Best Flowers For Honey Bees

With honey bees and flowers, it’s a reciprocal relationship. As pollinators, they play a vital role in maintaining a healthy and fruitful garden. In return, the flowers provide bees with a bountiful harvest.  

The best flowers for honey bees are those rich in nectar and pollen — the two things they need to thrive. Planting “bee-friendly” gardens is a simple but effective approach to help them achieve this. 

Why do Bees Visit Flowers?

Worker bees visit flowers to collect nectar and pollen. The pollen delivers protein, fats and nutrients which feed the brood and also the entire colony during winter. The nectar is turned into honey — their energy supply and what sustains the colony through the foraging seasons.

Sweet nectar created by the nectar glands  — usually in the bloom — attracts and encourages bees to visit. All flowering plants that require the assistance of a pollinator have evolved to promote pollination.

Flower Characteristics

Bees are generalist foragers that love a wide-range of blooms. Choose flowers that have various dimensions and colors. Growing different plants provides honey bees with a diverse diet.

Color

While it’s true that honey bees will visit any nectar or pollen-producing flowers, they do have a color preference. Their favorites are purple, blue and yellow. Red and pink flowers aren’t their first choice, but they will forage on them if the other more desirable colors are not available.

Shallow blossoms such as Queen Anne’s lace, asters and daisies attract numbers of honey bees.

The bees with longer tongues are attracted to plants in the mint family such as lavender, salvia and oregano. In terms of flowers specifically, they love those with hidden nectar spurs. These include monarda, columbine, larkspur and snapdragons. 

Seasonal Blooms and Cycles

The bloom time is an essential factor. Bees need flowers or plants that have a lengthy bloom cycle. The longer a plant is in flower, the more nectar a bee can harvest. Zinnias and cosmos are among some of the best perpetual bloomers that honey bees love. 

Also, by planting a variety of flora that flowers at different times throughout the year ensure that bees have food in all seasons.  

In the spring, wild lilac, borage, crocus and hyacinth provide a plentiful harvest for the early bees. In the hot summer seasons, bees enjoy cosmos, snapdragons, bee balm and hosta. As the cooler seasons creep in, zinnias, witch hazel and goldenrod appear and shower the fall with abundant nectar and pollen.

Single or Double?

Hybrid plants with double flowers are not ideal for honey bees. They’re aesthetically pleasing and have gorgeous blooms but produce less nectar.

Single flowers provide pollinators with abundant and easily accessible nectar and pollen. They invest more energy in nectar production and less to petal formation. They may not offer such a dramatic display, but they’re more beneficial for bees.

Also, double flowers with more than one ring of petals are difficult for bees to penetrate. They have difficulty reaching the inner flower parts.

Best Flowers for Honey Bees

Wallflower (Erysimum)

Wallflowers are long-flowering, capable of producing blooms all year — if continually deadheaded. Bees find them attractive because their flat petals create easily accessible flowers. They’re found in a variety of colors, but honey bees are especially drawn to the yellow ones.

These early bloomers are one of the first to provide nectar during the year — bumblebees are also fond of them.

Michaelmas Daisies

These daisies are minimal maintenance late summer bloomers — providing a rich source of pollen and nectar at a crucial time for honey bees.  

They’re found in shades of pink, purple, blue and white. Michaelmas daisies are perennial flowers with blossoms from half an inch to several inches wide — making an ideal platform for bees to collect their crops. Their stems vary widely in height — ranging between six inches to several feet tall.

Sunflowers

The classic sunflower is heaven for nectar-hungry honey bees. Their enormous daisy-shaped heads provide bees with a large area to feed on. 

Their bloom cycle (summer to early autumn) is ideal for assisting bees in storing up supplies before hibernation and the colder seasons set in

Sunflowers shoot up at a fast rate and display a vibrant yellow color. This is why they also appeal to children — it’s an opportunity to involve them with nature at an early age. 

Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea)

Bachelor’s buttons are inexpensive, easy to grow and provide bees with pollen and nectar at a critical time during the year. These flowers begin their bloom cycle from as early as midsummer until late fall. 

Also called cornflowers, they have long silvery stems and grow up to 3-feet in height. These flowers prefer a sunny position and well-drained soil. Blue is the classic color, but you will also find purple, white and pink varieties.

Herbs

If you love to cook, then growing fresh herbs could prove rewarding for both you and honey bees. Not only do they add that extra flavor to your meals, but they’re a great provider for bees.

Growing herbs is a low-maintenance affair, and if you’re tight on space, you can plant them in pots around your patio area. 

Chives

Chives are part of the Allium family — onions and garlic all fall into this genus. They can elevate the aesthetic of any dish and shoot up into round, pink flowers in the summer.

Sage

Sage is one of the most versatile herbs. With its mild savory undertones, it adds a subtle complexity to your cooking. The leaves are suitable for tea-making, and if left to flower, they bloom into sky-blue colors — causing tremendous bee activity. They are long-flowering and can survive in cold, temperate and subtropical weather.

Other bee-friendly herbs include:

  • Mint
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Fennel
  • Basil
  • Chamomile  

Summary

Honey bees are attracted to flowers that are rich in both nectar and pollen. These two things are vital for honey bees’ important survival throughout the seasons. 

Color, type of flower head and length of bloom are all characteristics that determine bee appeal. By planting these flowers for honey bees, we can create a habitat for them to flourish. 

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