The best bee friendly plants
Bees and pollinators are vital for our environment and ecosystem. Encourage them in your garden by picking the plants that pollinators love best
As native habitats in the wider countryside decline, our gardens are more important than ever for bees and other pollinators. Flowers can provide them with nectar for energy, and pollen to feed their grubs.
By growing a good mix of flowering plants in your garden for as many months of the year as you can, you can help a wide range of bee species. Most bees are most active from March to September, but some emerge from hibernation early in mild winters.
Studies have shown that native and non-native plants are equally good when it comes to attracting wildlife. However try to grow single (as opposed to double) flowers where you can, as bees can access the nectar of these more easily.
For more on how to attract wildlife in your garden, don't miss our advice on how to attract wildlife to your garden. And here's Chris Packham's suggestions for encouraging bugs, butterflies, bees and more.
The best bee friendly plants
Best flowers for bees in late winter
Iris reticulata is one of the earliest flowers, popping up in late winter and early spring. They are perfect for growing in pots, which means that they are suitable for a garden of any size. You may even find bumblebees taking shelter within the foliage. Plant the bulbs in autumn.
Winter-flowering clematis are a lovely way of bringing more flowers to your garden in winter and to support bees, too. Grow up an arch, fence or pergola.
Like many winter-flowering plats, winter-flowering honeysuckles are often highly fragrant, making them a delightful addition to your garden and to your house - bring in a few sprigs to enjoy the scent indoors.
Best flowers for bees in spring
Hellebores flower for months on end, from early spring, so are an extremely valuable plant to have in your garden. Hellebore flowers are rich in nectar and pollen, at a time of year when these are often scarce, giving much needed sustenance to bees. The nodding flowers protect the pollen from rain, as well as the insect feeding on it.
More like this
Read our guide to growing hellebores.
Crocuses bring welcome pops of colour to the garden in late winter and early spring, and provide welcome nectar for bees that are emerging. Plant the bulbs in autumn, in pots, grass or borders. Read our guide to growing crocus.
Grape hyacinths (Muscari) are magnets for bees in early spring. Grow in pots or naturalised in grass. Deadhead if you don't want them to multiply.
Lovely bright-green leaves will tolerate heavier soils more than most other euphorbias.
Prunus padus 'Colorata'
A charming medium-sized open textured tree that has five-petalled flowers in April and May that are pale pink with creamy green centres. Small, rounded, bitter fruit with glossy skin follow before autumn turns the scene orange red. Can reach 12m high.
With their mostly globe-shaped flowers, alliums are popular with both honeybees and bumblebees alike and bring height and drama to any border. Plant bulbs in autumn; they will come back year after year.
Looking for how best to grow alliums? Don't miss our allium plant profile.
Best flowers for bees in summer
Echinacea purpurea ‘Fatal Attraction’
The fabulous daisy-like flowers look beautiful even before they burst into bloom. What’s more, wildlife, including butterflies, bees and birds, is attracted to them. 80cm.
This is a new cultivar with a long flowering period from May to October. It is drought tolerant and wildlife and bees love it. Plant in drifts alongside bright greens. Also looks good in pots. 1.2m. Discover more about salvia with our plant profile.
The single, fragrant flowers offer a mass of easily accessible pollen and nectar for bees. It has huge hips to nourish birds and small mammals. They are among the healthiest and easiest roses to grow. For more roses, head to our piece on Libby Russell's perfect roses.
This native meadowsweet has creamy, fluffy flower heads and is easy to grow. It’s often seen growing on the banks of streams and is ideal for boggy areas of the garden and it's great for wildlife. 90cm. USDA 3a-9b.
Echinops ritro subsp. ruthenicus
Vibrant blue globes, loved by bees and wildlife, look great next to silver-grey plants. 1m. AGM.
Trifolium rubens ‘Peach Pink’
This pale-pink clover will flower for several weeks, longer if deadheaded regularly, providing honey bees with abundant nectar to take back to their hives. Easy to grow in most soils and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules will increase fertility. 50cm. USDA 3a-8b.
A British native with spires of purple flowers for many months. It seeds freely in disturbed or stony soils and is a cafeteria for bees and hoverflies. Try Linaria purpurea ‘Canon Went’ (soft pink) and Linaria purpurea ‘Springside White’ (pristine white). 1m. USDA 5a-8b.
With the desperate need to stem the declining honeybee population, these pastel-coloured flowers are a perfect food source for bees and other wildlife forms. They will happily naturalise themselves in the garden. Dead-head geraniums in July and they will often flower again. Here's more on perfect geraniums.
Height 90cm. Hardiness ratings USDA 4a-9b. Season of interest Summer
A native plant, common knapweed is easy to grow in borders as well as meadows and is perfect for wildlife. Provides pollen and nectar for a wide range of foraging insects – bees, butterflies and moths. Finches devour the abundant seed. Forms vary considerably and some, such as Centaurea nigra, are particularly garden-worthy. Here's how to grow centaurea.
Height 60cm. Hardiness ratings USDA 7a-10a. Season of interest Summer
Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’
Long spires of lavender flowers appear in June and July on this tall perennial. Useful for vertical accents in a border, it is beloved by bees, hoverflies, moths, butterflies among other forms of wildlife. Leaves a graceful skeleton through the late summer months. Read our veronicastrum plant profile.
Height 1.5m. Hardiness ratings USDA 5a-9b. Season of interest Summer
Also known as viper’s bugloss, this British native biennial with tubular blue flowers, is ideal for a sunny, well-drained site. One of the best bee attracting plants, it flowers for several months. Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’ is an annual cultivar, useful for topping up nectar sources in the garden. 90cm. USDA 3a-11.
This prickly character is a member of the cow parsley tribe. It grows best in full sun with good drainage. Beloved by wildlife and beneficial insects especially bumblebees. It flowers in summer then leaves an elegant skeleton and plenty of seeds for hungry birds.
Height 50cm. Hardiness ratings USDA 7b-8b. Don't miss our eryngium plant profile.
Best climbing plants for bees
Pretty pink flowers in May and June and attractive bronze foliage. Bees and other wildlife love it. 5m. AGM. For more on clematis montana, here's our guide.
Clematis ‘Warszawska Nike’
Rich velvety purple flowers from July to September. If you plant it alongside ‘Freda’ you’ll enjoy a much longer flowering period and should maximise the wildlife attraction. 3m. AGM.
Don't miss more clematis suggestions from our piece on the best clematis montana for pots.
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’
Known as the late Dutch honeysuckle, because it continues flowering longer than other cultivars, usually into October. The highly perfumed flowers are a deep reddish-purple on the outside and yellow within. 8m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b. Here's everything you need to know about honeysuckle.
Best flowers for bees in autumn
A native, evergreen sedge with arching, slender flower spikes that will help give a naturalistic look to the swale and is a strong choice for supporting wildlife. Prefers heavy clay soils and can be a bit thuggish, but great for bees. 1.5m. USDA 5a-9b.
Best flowers for bees in winter
For more on how to attract wildlife in your garden, head to our wildlife guide.
Veronica Peerless is a trained horticulturalist and garden designer.
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