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Bees find blossoms far beyond what we might think of as flowers in our yard. First, most plants we think of as weeds have blossoms, such as dandelions. "Weeds" are a large source of bee sustenance. Bees will forage on "Cover Crops", such as clover in your yard, flowering bushes and flowering trees. In fact, trees that don't flower also provide sustenance. For example, Maples provide pollen during the Winter.
We are often asked, "What can I plant to help the bees?" It is a great question! In general, almost anything free of pesticides and not genetically modified that blossoms will help the bees. The most helpful plants are those with a single blossom atop a stem that bloom before the dandelions come out (early Spring) or August until the frost. The reason is those are times when forage is scarce. Bees have lot of blossoms to visit at the peak of Spring, but much less later in the year.
The plants below may give you some ideas. They are what we plant around our hives.
Grows 2 to 4 feet
Blooms June to Sept
|Anise Hyssop produces massive amounts of nectar that are easily accessible to honey bees. 1 Acre of Anise Hyssop is reported to be capable of supporting many bee hives on its own. Honey bees produce a light, fragrant, slightly minty flavored honey from this nectar. Anise Hyssop is also a strong attractant for butterflies and hummingbirds. It can continue flowering into the Fall, sometimes up to a killing frost.
Anise Hyssop is a perennial, deer resistant member of the mint family. It is native to Pennsylvania and the northern half of North America. Its anise-scented leaves are used as a seasoning, such as in tea or potpourri, and can be crumpled into a salad. It likes drier soil and full sun with less competition from nearby plants.
Grows 2 to 3 feet
Blooms June to Sept
|A unique quality of Borage is the blossoms continually produce nectar and little is lost to rain because the blossoms point downward. Most flowers produce nectar only at certain times of day and their blossoms are more exposed to the weather.
White Borage is the rare variety of borage. Blue Borage is genetically dominant. It produces large, bristly grayish-green leaves and white or blue star-like flowers. The leaves can be used as a garnish in cold drinks or to add color to salads. Young leaves have a cuccumber flavor. The flowers have a honey-like taste.
Grows 1 to 2 feet tall
Blooms Spring and Summer
|Crimson Clover produces luxurious blossoms. It is often used as a cover crop and for protein-rich livestock forage. Crimson Clover is a strong nitrogen fixer and will improve poor soils. It prefers moist, well-drained soil of any type in full sun. It makes an excellent, attractive weed suppressant and a good tea!
Honey bees love Crimson Clover. It is among the very best nectar producing plants for making honey. Do not confuse Crimson Clover with Red Clover which is of little use to honey bees because their tonques are not long enough to reach the nectar in Red Clover's blossom.
Grows up to 8 feet
Blooms Spring and Summer
|Sweet clover and other species in its genus are often used as a green manure in farmland. Its deep roots break up compacted soils and store large quantities of nitrogen in the soil. In Pennsylvania, it grows 12 to 36 inches tall in the first year and average 4 to 5 feet tall with flowers the second year. It is very winter hardy and drought resistant once established, but it may be slow to initially establish. Sweet clover grows well in well drained soil, including nutrient poor soil.
Sweet clover produces sweet smelling flowers that are one of the best sources of pollen and nectar for honey bees. Honey bees can produce larger amounts of high quality honey if the population of these flowers is increased in the foraging area of a hive.
|Clover, White (Dutch)
Grows up to 7 inches tall
Blooms May to July
|White Clover is common across North America. It is a low growing herbaceous perennial with white flowers. It grows in many soils types and tolerates close mowing. It is an ideal plant for the organic landscape due to its nitrogen fixing properties and ability to out compete lawn weeds, if used in a lawn. Naturally fixed nitrogen reduces the need for chemical fertilizers that leach into our waterways. A lawn can receive one third of all the nitrogen it needs by mixing in White Clover. White clover makes excellent forage as it is high in protein. It is also good in teas too.
White Clover provides honey bees with an excellent source of pollen and nectar. The flowers are abundant and easily accessed by honey bees. White Clover establishes its root system the first year and blooms the second year.
Grows 4 to 12 feet tall!
Blooms August to Fall
|Joe-Pye Weed is native to Pennsylvania and, more broadly, Eastern North America. It grows well in wet soil with sun to partial shade. This is a large plant - some varieties grow 7 to 12 feet tall! Choose "Little Joe" varieties that grow 4 feet tall for a smaller plant. The large flowers are pinkish-purple and last throughout the winter as seed pods for birds and other animals. It is very popular in Great Britain as a garden border plant.
Joe-Pye Weed is a strong attractor of butterflies and other pollinators. It blooms at a very important time for honey bees: late Summer into the Fall. This is a time when bees especially need nectar. Late Summer is a dearth period for bees in which there is little pollen and nectar to be found. Joe-Pye Weed is a huge provider of pollen and nectar at a critical time for honey bees.
Grows 1 to 3 feet tall
Blooms May until frost
|Viper's Bugloss flowers are initially pink, then turn to a bright blue color on an upright stem. The plant produces rough hairy leaves that are deer resistant. It prefers full or partial sun, damp or dry moisture, and sandy or poor quality soil. It is a perennial, biennial or self-seeding annual depending on the region. Viper's Bugloss grows in all regions and is hardy to -20F.
Viper's Bugloss flowers produce copius amounts of pollen and nectar for an extended period of time. It is extremely bee friendly and especially valuable to the bees starting in August when less nectar is available. The flower structure protects the nectar from being dried out by the sun. Honey made from Viper's Bugloss is yellow-gold in color and high in fructose which makes it slow to crystallize.