Flowers for bees: our top 15 picks
Although many flowers look beautiful, they do not help the bees. These 15 plants will support the buzzing pollinators in your garden.
Helping bees is a matter of the heart for many gardeners. The diligent insects not only produce the delicious honey but they also pollinate plants and, therefore, contribute to the spread and survival of numerous plant species. It is a pleasure then, to reward the important work of the bees with food. This can be done by adding multiple flowers to our gardens. But beware: not every flower is a bee-friendly plant. In fact, many flowers are sadly completely valueless for the small animals. Here you can find out what makes a bee-friendly flower and which types of flowers are particularly suitable for a bee-friendly garden.
Flowers are always bee-friendly, aren’t they? We are sorry to end the blissful ignorance, but this is unfortunately a widespread misconception. Countless ornamental plants such as geraniums (Pelargonium), roses (Rosa) or dahlias (Dahlia) are not really helpful to the pollinators. Although their flowers attract the insects with their sweet scent, the nectar is often inaccessible because of their lavishness or they produce miniscule quantities that are not sufficient for the bees. The best flowers for the bees have simple blossoms that have a long flowering period so that the beneficial insects have an all year round supply.
A myriad of enormous yellow, white or pink flower umbels – it is no wonder, that the yarrow (Achillea filipendulina) is one of the favourites of the bees. Each of the umbels is speckled with tiny inflorescences, which make the yarrow extremely appealing. The charm of the yarrow does not end there. The plant is additionally a magnet for various kinds of beneficial insects. The yarrow reaches heights of up to 120 cm and is also very low-maintenance.
Dahlias (Dahlia) are popular garden plants that offer a wide range of varieties in different flower shapes, sizes and colours. But not only people are enchanted by the beautiful flowers – bees can also enjoy the dahlias. However, not all dahlias are suitable for bees. While the shape of the single-flowered dahlias allows the bees and other pollinators to reach their nectar without a problem, many decorative dahlias are not of any help to the bees. Although they attract the insects with their scent, the countless petals, that make the decorative dahlias almost spherical, obstruct the way to the pollen and leave the bees disappointed. For this reason, the plainer single-flowered dahlias are the better choice for a bee-friendly garden.
13. Carpathian harebell
The Carpathian harebell (Campanula carpatica) is guaranteed to add a dash of magic to your garden. When the harebell blooms in summer, the garden becomes an ocean of white or violet flowers. To add to the harebell’s perfection – this plant is definitely not high-maintenance and can also withstand temperatures below freezing without sustaining any damage. And that’s not all. The harebell is known for its extensive period of bloom and therefore brings joy to the gardener and offers an ample source of food to the bees for a long time.
Flower pots and containers can also be bee-friendly – for example with vervain (Verbena cultivars). The vervain, also called verbena, is a classic balcony plant. What makes it particularly popular is the variety of the gorgeous flowers that the vervain has. Contrary to many other balcony plants, the vervain is also extremely resistant to the elements and is a favourite of the bees. This aesthetically pleasing plant is not to be restricted to balconies, either. The vervain makes a wonderful ground cover plant.
The common snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) is traditionally grown in farmers’ gardens. In recent years, this adorable summer flower has been increasingly finding its way to modern garden designs, too. It is great news, that the snapdragon is getting the recognition it deserves. It only requires minimal maintenance measures and can be planted both in pots, containers or in garden beds. Especially impressive are the grape-shaped inflorescences, which have a unique vibrance to them. Bumble bees in particular like to snack on the nectar hidden inside and the bees, too, appreciate the snapdragon’s pollen.
10. White stonecrop
The white stonecrop (Sedum album) is a frequent addition to plenty of gardens. This comes as no surprise, as the succulent requires almost no care whatsoever. It copes well with heat and droughts, and also manages frosts well. The contrast between its simple, white to light pink flowers and matt red leaves makes the white stonecrop an elegant addition to any garden. This perennial grows as a ground cover and is a perfect bee pasture.
The lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is guaranteed to add a touch of the Mediterranean to the balcony or garden. The plant has a beguiling scent and the impressive violet flowers are edible. This Mediterranean beauty is also low maintenance. If all these reasons are not convincing yet, we have some more in store. The lavender is also a medicinal plant. In addition, the blossoms of the lavender are a favourite of bees and provide the insects with plentiful food from June to August.
