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10 of the Best Flowers to Plant for Bees

20, May 2024

10 of the Best Flowers to Plant for Bees

Bees are brilliant. And vital. They pollinate our food and, along with other pollinators, play a crucial role in our ecosystem. But thanks to climate change, pesticides and habitat loss, bees are endangered. Over the last 100 years, around 97% of UK wildflower meadows have vanished. Thankfully, we can help bees and other pollinating insects by growing flowers they love. Whether you’ve got a window box, patio planters or a sprawling lawn, plant these blooms to turn your outdoor space into a veritable bee buffet.

Lavender

Lavender for the bees

Ah, who doesn’t love the soothing aroma of lavender? We’ve been putting its essential oil in our products for decades – and it’s a firm fan favourite. Although native to drier, warmer climates than ours, lavender can thrive in a sunny spot and well-drained soil in UK gardens. With its fragrant, all-summer-long flowers, this aromatic plant is a big hit with bees, especially bumble bees, as much as it is with humans. Prune towards the end of summer and dry the flowers to make beautifully-scented lavender bags.

Foxgloves

Foxgloves for the bees

Foxgloves are an iconic plant that are as happy in gardens as they are growing in the wild woods. In summer, tall spires burst with tubular blooms that buzz with apid activity. Many foxglove flowers are dappled, which is Nature’s way of attracting bees; their infrared vision picks up the patterns and alerts them to the nectar inside. Foxgloves are tolerant of shade and resistant to slugs, making them a gardener’s dream. It’s important to remember that foxgloves are highly toxic to humans and pets and must never be ingested; always handle this plant with care and gloves.

Snapdragons

Snapdragons for the bees

Named after their unique blooms, which open and close like mouths when pinched, foxgloves come in a wide variety of vibrant colours. These resilient plants can sprout out of cracks in walls, and self-seed easily from the strange, skull-shaped pods left behind when flowering’s finished. Look out for bees opening the hinge of the snapdragon’s ‘jaw’ and crawling inside, emerging covered in pollen. Snapdragons’ petals have evolved to be covered in cone-shaped cells which make it easier for bees to grip the flower, aiding the pollination process. Isn’t Nature great?

Borage

Borage for the bees

In the height of summer, when the season’s early blooms are past their best and the later ones are yet to burst open, food can sometimes be hard for bees to find. This is called the ‘nectar gap’, but there’s a plant that can help fill it. Borage’s star-shaped, magenta and sky-blue flowers keep bursting from tall, furry stems all summer long – and bees can’t get enough of them. Borage is an annual, meaning seeds need to be planted every year, but it’s also an avid self-seeder, meaning you can often leave it to do its own wild thing.

Heather

Heather for the bees

Wonderful, evergreen heather plants boast clusters of tiny, sweet-smelling flowers from summer right into autumn. They’re happiest in acidic, sandy soil and a bright, sunny position. The abundant, bell-shaped blooms are brimming with both nectar and pollen – good news for bees. Better still, one study found that a certain type of heather, Calluna, is actually a sort of bee medicine. A chemical in its nectar, callunene, can protect bumblebees from a dangerous parasite. With heathlands in the UK sadly in decline, growing these precious plants in your garden could give bees a real boost.

Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle for the bees

Easy-to-grow honeysuckle will climb and twist up walls, trellises and pergolas, filling the air with its heady aroma on summer evenings. Its trumpet-shaped flowers are a haven for lots of pollinators, including bees.. Just like foxgloves, the tube-like structure of honeysuckle’s flowers is ideal for bees that have long tongues, like the garden bumblebee. Once it’s finished flowering, this climbing shrub bears berries. And if you choose an evergreen variety, you can enjoy its foliage all year round.

Sunflowers

Sunflowers for the bees

Bold, lofty sunflowers are instantly cheering and simple to grow from seed. The big ‘flowers’ are actually a cluster of small flowers, called an inflorescence. And whilst most sunflowers look cheerfully bright yellow to us, they appear very differently to bees. Bees see UV light, and when viewed through the UV spectrum, sunflowers are more of a purply-blue, with a ‘bullseye’ pattern that attracts pollinators. Grow sunflowers in groups to provide nectar and pollen for as many bees as possible. At the end of summer, collect the dried seeds from the sunflower heads to feed the birds or plant next year.

Crocuses (and Snowdrops!)

Crocuses (and Snowdrops!) for the bees

When considering bee-friendly flowers, you might only think of those that bloom in the summer months. But some bees, including queen buff-tailed bumblebees and male hairy-footed flower bees, emerge in spring in search of much-needed pollen. The crocus is a spring-flowering bulb that offers more than just plentiful of pollen; bees will sometimes shelter overnight inside the flowers. Snowdrops are also a welcome source of nectar and pollen for winter-active honey bees. So, when summer is over and autumn begins, plant bulbs with next year’s early bird bees in mind.

Cornflowers

Cornflowers for the bees

Vivid blue cornflowers are often planted alongside other meadow blooms, like ox-eye daisies and poppies. Cornflowers got their name because they originally grew in cornfields, but because of pesticides, they’re now a rare sight in the wild. Also known as ‘bachelor’s button’, they grow on tall stems and are packed with nectar, meaning they attract plenty of bees. Cornflowers are easy to grow in well-drained soil and will bloom for weeks throughout spring and summer.

Leave the Weeds Be

Leave the Weeds Be

Many plants that are widely considered weeds are reliable sources of nectar and pollen, so it’s worth resisting the urge to pull them up. Lawn ‘weeds’ in particular, such as dandelions, buttercups, clover and daisies, can attract pollinators in droves. It’s often said that a weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place. If you have a lawn, consider taking part in the No Mow May movement, holding off cutting the grass for the month for the sake of our pollinating pals.