Plants for Bees

Plants for bees Rhododendrons Plants for bees Pulmonaria bees

Plants for Bees

Plants for bees the scientific choice

There are lots of publications with lists of plants which are attractive to bees. What caught my eye was a scientific survey  (details in footnote,)  by some very clever scientists at the University of Sussex, which tried to established exactly which plants were best for bees and pollinators. It seems that some plants are up to 100 times more attractive and the authors concluded that by referring to this list gardeners can make a great difference to the local ecology by planting those plants scientifically proven to be the best. The Survey acknowledged that there are many lists in existence guiding gardeners but that they are not "well grounded based on empirical data". The results help gardeners  to select bee and insect friendly plants. The scientists based their research on popular garden plants, especially Lavender and so are available to all. The survey is very helpful but it was restricted to 32 popular garden plants, which is its limitation, and just walking around gardens tells us there are many more bee friendly plants.

Bees and flying insects depend on plants to gather nectar and pollen. It is a symbiotic relationship, as plants depend on bees and flying insects to transfer pollen on their bodies moving from flower to flower,  image top left, which leads to fertilisation, setting seeds and berries. At one time our landscape had large amounts of hay meadows with wild flowers and the use of pesticides was less common. As the habitat has gone, it is a familiar story re told,  the wildlife dependant on that habitat have reduced in numbers. 

  If you want to find out more about bees, there is a beautiful video about solitary bees . It is a fantastic video on the Moray Beekeeping site which has a vast amount of bee information. The video is about 10 mins long, full of interesting bees facts and image of bees; it is beautifully made and fascinating viewing. 

 Here are some links to bee friendly plants on the web site with advice on how and where to grow them. The list below reflects many of the plants in the survey so they are proven to attract bees.

Digitalis common name Foxglove, Sedum, Allium, Buddleja, Nepeta common name Cat Mint, Bluebell,  Myosotis common name Forget me not, Hardy Geranium, and Scabious. 

The hardy Geranium, common name Cranesbill is much loved by the bees, who also love blue so a blue Geranium is an ideal bee combination. It is about how bees see colour, there is a scientific explanation but here is a peaceful little video of the bees buzzing blue.


Some Bee friendly Plants

Agastache common name Hyssop Top of the bee list is Agastache common name Hyssop an aromatic flowering herbaceous perennial plant which tends to be short lived especially in cold areas but is highly attractive to bees, especially varieties of bumblebees. Grow in a sunny site on well drained soil and they will flower from mid summer until autumn. Growing up to .5m and forming a small bush plant their flowers are usually blues and mauve and the leaves scented. A. 'Blue Fortune' has the rhs_agm_logo-75x75 award and is a good choice, and A. 'Black Adder' is also popular and said to be hardier. H4 hardy which reflects the fact that a cold wet winter can be damaging.
Pulmonaria 'sissinghurst white' with solitary bee Pulmonaria are a good source of early nectar for the solitary bees as they start emerging and foraging for food, as the image shows which was taken in early April. Illustrated is P. 'Sissinghurst White' which flowers from March through to April and make a good ground cover plant suitable for damp shade. Pulmonarias are easy to grow - tips and advice
 herb-rosemary-and-oregano-310x240  High on the list is Oregano also known as Marjoram which attracts bees and a diverse range of pollinators. Oregano in common with many herbs are very attractive to bees and planting a herb garden is a good way to bring bees into the garden. Oregano is an all round friend of wildlife it will attract bees, hover flies and butterflies. As a warning it is a prolific self seeder and needs to be removed otherwise it can be a bit of a thug. 
Lavender Hidcote The list is full of lavenders of all varieties and we know from walking around any garden how much the bees love lavender.  The scientific survey does feature Lavenders heavily and it seems that L. x intermedia which includes L. Hidcote Giant and Gros bleu did very well and the L.Angustifolia, but too much detail, all the Lavenders did very well. Lavender need good drainage and can be unhappy in wet ground particularly over winter: tips on growing Lavender.
Nepeta If you cannot grow Lavender you can grow Nepeta, Cat Mint which also features highly on the survey. Aromatic leaves and a very long flowering period it is loved by bees and pollinators and very easy to grow. A tough perennial which will come up reliably every year and does produce a lovely cloud of blue.
Plants for bees Stachy byzantina 'lambs ears' Stachys byzantina, common name Lamb's ears is a hardy perennial, grown for its soft downy leaves. It has  small, insignificant light purple flowers but  the flowers are attractive to bees for months. In late summer, when I am twitching to cut it back because it looks tired by this stage,  I have to stop myself as I see bee after bee land on it.  Lambs ears is also a favourite of one particular type of bee, the wool carder bee. The female  wood carder bee harvests hairs from the plant leaves to make their nests. By growing Stachys you are providing the materials for the wool carder bee to build its nest.
Achillea lovely flat flower heads A non blue plant which is attractive to bees, Achillea. Easy to grow preferring a drier sunny spot it flowers for months and the fading flower heads look attractive. A wide range of colours with attractive feathery foliage it is good for bees. 
Blue Geranium ibericum The image shows Blue Geranium ibericum which is often covered with bees. Most of the Geraniums are popular with bees, those with violet and blue flowers are favoured the most. Geraniums are very easy to grow generally unfussy about soil and condition. Just to prove the point, here is a little video showing the bees enjoying the blue Geranium ibericum, which planted with Chives, makes a very bee friendly combination.
Sunflower Sunflowers are ideal for bees and are easy to grow. The speed at which they grow and their lovely large flower heads make them great fun for children to grow.
Cornflower wildflowers Wildflowers are good plants for bees and pollinators. Wildflowers and wildflower meadows are often associated with large gardens but it is perfectly possible, and easy,  to create a small wildflower patch will be colourful for weeks and buzzing. Annals create great colour and are attractive to bees; advice on how to create your own wildflower patch.
No one makes bees more interesting than Prof. Dave Goulson who appeared on Radio 4  11.11.2014 in The Life Scientific  and his comments on bee conservation are fascinating. The link between damage to bees and Neonicotinoids is well illustrated in his explanation of experiments he has undertaken and there is currently an EU ban on 3 pesticides in this group. Listening to Prof. Goulson is both fascinating and a powerful argument for gardening organically. What he doesn't know about bees is just not worth knowing.  He also founded the Bumble Bee conservation trust which has some great information about bees and how to get involved with the charity.


The survey referred to above :  Functional Ecology 2014, 28, 364-374 Quantifying variation among garden plants in attractiveness to bees and other-visiting insects by Mihail Garbuzov and Francis L.W. Ratnieks


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