from the clasp, it takes the sticky pollen mass with it. In the garden, the one to two-metre-high silkweed will thrive in nutrient-rich, sunny shrub beds with sufficient water supply. Because it reproduces through roots, it may occasionally have to be limited in its spread.
All types of willows (Salix) are particularly popular with our industrious nectar-collectors. They flower between March and June, so they are among the first to be available for bees after winter. Because early in the year the vulnerable honeybees can still be too cold, the willow is especially significant for the more robust bumble bees and wild bees. The great variety of willow species ranges from the mighty white willow (Salix alba) up to 20 metres high, to the 5 to 8 metres tall pussy willow (Salix caprea) and the shrubby Swiss willow (Salix helvetica), which is just one metre high. All willow species prefer humid to wet and nutrient-rich soils in sunny to semi-shade locations.
Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) is also commonly known as blue tansy or purple tansy and is an important ally of the bees. The annual plant blooms from June to September and the bright blue-violet tufts of flowers produce an outstanding amount of nectar and pollen. The smell and colour attract not only honeybees but also bumble bees and hover flies. Phacelia is not very picky with regards to location and has very deep and extensive roots, so that after it withers away with the first autumn frosts a finely crumbly, well-structured soil is created. This makes the phacelia popular not only in gardens, but also in agriculture as a green manure. Blue tansies thrive optimally in sunny, fresh places on loamy, sandy soil.
The apple (Malus) is not only a popular fruit and ornamental tree, but also takes first place in our ranking of bee-friendly plants. In addition to the cultivated apple varieties of Malus domestica, there is also the wild European crab apple (Malus sylvestris), whose flowers are no less valuable, but its fruits are not edible. The nectar- and pollen-rich flower blooms from April to June and provides so much food for honeybees that, for the first time in the year, there is a surplus that can be used by beekeepers. Wild bees and other insects also find the apple trees alluring, partly because it provides additional honeydew through aphids, that often live on the trees.
Tip: Sweet cherry (Prunus avium), sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) and plum (Prunus domestica) are also extraordinary bee pastures, which have not made it into our top 10 list only because of article length.
Summary of the most bee-friendly plants:
In bloom calendars, only the months during which the respective plants flower are marked. With the help of these tables it is easy to plan so that there is a food source for bees and insects every month.
Plant March April May June July August September October
Raspberry X X X X Balcony plants X X X X X X X X
Melilot X X X Blackthorn X X Sainfoin X X Ivy X X
Silkweed X X X Willow X X X X Phacelia X X X X X Apple X X X
Tip: If you have little time, you can make your workload more manageable by literally doing nothing. Leave your faded perennials in autumn and do not cut them back. In these plants wild bees will find shelter for the winter. You can also – if there is enough space – set up a wild meadow area in the garden. This meadow area should be mowed only once a year, and if you let it be, you might be surprised by the interesting wild plants that will grow there. This is a great way to promote species diversity and biodiversity in your garden.