Gardeners are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of our honey bee population. Bees have been under attack for several years from a variety of sources and anything we can do to help them is worth doing. Since bees are attracted to some plants more than others it makes perfect sense and is easy to incorporate more of their favourites into our garden planning.

In this article:

Why do some plants attract more bees than others?

There are two main reasons why bees are attracted to some plants more than others – nectar and pollen.

  • Nectar is the raw material used by bees to produce honey. It is the bees’ source of energy. Honeybees collect nectar by placing their tongues inside a flower and sucking up the nectar into their honey sack. The depth of a blossom is, therefore, an important feature. In fact, blossoms that are deeper than six millimetres are pretty much out of reach of a honey bees’ tongue. Also, double blossomed cultivars usually produce little or no nectar and pollen and are, therefore, of no value to honey bees.
  • Pollen is an essential part of the diet of young bees and without it, a colony cannot grow and develop. While bees are busy foraging on flowers they become dusted with pollen and pack the pollen into two sacks on their hind legs. From here they carry it back to the hive where it is stored in open cells.

What can you do to attract bees in your garden?

From a gardeners point of view, the plants having those attributes – nectar and pollen, are the ones that will be the most useful in attracting bees into their garden.

Equally important in choosing plants will be their cold hardiness rating in relation to where you garden. Bees appear to prefer blooms in the blue-violet to purple tones best and then white and yellow.

Bee plants planted in clumps as opposed to scattered throughout the garden is preferred, as well as, having a collection of bee plants that bloom throughout all the gardening seasons. Honey bees are also sun lovers, so place your bee plants in sunny locations.

You can attract good bugs to your garden by planting sweet-smelling small flowers and if you still need to reach for an insecticide choose organic one rather than something synthetic.

Keep nectar and pollen-rich plants away from kids play spaces. If you’re concerned about stings, teach your kids to respect bees but also keep in mind that little kids often have an allergic reaction to bee stings and you should always be cautious about that.

Other than that, don’t be scared about bringing bees to your garden. After all, our plants need them, we need them, so give bees a chance.

Plants that attract native bees

1. Pincushion Hakea

Hakea laurina is a beautiful small evergreen, which blooms from April to August. It can be grown both as a tree or shrub. Pin-cushion hakea is widely cultivated in Southwest Australia and highly preferred by stingless bees.

2. Tea tree

Leptospermum scoparium (Tea Tree) is an evergreen shrub with small, needle-like leaves and lovely flowers. It’s red, white and pink blooms are enchanting to the native bees. It blooms in late spring and summer.

3. Lavender

Talking about plants that attract bees we cannot miss the Lavender. Lavender is a wonderful herb with many uses but did you know it is a bees’ favourite? With its vibrant flowers, attractive foliage, and pleasing scent lavender is extremely attractive to native bees. It flowers all year round and is high in nectar.

4. Grevillea Pink Surprise

Pink Surprise is a hybrid. Its parents are Grevillea whiteana and Grevillea banksii. It comes in a wide range of sizes and can reach up to four metres. It produces a lot of nectar and thus, attracts bees and birdies.

5. Cut-leaf daisy

Brachyscome multifida, the Cut-leaf Daisy, is a hardy and colourful perennial that grows well across Australia. It is preferred by native bees and there’s a bonus – they flower for an extended period of time.

6. Purple Coral Pea

Hardenbergia violacea (Purple Coral Pea) is a great plant for garden beds, rock and bush gardens, retaining walls and of course, for attracting bees. Usually, its flowers are purple and have yellow markings. It is well known across Australia by the name Happy Wanderer.

7. Flowering Gum

Its academic name is Corymbia ficifolia. There’s so much to love about flowering gums. These native trees are hardy and easy to care for with aromatic gum leaves and flowers that deserve to be the centre of attention. Bees love them for their plentitude of spring flowers.

Plants that attract bees

1. Bee balm

Monarda is a fragrant, perennial herb. It is also called Bergamot but it’s most well-known for then name Beebalm. As you can guess there’s a reason for that. Its colourful blossoms ranging from white, through pink and purple shades to even reddish, along with the aromatic leaves, are a real bee magnet.

2. Purple Coneflower

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) is well-known for its economic value to the pharmaceutical industry, as all of its parts stimulate the immune system. But didn’t you know it is extremely valuable for bees too? Learning how to care for coneflowers is easy. The best part is that in spring established clumps can be divided to increase your garden.

3. Crocus

Crocus is a bulb flower. It is very beautiful, as it blooms in many different colours and is really easy to grow. From purple and lilac-blue, through orange and white to even striped flowers, the crocus truly means cheerfulness, especially for bees. You can choose varieties with prolonged blooming time to ensure your bees will be happy for longer.

4. Joe-pye weed

Eutrochium purpureum is a perennial plant, which blooms with large white, pink and purple flowers. Also called Joe Pye weed, it is very easy to start growing it from stem cuttings in spring. Once you do that, your garden will be a great place to accommodate bees.

5. Sunflowers

Not many people know that sunflowers (Helianthis annuus) can not only be used for edible oil and fruits but are also extremely beneficial for bees. The large central discs of the plant give the bees a great opportunity to forage for nectar and pollen.

6. Roses

From all the plants that attract bees, roses are maybe the best. One thing you should keep in mind, though, is that not all kinds of roses are bee-friendly. You should look for the ones that are single-petal with open centres. Roses are extremely fragrant and that attracts bees but if the bee cannot see the tuft of stamens at the centre they won they are of no use.

7. Catmint

Catmint attract bees even more than it does cats. Nepeta, or Catmint is an herb from the mint family, which has pink, purple, white and blue flowers. They are extremely fragrant and serve as a bee magnet. The best part is that the Catmint is extremely easy to grow, it is drought tolerant and all it needs is a sunny spot to flourish.

We all know bees are extremely important. After all, they are responsible for biodiversity. We need them to pollinate our flowers, fruits and vegetables. They have an important role in agriculture, as they pollinate many agricultural crop species and honey bee pollinators are estimated to contribute around $6 billion a year to the Australian economy.

To attract bees to your garden you don’t need much. You can count on colourful and fragrant flowers, long bloomers and mass plantings. However, if you ever need help keep in mind that you can always turn to the professionals.

Image source: Shutterstock/Daniel Prudek

  • Last update: November 12, 2020

Posted in All Articles, Gardening Advice

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