15 best shrubs for bees

15 best shrubs for bees

Choosing the right plants for a bee-friendly garden is not as easy as it seems. Here is a list of 15 wonderful bee-friendly bushes and shrubs.

When it comes to bee-friendly plants, the first thing that usually comes to mind are colourful flowers. However, it is not only bee-friendly flowers that lure the little insects into the garden but also numerous bushes and shrubs. They are often a great source of food for insects, even though it may not seem so at first glance. Often the most inconspicuous plants, which can be less appreciated in our garden, are in fact the most valuable for the bees. In the following, you can learn which bushes attract bees and, vice versa, which ones are not that bee-friendly.

Shrubs for bees

Shrubs are an absolute must in garden design since they add height and structure to the garden bed. By carefully choosing the right shrubs, you can be of great help to the bees. However, not all shrubs are suitable for the pollinators. Conifers, for example, do not provide food for wild bees. Exotic plants, such as forsythia, are also not helpful to bees because their flowers produce neither pollen nor nectar. You can find out which plants are better suited for creating a bee-friendly garden in our list of the top 15 bee-attracting bushes and shrubs.

1. Hibiscus

The exotic hibiscus, also known as rose mallow, is well-known for its large and colourful flowers. In the past, the plant belonging to the mallow family (Malvaceae) was especially popular as an indoor plant, but more and more often the hibiscus is also found as a garden plant. Here it is also popular with bees due to its spectacular flowers. Though it only offers little nectar to the small insects, hibiscus is considered a reliable provider of pollen. Its flowering period from July to September is also particularly helpful to the bees, as many other perennials usually wither by this time, which is why the insect food supply slowly becomes scarce at this time of year.

2. Privet

If you are looking for a resistant low-maintenance hedge, privet (Ligustrum vulgare) is the perfect choice. This plant impresses with its dense branches, rapid growth and evergreen leaves. It is not just humans who benefit from the hardy shrub. In fact, privet is one of the few bee-friendly hedging plants. From June onwards, the plant adorns itself with delicate white flower panicles, which exude a wonderful scent and attract numerous beneficial insects, including honeybees.

3. Juneberry

The juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii), also known as serviceberry, used to be among the rather unknown fruit varieties for a long time. In recent years, though, it has been enjoying some more popularity. This comes as no surprise since the plant has numerous assets. The juneberry is especially pleasing to behold because of its impressive array of colours. The leaves are copper-coloured when they sprout, turn green in summer and, eventually, take on an intense autumn colouring. Moreover, the juneberry is low-maintenance and has delicious fruit to offer. In April, it produces numerous star-shaped flowers, which are truly magnetic to bees and also attract dozens of other beneficial insects.

4. Hawthorn

The hawthorn (Crataegus) is a shrub that is frequently used in garden design, as it is considered to be one of the more undemanding and easier to care for plants. In fact, difficult ground conditions as well as drought and heat hardly affect this plant. With its densely branched twigs and often expansive crowns, its beauty is not to be overlooked – some species of hawthorn even develop a stunning autumn colouring. In May and June, the plant displays a seemingly endless number of small white or pink flowers and is therefore a favourite of bees and other pollinators.

5. Snowberry

With its long branches overhanging in arches, the snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus) is an incredibly elegant plant in summer. There is more to it, though: once it reveals its numerous white berries from June onwards, which remain on the plant throughout the winter, it becomes a real eye-catcher. Bees also are attracted to this modern-looking shrub. The small bell-shaped flowers that the plant produces between June and September may look very inconspicuous at first glance, but they offer a rich source of nectar for bees and bumblebees.

6. Barberry

The barberry (Berberis) is a perfect plant to cultivate as a hedge, which will reliably keep any curious glances out and, at the same time, is very easy to upkeep. The evergreen shrubs impress with their elongated leaves, which often reveal great colours in autumn, as well as their small fruits, which are a popular snack among both humans and animals. However, while the dense leaves and sharp thorns of the barberry ensure that unwanted guests stay outside, the small yellow flowers attract countless insects. Mining bees but also bumblebees and other beneficial insects find barberry to be a precious source of food.

7. Shrubby cinquefoil

Whether this plant should still be considered a shrub with its size of only 15 centimetres or rather a groundcover plant is up for discussion. However, the shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) continuously proves that it is not just size that counts. Since it is hardy, robust and easy to care for, the plant thrives virtually everywhere. The shrubby cinquefoil is most beautiful in May, when the dark green leaves contrast with the white star-shaped flowers. They often bloom well into August and thus ensure that bees have a secure food supply for a long time.

yellow shrubby cinquefoil
Shrubby cinquefoil blooms in May in gorgeous yellows flowers that contrast with the dark green foliage of the plant [Shutterstock.com/  Ron Rowan Photography]

8. Willow

The willow (Salix) is probably one of the most well-known trees. Besides the commonly found shrubs, there are also creeping and tall-growing species of willows. Its dioecy is what makes the willow so special – there are both purely male and female willows. While the male plants produce particularly striking flowers, which mainly contain pollen, female flowers provide bees with the sought-for nectar. In fact, some species of mining bees have even specialised in willows, as they are a particularly reliable source of food. The goat willow (Salix caprea) is a great favourite of beneficial insects. The goat willow is a vital food source for wild bees due to its early flowering and its abundant amount of pollen and nectar.

