How to Help Bumblebees Plant, Shrubs and Flowers attractive to Bumblebees

The Scientific research

The Journal of Science published a worrying study in February 2020 stating that climate change had contributed and was continuing to contribute to the worldwide decline in Bumblebees numbers. 

Their research shows that Bumblebee populations have recently declined by 46 per cent in North America and by 17 per cent across Europe. The fall in Bumblebee numbers was the greatest in areas of raised temperatures and spiking on hot days.

Bumblebees are efficient pollinators of many crops and wildflowers. They are irreplaceable in the pollination of tomatoes. In many commercial glasshouses, Bumblebees are actually imported in boxes and released to pollinate the tomato and pepper plants.

This is the third in a series of big issues to affect bees. Over several decades, habitat has been changing. Farming methods have intensified to meet the growing demand for food replacing diversity with monoculture.  Coupled with the urbanisation of green spaces, natural habitats have declined. Hand in hand has been the increased use of pesticides, which badly affects bees including the now banned Neonicotinoids. All Bees and pollinators are affected by pesticides, and although neonicotinoids were banned 2018, multiple chemicals are still in use.

And now the not unsurprising news that the extremes of heat are also affecting the Bumblebee population depleting their numbers.

What can we do?

It is very hard as an ordinary gardener to know what we can do. Here are a few suggestions. 

  1. Starting with the pesticides and the controversy which surrounded so called "Bee Friendly "plants. In a push to encourage gardeners to plant for bees, particular plants were identified as "Bee Friendly". Unfortunately, it was later was discovered that some of these "Bee Friendly " plants had been sprayed with various insecticides, which rather defeated the objective. Attracting bees to plants which have chemical residue is not good for the bees.  Neonicotinoids were banned which means that "Bee Friendly" plants are no longer sprayed with this chemical. It is difficult for the average gardener to know what the grower has used to bring the healthy-looking plant to market. One way to be sure is to raise some plants from seed, or buy organic.

There is an increasing trend to buy organic plants which are raised in an eco friendly, peat free environment and, importantly, from the bees' perspective, grown without the use of chemicals. The provenance of plants is becoming important, as is now the case with the provenance of food. We are more interested in where food comes from; we need to be more interested where the bees' food comes from as well.

2. The second step to help Bumblebees is to create a friendly environment. In part, this is to provide food and listed below are plants which provide nectar from early in the year to late Autumn. All round food is important to Bumblebees. Also, if you can allow part of your garden to be wild, with native wildflowers, this is a bee friendly environment. 

If you want to identify what sort of bee is in your garden, this is a great free guide from Friends of the Earth with good clear descriptions and illustrations. 

If you are interested in creating a more wildlife friendly garden, the Sunday Gardener has several pages with information about plants and shrubs which are attractive to bees and butterflies.

Check out

  1. Wildlife friendly plants
  2. 10 Best plants for Bees and Butterflies
  3. Plants for Butterflies 
  4. Spring Flowering plants attractive to Bees
  5. Plants for Bees
  6. How to Create a wildflower area
  7. How to create a wild garden


 Having an area in the garden which is less tended, let leaf litter accumulate (good for nesting) with areas of unmown grass and native wildflowers is great for many pollinators. Bumblebees are attracted to many wild flowers, one of the best is Red Clover. The image below is of a part of my garden left over an extended period to go its own way. It does require a little attention to remove and cut back some thugs, so that there are not too many brambles, rosebay willowherb and to keep a balance.

Leaving this area to its own devices has allowed Marsh Marigolds, Red and White Campion, Nettles, Meadow Sweet, Cow Parsley, Persicaria bistorta, Primula, Foxglove, Buttercup, Daisy, Wild Flag Iris, Ivy leaved Toad Flax, wild orchid, and Ferns to take root in the wild area over the years. Into which I have also introduced Bluebells, Hellebores, Pulmonaria and Meadow Geranium.  Below is an image of part of the area in late spring showing the untended the wild area. 

Sunday gardener video about creating a wild garden.

The scientific journals suggest that ensuring there are cooler shady areas in the garden would be helpful for Bumblebees to provide a haven on hot days. Planting a mix of trees and shrubs will provide shade and also some shrubs which ameliorate the effects of pollution well worth considering.

Natural perennial wildflower mix

Mixed Wildflowers in the garden

Plants and Flowers for Bumble Bees

Early flowering plants


Early flowering Pulmonaria

Flowering from February onwards ideal early nectar plant. Pulmonaria are a hardy perennial and shade loving.


Rosemary flowers

Rosemary flowers at different times of the year often flowering in winter and early spring. Rosemary needs a dry sunny spot with well drained soil.


primrose for bumble bees

In flower from early spring Primrose, a member of the Primula family is ideal for emerging queens.

A hardy perennial,  ideal growing in semi shade.


bees on Aubretia

Aubretia flowers from around March. It is very easy to grow, a hardy perennial with a lovely display of mauve flowers drawing in the Bumble bees.

Spring and Summer flower plants for Bumble bees

Chives top of the list when it comes to bees


Chives Chives and more chives Bumble bees love them and simply cover the plant. It is worth looking at this short video to see Allium nutans Siberian chives much loved by Bees. 

Cirsium rivulare a close second

bee on Thistle

Cirsium rivalare Atropurpureum is the best and most bee loved thistle of them all. 

This is a hardy perennial which will tolerate a fair degree of wet with sun or partial shade.

The Blues - Four blue plants bees love

  • russian-sage
  • Geranium with bee 310
  • alexander-crawley-Bee on lavender 310.jpg
  • Nepeta and bee 310

Bees love blue and that includes Bumblebees. Illustrated here is Nepeta, Lavender (credit image Alexander Crawley ) Russian Sage and the hardy Geranium

Listen to the buzz of summer and see how much bees love blue.

Tall plants love by bees and gardeners

  • veronicastrum-virginicum-310x240.jpg
  • Verbena walk

Veronica produces tall spikes of white, blue or pink and very attractive to bees. An easy to grow herbaceous perennial. 

Another tall perennial is verbena bonariensis which as attractive purple flowers liked by Bumblebees, and butterflies.

Late summer and autumn nectar

Sedum pollinators friend

light pink Sedum

Sedums are attractive to all pollinators, including Bumblebees and flower late summer into early autumn, providing a late source of nectar. Wonderfully easy to grow. 

English Ivy

mature english ivy

English Ivy makes a great shrubby hedge/over the wall cover. When it is mature it flowers and these flowers are excellent, and it is a good all round wildlife friendly plant.

page updated 06.01.2024


Aster flowering in late summer

Asters flower in late summer through to autumn often flowering through to the end of October, depending on the weather. A simple daisy like flower attractive to bees.