Our gardens are extremely important for bees and other pollinators, providing them with the nectar and pollen they need to thrive, as well as nesting habitats. Nectar provides them with the energy they need to fly and find a nest, while pollen provides bee grubs with the protein they need to grow. By growing a good mix of flowering plants in your garden, you can provide a wealth of nectar and pollen for a wide range of bee species.
How to grow plants for bees
Choose single, open flowers where you can see the central part of the flower – where the bees can access the nectar and pollen. Different bees are active at different times of the year. Some emerge from hibernation as early as February, while others are still flying in November. To give bees the best possible chance to thrive, it’s therefore important to grow flowers from late winter to autumn – all year round if possible.
Planting spring bulbs? A great way to help bees in spring is to plant spring-flowering bulbs in autumn. Bulbs are hardy and reliable plants, so you can guarantee the bees will have a source of pollen and nectar when there’s little else in flower.
Planting bulbs in containers is an easy way to ensure you don’t miss their colourful displays, especially if they’re along the front path, next to the back door or on your patio. Choosing varieties that are rich in both nectar and pollen will be a lifeline for the first emerging bumblebees, some of which come out from hibernation as early as February. Plant bulbs that flower over a long season, including early-flowering crocus and late-spring flowering fritillaries. By combining bulbs, you’ll not only create eye catching pots but attract different pollinators, too.
Discover the best bulbs for bees in our No Fuss video guide with Kate Bradbury:
Find out more about the best plants to grow for bees, below.
Grow single flowers for bees
Most double flowers are of little use, as they have so many petals the bees can’t get to the central part of the flower, where the nectar and pollen are found. Roses and dahlias are often bred to have double flowers, but there are plenty of beautiful single-flowered varieties to grow, instead.
Grow purple flowers for bees
Bees can see the colour purple more clearly than any other colour, and some of the best bee plants, such as lavender, alliums, buddleja and catmint, have purple flowers. That said, many flowers in other colours will still attract bees, so don’t pull them up!
Grow tubular-shaped flowers for bees
Grow flowers all year round
Most bees are most active from March to September, but some emerge from hibernation early in mild winters, while buff-tailed bumblebee queens will occasionally start nesting in autumn, rather than hibernating, establishing a ‘winter colony’. Aim to have at least two nectar- or pollen-rich plants in flower during winter. Plants like winter honeysuckle and winter clematis are perfect for the job.
Spring flowers for bees
- Crab apple
- Flowering cherry and currant
Early-summer flowers for bees
- Hardy geranium
- Dahlia (single-flowered)
- Globe thistle
- Verbena bonariensis
Kate Bradbury says
The perennial wallflower, Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ flowers pretty much every day of the year, particularly in milder regions. It’s a great nectar plant and a good choice for a small, bee-friendly garden.