The bee population is in trouble, and it needs all the help it can get! Bees are crucial to sustaining the ecosystem because they’re the most efficient pollinator species out there. As such. bees also have an important role to play in biodiversity. But since the late 1990s, their population has fallen rapidly. Wondering how you can help? Or what to plant in the garden to help save the bees?
A good start is to grow bee-friendly plants. Helping create natural places full of plants bees like can no doubt play a role in saving the bees.
In this article are some plants (with different examples) that attract and assist in sustaining bees. Whether you have a small potted garden or a large lawn to work with, planting some of these could significantly help the bee population in your area.
The survival of several bee species hangs in the balance as the bee population faces challenges in maintaining themselves. Climate change, habitat loss, use of insecticides and chemicals indirectly puts a strain on the population of several plant species and not just bees.
The situation is so dire that according to a paper published by NRDC, many food crop species would die out without the help of bees to handle pollination. Embracing bee-friendly and sustainable garden practices could be the only way for us to undo the damage that bees have had to bear in the past.
Here are some options for your garden. Simply plant some of these to save the bees.
Related: You might also like to read up on the different types of bees to identify those you attract and grab some natural bee repellent to safely keep them away from areas where they might sting, such as outdoor eating areas.
Heirloom plants often referred to as ‘heritage plants,’ are used for food and are grown for non-commercial purposes. They are direct descendants of old varieties and are usually handed down or gifted. These plants are usually cultivated in isolated groups.
Heirloom plants have been tried and tested as a method to attract bees to gardens – they’re an age-old method of catching any bee’s attention, and this method continues to work. Several of our ancestors who had an interest in gardening have planted these varieties in their days, but it might be tricky getting your hands on a rare and genuine selection in the modern day.
You can reach out to organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange (US) and Plants of Distinction (UK) to ask for heirloom plants. A quick online search may also show similar organizations run by local planters and farmers in your area, who can also provide gardening tips. These organizations carry unique heirloom vegetable seeds that would become interesting plant additions to your garden.
One reason why solitary bees love heirloom plants is that they are usually ‘single blossom’ plants that have nectarine linings that bees find easy to navigate through, making pollination a lot easier. Organic varieties such as rainbow carrots, Brandywine pink tomatoes, Big Jim peppers, and Yellow Pear tomatoes will be a safe pick.
Heirloom plants are a known bee favorite, and growing the right plants in your garden, including some heirlooms, could guarantee the attention of bees.
Plants that flower, especially native varieties, should be easy for you to get your hands on. Simply ask for those grown in your particular region. Native flowering plants won’t be difficult to grow either at your location, because of their suitability to the local climatic and geographical conditions.
Honey bees love a variety of flower species because they are flat, open, and tubular in structure. The flower shapes, therefore, make it easy for bees to enter but also ensure that pollen brushes on their bodies. They also have bright colors and exotic scents, which are particularly appealing to the honey bee. They love purple, blue, and yellow flowers the most.
It won’t be difficult for you to either find flowering plant species or grow them because they can thrive in most living conditions. You can check out the local nursery to see what varieties are available. A website such as Native Plant Finder could be a useful guide in figuring out which flowering plants native to your region perfect for attracting pollinators.
Great options for some of the best flowers that attract bees include:
Bees love the sweet fragrance of lavender which is produced by its essential oils. The plant's purple flowers, nectar, and pollen also attract bees, making it a popular choice for beekeepers. Lavender is a low-maintenance plant that blooms from late spring to early summer. Prune your lavender plants in early spring to prevent them from forming woody stems, and their perennial flowers will come back stronger in the summer for the bees.
Sunflowers and their summer blooms attract pollinators due to their bright yellow petals and rich nectar. The plants produce a lot of pollen, which makes them especially attractive to bees. Sunflowers are easy to grow and bloom from mid-summer to early fall.
Bees are attracted to the fragrant cup-shaped flowers of wild roses, which produce nectar and pollen. The plants have a long bloom time, from late spring to early fall, making them a reliable source of food for bees. Wild roses are also easy to grow and can tolerate a variety of soil conditions. Further, they are also likely to attract other pollinators, such as ladybugs.
Bees are attracted to the bright purple or pink petals of echinacea, as well as the nectar and pollen produced by the flowers. The plants bloom from early summer to early fall and are easy to grow, making them a great choice for novice gardeners.
Bees flock to the tubular-shaped flowers of salvia, which produce nectar and pollen. The plants bloom from mid-summer to early fall and come in a variety of colors, including purple, blue, and red. Salvia is a low-maintenance plant that is drought-tolerant and easy to grow
As the name suggests, bee balm is a magnet for bees. The plant produces clusters of bright, showy flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen, making it a favorite of many bee species. Bee balm comes in a range of colors, including pink, red, and purple. It is also known for its aromatic leaves, which release a minty scent when crushed.
Bee balm blooms from mid to late summer and can be grown as a flowering perennial in many areas. It is a low-maintenance plant that is tolerant of a range of soil conditions and can even attract butterflies and hummingbirds in addition to bees.