Orange, red or rather bright yellow? For all those who cannot decide on the colour scheme for their garden, the common lantana (Lantana camara, also tickbery or white sage) is exactly the right plant. This plant has an unusual ability to change colour of its flowers between blooming and fading. On one occasion, the flowers might look vibrant red yet some other time they will develop a subtly orange colour. The bees do not share the human enthusiasm about the plant’s colour-changing abilities, yet the lantana is still very popular with the pollinators for other reasons. Due to the lantana’s multitude of flowers, which appear from May to October, the plant is an ideal source of food.
7. Fairy fan-flower
Some used to consider hanging baskets and pots stuffy. Today, however, hanging plant pots are trendy and are available in many various designs and materials. To make your balcony or a terrace not just beautiful but also bee-friendly, be sure to plant fan-flowers (Scaevola aemula) in the hanging pots. The fairy fan-flower is a hanging plant, which flowers in abundance of violet blue inflorescences that cascade down up to 1 m long. What is more, the plant blooms over a long periods of time. From May to the end of the warm season and the first frosts, the fairy fan-flower will delight both the gardener and the bees.
What about alpine gardens? Can those be bee-friendly, too? The answer is yes. If you choose the right plants to grow in the alpine garden, it, too, can be helpful to the bees. A great example of a bee-friendly perennial, that can be grown in the alpine garden, is the evergreen aubretia (Aubrieta). In April and May, the plant forms so many small flowers that its green leaves are barely visible. This glorious abundance of flowers prompts many species of beneficial insects to check this plant out. Aubretia is adored by humans just as much. There is hardly any other plant that displays a more intense deep blue than this robust rock garden dweller.
Easy to care for, abundant in flowers and simply stunning – nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus nanum) is a real jack-of-all-trades in the garden. The plant captivates with its gorgeous funnel-shaped flowers and it is also a great screening plant. What is more, the nasturtium is a real treat for the palate and has a distinct peppery and spicy flavour. The young leaves, the buds and the flowers of the nasturtium are edible (small tip: use them in salads!). Bees share our enthusiasm about nasturtium and they like to fly to it from June to October.
4. Winter heath
If you are dreading the approach of the dreary winter, the winter heath (Erica carnea) might help brighten the dark cold days. The winter heath blooms in adorable white to vibrantly pink flowers, that are shaped like little bells, and light up the winter season with enchanting spots of colour. The plant boasts its unique blossoms already in December. The winter heath is one of the first plants to feed the bees in early spring. Naturally, because the winter heath blooms in winter, it is also well adapted to harsh climates. It is extremely robust and easy to maintain. The evergreen winter heath is therefore not just bee-friendly, but also a great plant for those who are just learning to garden.
In the past one could spot the cornflowers (Cyanus segetum) blooming on almost every edge of the field. Sadly, the unique field flower has become rather rare. To this day the plant has lost nothing of its charm. Especially the blue cornflower, which proudly bears the vividly coloured blossoms from June to September, embellishes many fields across Europe, and, despite being once considered a weed, it tempts gardeners to bring it home to grow. If you decide to plant some cornflowers in your garden, you are sure to provide the bees with a source of pollen and nectar. Particularly the wild species of bees are attracted by the high content of nectar in the flower.
We think many would agree that the sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is one of the greatest flowers ever. It’s magnificent height and the breath-taking plate-shaped flowers: what is there not to love? Moreover, the sunflower is also a great favourite of the bees. Due to its relatively late flowering period from July to September, the autumn flower offers a vital refuge for bees just before the insects have to retreat to their hives when winter strikes. The bright yellow sunflower is a true feast for the eyes and the delicious seeds that are harvested from the flowers are an additional treat.
1. High mallow
The high mallow (Malva sylvestris) has been used to decorate monasteries and farmer gardens for 700 years now. To this day still this plant is well loved by many. The mallow’s flowers are finely veined and appear in various soft pastel shades. With its appearance, this gentle flower creates an ambient atmosphere in the garden. The appeal of this plant does not end with its aesthetic qualities. The mallow is also extremely easy to care for, which makes it a splendid choice for beginner gardeners. The delicate beauty of the high mallow invites the beneficial insects to fly to it for a visit. Bees as well as bumble bees adore this dainty garden inhabitant because it harbours a large quantity of nectar and pollen. Countless species of butterflies are also sure to stop by this plant for a delicious snack. And there is more: if you would like to join the insects in their snacking endeavours, you don’t need to worry about poisoning. The flowers of the high mallow are edible and have a pleasant mild flavour.
Plants can be bee-friendly but can also support other beneficial insects too. You will find a list of the most bee-friendly plants for the garden here.
You can read about the best way to create the most bee-friendly flower pot here.