The Best Flowers to Attract Bees

If you do not have a beehive but want to attract pollinators to your garden, or if you have a hive and are trying to keep your bees well supplied, planting flowers and vegetables that appeal to bees is a wonderful thing to do.  This can help to ensure the future of these little insects as well as providing the benefit of fertilization for your plants.

A honey bee after a day's foraging.
A honey bee after a day’s foraging.

Bees are looking for two things when they come to your garden: nectar and pollen.  Nectar is the sugar-loaded liquid located within the flower of a plant and it is the substance from which bees make honey.  Bees forage for nectar and then bring it back to the hive to store in honey comb.  Honey comb is recognizable from brood comb in a hive because it is much lighter in color and the cells themselves are often a bit smaller than brood cells.

A bee coming up to a clover blossom.
A bee coming up to a clover blossom.

Bees also pollinate plants in their travels, picking up the flower’s powdery discharge and transporting it to other plants, causing pollination.  Certain flowers have more pollen and nectar than others, making them more attractive to bees.  Many modern hybrid varieties of flowers have very low pollen levels, making them useless to bees, whereas heirloom varieties are excellent sources of nectar and pollen.

Trees are an excellent source of early spring pollen and nectar.
Trees are an excellent source of early spring pollen and nectar.

If you are trying to attract bees to your garden, start by selecting a variety of plants that bloom at different times of the year.  While most gardens are in full swing in late June and early July, bees need nectar from very early spring through the first frost.  Early varieties of vegetables and hardy types such as cucumbers and peas will bloom before many other flowers are in blossom and you can also plant flowers specifically to bloom in late fall.

Plant a variety of colors and styles of flowers to appeal the bees.  Certain bees are attracted to certain flower shapes and colors, so planting a wide diversity will help different kinds of bees.  Plant your flowers in clumps of 3-4 square feet to make them noticeable to the passing bees.  And plant varieties with large, welcoming flowers such as  sunflowers, coneflowers, and daisies.

A little bit of extra thought in the planning of a garden will make plants and bees alike happier and result in a healthier garden.  Don’t forget our little insect friends when laying out your beds.

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Questions? Feel free to leave a comment!

5 thoughts on “The Best Flowers to Attract Bees

  1. My understanding is that honey bees cannot pollinate tomato plants; bumblebees and wild bees can do the job. It takes a certain amount of vibration to move pollen in the tomato flower for fertilization; honey bees cannot reach the level of vibration needed so can’t do the job.

    1. Tomatoes are known as selfers, meaning they often self-pollinate depending in the shape of the flower. Even the wind can shake the pollen off the anther and onto the stigma. They don’t need bees if the plants are grown out in the open. A still greenhouse is a different story.

      I love my bees. They are mostly bumbles, but there are other kinds in my garden including carpenter, squash, sweat and the occasional honey bee. I have yet to see one visit the tomato flowers, but I do have tomato fruits. The bees are too busy visiting all the other flowers that I planted for them and the butterflies.

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