Bees are attracted to the delicate, bell-shaped gorgeous flowers of bluebells, which bloom in early spring. These flowers are a rich source of nectar and pollen for bees, especially early in the season when food sources can be scarce.
Bluebells are perennial plants that can thrive in both sun and shade. Grow these spring flowering bulbs in moist, well-drained soil, and they can be grown in woodland gardens, rock gardens, or as a naturalizing ground cover. Bluebells are also known for their lovely violet-blue flowers, which can add a pop of color to your garden in the spring.
Bees indeed love sweet nectar, but they’re suckers for mint too! It does not matter which variety of mint it is: catnip, apple mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, or even peppermint – bees love them all. You don’t want to go overboard with mint, so plant them around your flowering species. If you’re lucky enough to have local honey bees, you’ll also taste the difference.
Another good reason to grow these bee plants is that they’re fairly easy to maintain. They’re also a multi-purpose culinary herb which means that you can use them for cooking purposes.
This aromatic herb can be used to add flavor to several beverages and pack a punch in dessert recipes. Don’t shy away from growing mint varieties (yes, even lemon balm, which technically falls in the mint family) because of the benefits that they hold for both you and your bees!
Apart from mint, other herb varieties such as borage, thyme, and rosemary deserve a mention of their own. Rosemary is a bee favorite because of the differently colored flowers it has to offer in the spring season. There are several different types of rosemary herbs, and all of them attract bees equally well.
Rosemary comes to life the most as the weather turns warm when it is lush and blooming with spring flowers. Another reason to grow this herb in your garden is that you can use it in cooking to make mouthwatering flatbread, as well as take advantage of the medicinal properties that this herb has to offer (it is used to treat hair and scalp-related problems).
Thyme is another bee favorite that holds numerous benefits for both you and your guest bees. It is a low-growing herb and a companion plant that most gardeners will grow along with cabbage, potatoes, eggplant, and strawberries because it repels insects such as worms and beetles and attracts beneficial insects such as bees.
The lavender-tinted delicate flowers are what attract bees to the thyme plant. You can also use this edible plant in the kitchen for adding flavor to soups, sauces, braises, baked goods, and gravy.
Borage is a particularly popular herb that is used to attract bees to gardens, so much so that it is known as ‘bee bush,’ ‘bee bread,’ and ‘starflower.’ This valuable honey plant with its blue-lilac flowers is a bee magnet because of how quickly it can replenish its nectarine linings – it’s a total hotspot for bees!
You can find several uses for borage as well, as it’s an edible medicinal herb. Borage leaves are used to add a crunchy texture to salads and desserts, whereas their medicinal properties are known to treat depression.
When you plant flowers, also give these herbs a shot if you want to grow a bee-friendly garden. And even better, you also get to harvest their bounty and avoid paying extra for supermarket herbs.
Certain vegetable species produce different male and female flowers that bees can help pollinate when they come to gather nectar. This is true for vegetables like pumpkins, melons, squashes, and cucumbers which develop long vines as they grow, sprouting flowers as they do so that bees can be drawn to them for pollination.
Bees also enjoy flowers produced by vegetables such as onions, cauliflower, and chives. You could maintain a vegetable garden that is also bee-friendly, one in which you can grow regular kitchen-use greens.
Bees enjoy the flowers of almost every fruit tree, because of the steady supply of nectar that they have to offer. Choose fruit trees that produce a lot of flowers, and have variety in fruit trees as well.
For the summer, apple and cherry trees make for a big hit with bees because of the large colorful blossoms. In fall, you can grow plum and peach trees that bloom a bit later but are just attractive to your little bee friends.
Finally, our favorite bee-friendly plant pick is…
No list of bee favorites is complete without the mention of the iconic calendula flower. The flower is noticeable from afar due to its vivid orange and yellow appearance, making it more attractive to bees.
It produces nectar and pollen, which interests bees and gives off a good scent. Plus, it’s great for your garden’s aesthetics because the plant itself is quite appealing to look at. Additionally, calendula is a very low-maintenance plant, and while it enjoys mild climates the most, it will also go through some harsh winters.
The plant will also grow itself because it is a self-seeding variety – so you don’t have to worry about growing bunches every season.
For a long time, homeopathic medicine has used Calendula, and it has pharmaceutical properties as well. This edible plant makes calendula tea, calendula shortbread cookies, and calendula cupcake sprinkles. Planting these in your bee-friendly garden can yield benefits for both of you.
Our planet's flower-rich habitats shrink by the day. Meanwhile, other plants and vegetables that we consume daily only flourish due to the hard work bees put in. By growing bee-friendly plants in your garden, you will be able to do your part in preserving the bee population.
To become a real bee champion, make sure you have bee-friendly plants available year-round. Consider growing the flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables mentioned in this list for a bee-friendly garden. You'll also benefit from the various numerous domestic benefits that these plants have to offer.
It isn’t easy being a bee these days, so don’t shy away from helping them out!
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.