9. Sweet mock-orange

The sweet mock-orange (Philadelphus coronarius), also known as English dogwood, is probably one of the most popular scented plants and can therefore be found in many gardens. With its elegant, overhanging growth and soft green leaves, this bee-friendly shrub is a modern eye-catcher in the garden. This plant shows its full splendour at the end of May. That is when the plant transforms into a sea of seducing flowers that add a radiant touch of white to the garden and exude an intense scent. It is not only gardeners who love the sweet mock-orange – bees are just as enthusiastic about this plant as it provides them with plenty of food.

10. Cornelian cherry

Even though the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) sounds similar to the cherry tree (Prunus avium) we know, the two woody plants are, as a matter of fact, not related. Instead, the Cornelian cherry belongs to the Cornaceae family. The only thing they have in common is that the Cornelian cherry also bears shiny red fruit in summer, which are very similar to the fruit of cherries. However, the fruits of the Cornelian cherry are a lot more bitter and sour in taste. Bees are attracted to the Cornelian cherry especially because of its lemon-yellow flower umbels, which the plant boasts in February. Therefore, the Cornelian cherry is one of the first spring bloomers and it helps the bees to replenish their reserves after the long winter.

11. Wild roses

Roses (Rosa) are plants that one usually would not connect to bees in a positive way. In fact, roses are often considered completely non-bee-friendly. They are often criticized for their multi-petalled flowers that block the insects’ path to nectar and pollen. However, this is only true of the newer types of roses. Unlike the newly bred roses, wild roses such as the French rose (Rosa gallica) or the Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa) are almost besieged by bees and bumblebees because they offer a great food supply. Furthermore, other animal species also benefit from wild roses. Birds, for instance, like to feed on the blossoms of  rose hips , and the dense shrubs also provide shelter and cover for many species that can be usually found in the garden, such as hedgehogs. Moreover, wild roses are very popular with gardeners, mainly due to their low-maintenance nature and natural charm.

12. Bluebeard

With its impressive blue inflorescences, the bluebeard (Caryopteris clandonensis) guarantees envious glances. From July onwards, the plant truly transforms into a sea of flowers, that give the plant a unique appearance until the first frost comes along. Besides, its aromatic scent and its elongated green-grey leaves make this plant a real enrichment in the garden. Even bees love the half shrub that is easy to maintain. The bluebeard not only offers them a nearly endless selection of flowers over a very long period of time, but also produces a lot of nectar and pollen during this time.

13. Blackthorn

In April and May, the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) bears countless small white flowers that engulf the bee-friendly shrub like a cloud. It is a true paradise for pollinators of all kinds that go in search of food for the first time around this time of year. Fortunately, the flowers of blackthorn not only look and smell great but also offer valuable nectar and pollen to the famished insects to replenish themselves. Even after the period of bloom is over blackthorn is not to be underestimate either. The thorny, black shoots, which are also responsible for the plants’ name, in combination with the dark green leaves add to the plant’s charm. In autumn, the blackthorn also produces bitter, aromatic fruits that both birds and humans can enjoy.

blackthorn with berries
The berries of blackthorn are edible for both humans and animals [Shutterstock.com/ Ihor Hvozdetskyi]

14. Ivy

Yes, ivy (Hedera helix) is another plant that attracts bees. Although the flower umbels of ivy are so inconspicuous that they are often barely noticed, this climbing plant is one of the most important sources of food for beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies. In fact, it is one of the few plants that bloom in autumn. From September to October, ivy provides insects with easily accessible pollen and nectar, which helps them to feed even late in the season. Ivy is just as useful to humans as it is to pollinators. As it is easy to care for and robust, it is ideal as a privacy screen or a wall or fence decoration. Allegedly, ivy is also an air-purifying plant.

15. Berry bushes

Currants (Ribes), raspberries (Rubus idaeus) and gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa) – for many gardeners, berry bushes with their sweet fruits are one of the most beautiful parts of summer. But not only people enjoy these plants, bees can’t get enough of them either. In fact, almost all berry bushes are very reliable producers of nectar and pollen, which makes them an important food source for the small insects. The raspberry, in particular, is considered to be extremely bee-friendly. Not only does it have the highest pollen and nectar value of all berry bushes, but the long flowering period of raspberry, which can last from May to August, also makes it a reliable food source for the pollinators.

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