Flowers For Bees

More and more, it’s becoming important to plant for bees so that we can have reliable pollination for our food crops. In a time where our landscapes are rapidly changing with large monoculture farming practices, forests being clear-felled and the impacts of climate change, we need to counter this with how we garden in the city and out bush. By choosing plants which have good flowers for the bees to eat from, you can provide an abundant and reliable food source for these important little friends.

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A snapshot of one of our gardene we allocate to flowering plants for beauty and bees. Thyme, sweet alice, coastal daisy, lemon balm, pyrethrum and anise hyssop are just some of the plants in this space.

Bees will fly up to 5kms to source their food, so even if you don’t have a beehive on your property, you can still establish plants which will attract them onto your land where they’ll pollinate your crops and increase your yields. We have one beehive on our property and our neighbours who’ve been here for almost 30 years have said that since we’ve had the hive (around 2 years) their yields on their crops has drastically increased.

Bees are fascinating creatures. Did you know that to communicate a good source of food to the other bees, the ‘scout’ bee will do what’s called a ‘waggle dance’ for the whole hive. This dance informs the others where a good food (flower) source is its exact location. They use the sun as a reference point to guide themselves there – incredible. You can watch this 55 second video of it in action here.

Bolder+waggle+danceThe waggle dance as a diagram – image from here.

Depending on where you are in the world and the climate you live in will determine what plants you should choose, there’s a huge range you can choose from. Here’s a snapshot of a few for each season, ensuring that you have something flowering all year round.

Spring Flowers

Sweet Alice (Alyssum): This sweet smelling clusters of tiny flowers is a hardy groundcover which self seeds easily. T attracts a plethora of small insects – not just the honey bee and is drought tolerant. We grow ours in dry slopes with minimal watering – it thrives in temperate and sub tropical regions.

photos_27Image from here

Clover (Trifolium sp): Both white and red clover plants are bee attractants. This is a nitrogen fixing vigorous ground cover which you’ll often find in pastures and your lawn. We grow clover in our edible forest garden as a groundcover and along some of our paths (instead of grass).

cloverImage from here

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): We think this is probably one of the bees favourit flowers in our garden, there’s always a massive gang of bees feasting out on this little gems. As a creeping plant, we grow it on the edges of our paths (instead of grass) and in a designated herb garden. We can’t get enough of this common herb!

cthyme4Image from here

Fruit trees: Any fruit tree will provide valuable Spring flowers for bees. As much as possible we try and make our flowering plants food producing plants. Whether that’s herbs, salad flowers or fruit – choose plants which can provide multiple functions.

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.comImage from here

Sage (salvia officinalis): There are a huge range of sage plants and they’re all great for the honey bee. We have a few varieties we grow for culinary and aesthetic purposes. A vigorous bush and drought hardy – it’s a stable in any herb garden.

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Summer Flowers

Queen Anne’s Lace (Ammi visnaga): This annual cottage garden plant grows to 1.5m and its tiny flowers attract everything from assassin bugs, lacewings, predatory wasps and of course, the honey bee. Fantastic on the edges of garden beds or throughout our orchard, it’s front tolerant and goes well in temperate and sub tropical areas. As it has a close resemblance when harvesting in the wild as it looks similar to poison hemlock.

queen-anne-lace-1304348117EPL-b4d3d75fe4bd8a2e0a1c7278d87f8dfcImage from here

Buckwheat (fagopyrum esculentum): We grow buckwheat in our urban garden as a summer green manure to replenish our soils. In larger spaces it can be grown as a grain crop – the bees can’t get enough of these little beauties!

P10002121Image from here

Calendula (Calendula officinalis): We have calendual *everywhere* in our gardens. This self sowing annual is a great salad flower, has medicinal properties and the bees go nuts over it.

Calendula-officinalis-Pot-MarigoldImage from here

Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus): This little beauty is a must-have plant in and around the veggie garden, grow it throughout your orchard or around the edges of your garden beds. It grow to around 1m high in a range of colours and is popular hang out for a range of beneficial insects. 

cosmos-flowerImage from here

Autumn Flowers

Borage (Borago officinalis): This self seeding annual is a vigorous small bush to 1m with gorgeous blue/purple flowers which are also edible. We use them in our salads or as decorations on cakes.

bourrache (AnemoneProjectors)Image from here

Sunflowers (Helianthus): There’s not much to say about the sunflower, except the bees love it and if you have chickens you can also feed the sunflower seeds to them as a treat once they’re ready. We throw the whole head into the chicken run and let them peck the seeds out of the head – they loooove it!

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Image from here

Coastal Daisy (Erigeron glaucus): One of our all time favourite edging plants, this little daisy plant is incredibly drought hardy, will spread readily and is easy on the eye. We use it to stabilise slopes and attract bees of course!

Erigeron-karvinskianusImage from here

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum): A seasonal, self seeding ground creeper or climber, you can eat all parts of the nasturtium fresh in your salads. We happen to think it’s one of the most beautiful plants in the universe and plant them throughout our orchard and edible forest garden abundantly.

Nasturtium-Jewell-lp-3Image from here

Winter Flowers

A quick note. In cooler parts of the world, Winter is the time where the bees are hibernating, curled up in their hives – keeping warm and eating their honey supplies from earlier seasons. However, weather permitting, some bees will still forage – here are some of the plants they can eat from…

Wattle (Acacia pycnantha): An Australian native, this nitrogen fixing, quick growing hardy tree is a real beauty. In the depths of Winter it shoots out its bright golden blossoms and all is well in the world again. Whole hillsides change colour in and around Hobart (our home town) – a sign that Winter is drawing to an end and a welcome food source for any foraging beeds.

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Daffodil (Narcissus): We plant a range of winter bulbs (include daffodils) throughout our orchard. They provide a much welcomed splash of colour and life when everything else is pretty dormant. Plant a range of bulbs so the flower is slightly staged over a couple of months.

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Dandelion (Taraxacum): Most people see dandelion as a weed to ignore or get rid of, but we love this plant! It’s a ‘volunteer’ in our garden, it’s deep tap root helps break up our compacted soils and we sometimes harvest the root to make our own dandelion coffee which is delicious.

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Hardenburgia: An Australian native, this climber or groundcover comes in purple, pink or white flowers and is bee heaven. It also fixes nitrogen and will grow in very average soil which is always a bonus!

Hardenbergia violacea purple mauve flowers creeper native

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623b2dc0d5459e94b153011c1f62d187Some of these plants may not be appropriate for you to grow due to climate or they may be considered a noxious weed in your region – always check with your local authorities if you’re unsure. Otherwise, go forth and plant – the bees need us to raise our game in this department and you whole garden system’s health and integrity will drastically improve. Long live the bee!

 

 

 

9 Responses to “Flowers For Bees”

  1. Kate

    I love this! Some of these plants are my most favourite to look at, too. This year I grew sprouting broccoli and had trouble keeping up – the crop was so prolific it was flowering as fast as we could eat it. It was still delicious even with flowering heads, and the bees LOVED it. I initially said I wouldn’t plant as much next year but I think I will, and let the bees have some. We also have a lot of succulents that were here when we moved in, and they flowered in the gap between winter and spring flowering plants. The bees loved those too, it was lovely. I think we’re in a bit of a flowering-plant dessert – there are some great gardens down the street to the west of us but to the south and east there’s shops and lots of tiny units with no garden. My goal for the next year is to get more bee-friendly plants in the ground!

    Just a caveat, seaside daisy is a declared weed where I live. It’s a shame because I adore it but I live in a fragile coastal ecosystem so I won’t be planting it. Suggested alternatives are cutleaf daisy, everlasting daisy or fan flower which are all lovely plants too. http://www.growmeinstead.com.au/plant/seaside-daisy.aspx

    Reply
  2. tyler

    Might I add my new favorite bee attractant: Phacelia.
    Also useful as a summer green manure.

    Reply
  3. Tracey

    Thanks you! It would be great if you had a printable list on this page to keep.

    Reply
  4. Helen Raabus

    We have found that coriander that has gone to seed all over the garden this year has been an amazing at attracting the bees. We have put pots of coriander which has gone into flower into our hothouse which has increased the bees (we leave the doors open all day). Borage comes in a close second. The bumble bees seem to particularly like the borage and will continue foraging on the flowers even when picked and sitting on the palm of my hand! Poppies are another greal favorite. The bees virtually swim in them, beautiful to watch.

    Reply
  5. susan

    Perennial basil flowers continually throughout the year and is very attractive to bees

    Reply
  6. Nick

    Hi, I have put in a fair bit of pyrethrum but was since told that it can kill bees. I believe the person was referring to a parethroid based insecticide as opposed to the actual flowers and pollen but want to be sure. Can’t seem to find any info on this. Are you able to shed any light?

    Reply
  7. Chris Dawson

    The photo of sweet alice shows a lot of flowers, yet not a single bee. Are honey bees actually attracted to it?

    I am yet to see a honey bee on Queen Anne’s lace either. It attractes a lot of wasps, beetles, flies, lacewings etc, but my bees don’t touch it. Even during dearth they prefer to avoid it.

    Reply
    • Hannah Moloney

      Hi Chris,
      Our bees will eat from it – but yes, it’s not their favourite plant, so will usually go to it when other flowers have died off.

      Reply

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