- The type of nectar a bee likes has much to do with the kind of bee, their hive, and what part of the world they inhabit.
- When planning a garden to support local bees, it is important to plant in large patches with plenty of variety and avoid pesticides and sprays. Offer a water source and a place to hide for your local pollinators.
- The blossoms responsible for the uniquely tasting and textured Manuka honey are native to New Zealand and grow nowhere else. Every Manukora honey product at Manukora includes traceable information on its potency, unique hive, and beekeeper.
The Best Plants & Flowers for the Bees
Like any species, bees require a healthy and balanced diet to thrive. Around the world (especially in North America), the bee population is plummeting due to conditions out of their control.
It’s important to remember that bees aren’t just responsible for all the delicious honey on this planet; they’re also the main pollinators for all other plants, flowers, trees, and more. Without bees, we wouldn’t have most of the earth's beautiful greenery or the nourishing fruits and veggies we know and love.
Whether you’re a new apiarist looking for new ways to attract more honeybees to your hives, you have a green thumb but need some help with plant pollination, or are simply a bee-lover and want to help the bees by planting flowers that will benefit them, this article offers up all the info you need.
Honeybees vs. Native Bees
Before we begin, it’s essential to know that not all bees have the same job. Some bees make honey, and others solely work to pollinate other plants.
Honeybees use the nectar from flowers to produce sweet, syrupy honey, while native bees use that nectar as fuel while diligently working to pollinate hundreds of plants and flowers. Bees are responsible for around 80 percent of pollination worldwide — unless it's grain or wheat, chances are the bees are to thank.
Honeybees and native bees play defining roles in our ecosystem, and with the bee population under constant threat, anything is worth trying to help protect them.
What Are the Best Plants and Flowers for Honeybees?
Like us humans, bees have their food (or nectar) preferences. Honeybees prefer to eat completely different types of nectar than native bees. Not all honeybees enjoy the same plants and flowers. The type of nectar your bees like has much to do with the kind of bee, their hive, and what part of the world they inhabit.
For example, our European honeybees love the sweet nectar from the Manuka blossom, but that’s not to say a North American bumble bee would feel the same.
There are a few things to consider before you begin planting, such as whether your goal is to help honey bees and their honey production, or to help the native bees with their pollination. So, let’s talk about it! What matters when it comes to the best plants and flowers for the bees?
The location should be the first thing you consider when deciding which plants your bees will appreciate the most. Your location defines what type of bees will be frequent visitors to your garden. Thus, it’s important to research what type of bees are most common in your part of the world.
Native plants also differ in every country, and even in different parts of the same state. So, again, always do research that applies to your specific geographical area, climate, and environment.
The Size of the Bee Matters
The bee's size and anatomy also have much to do with their preferred plants.
Bees with naturally extended tongues prefer more tubular-shaped flowers like penstemon, columbine, and honeysuckle. In contrast, bees with shorter tongues are more likely to gravitate toward asters and sunflowers, which are considerably easier to work with. In fact, euglossa bees have some of the longest tongues in the world, and colletidae (plasterer bees, miner bees, or masked bees) are known for their short bilobed tongues.
Similar to how some bees have longer tongues than others, bees also vary in size — quite drastically. The fairy bee is only two millimeters long, whereas the carpenter bee is 40 mm long. Hefty carpenter bees can much easier muscle through tough plants and flowers than smaller bees.
Most bees prefer purple, blue, white, and yellow flowers. Yet, avoid red flowers — Bees can’t see red and are less likely to choose red flowers when pollinating.
What Should I Plant for Honeybees?
While keeping these factors in mind, let’s consider some options for planting in your neighborhood.
1. Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)
This plant commonly called bee balm received this nickname because it can treat bee stings.
Honeybees love bee balm and will surely swarm your garden upon their blossoming. Bee balm is native to North Carolina and blooms in the spring season.
2. Coral Honeysuckle
These tubular flowers are unique in color and scent. The Florida vine flower thrives best when planted along a fence or post as they like to climb fixtures, similar to the jasmine flower.
Not only will these bright flowers attract plenty of bees (and hummingbirds) to a Southeastern home, but they’ll also be quite the treat to look at.
3. White Wild Indigo (Baptisia alba)
White wild indigos are great if your soil isn’t the best. These flowers can tolerate dirt, gravel, or any poor soil. They stand tall so the honeybees can see their white glow from afar.
There’s no need to water these plants daily, either, as they prefer their soil to be only slightly moist and mostly dry. They’re spring flowers and will attract more than just bees to your garden — Butterflies love them, too!
4. Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Humans aren’t the only ones who love the vibrant purple shade of these coneflowers; honeybees, hummingbirds, and butterflies will become frequent visitors to your garden after they bloom.
As long they have plenty of room to flourish, these flowers can grow up to five feet tall. They require full sun and heaps of water, but their upkeep is well worth the return.
5. Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
Spring and summer gardens are great for your honeybees, but fall flowers matter too.
Joe-Pye Weed thrives in the cooler months, and its highly aromatic scents will attract all types of pollinators (hummingbirds included).
6. Wrinkleleaf Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa)
Another flower that thrives in the fall months is the wrinkleleaf goldenrod. Their vibrant yellow colors won’t wilt away from a little cool weather or rough soil.
They’re durable and can thrive in many environments — another great option if you don’t have the greenest thumb on your block.
How Do I Garden for Bees?
If the purpose of your garden is to attract plenty of bees to your yard, then there are a few rules you should follow for optimal results.
Do: Plant in large patches.
It will double the bees’ foraging time if you plant your flowers too far apart. So, always plant in large clusters, only three to five feet apart, giving them plenty of blossoms to work with.
Do: Plant a wide variety of plant species.
As long the species you plant are native to your region and will thrive in your environment, plant a wide variety of plants — the more, the merrier. Most bee species like to have variety wherever they decide to feast, so having plenty of plants to choose from is key.
That said, Western honeybees (Apis mellifera) harvest primarily from the Manuka tea tree because of it’s availability and flowering season. At Manukora, our honeybees have access to an abundant forest of Manuka tea trees to feast on. While they may wander to other plants, we test all of our honey to ensure that it is monofloral (only from the local Manuka flowers).
In fact, you can check any Manukora honey product for a unique QR code. By scanning this code, you can learn about the hive your honey came from, the beekeeper responsible for the bees’ care, and the exact potency results for each batch.
These results include MGO, Leptosperin, and other markers used by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to indicate authenticity.
Don’t: Use pesticides.
When planting a garden, pests are inevitable and a part of nature. While treating your plants with pesticides or sprays can be tempting, it can be harmful to your garden, the bees, and your environment in the long run.
At Manukora, we’re highly aware of the damage pesticides can cause, which is why we ensure our honey is free from pesticides by testing every single batch.
Do: Create a bee-friendly environment.
To attract the most bees to your garden, you want to create the most bee-friendly environment possible. Bees need more than just vibrant, tasty flowers to inhabit your yard — protection from the elements, water, and nesting sites are essential pieces of the puzzle.
Here are a few things to add to your yard to get those honeybees buzzing back.
Bees aren’t picky; usually, natural water sources will suffice, but it’s not a bad idea to install a water source with a perch so they can drink comfortably. A small birdbath with large rocks and stones is an easy option that also usually works visually well in any garden.
When away from the hive, bees need shelter. Whether from the rain or sun, you want to have a place where the bees can hide if necessary.
You can put a container on its side for your bee break room or compile a few bushels of twigs and sticks where the bees can take a breather. They don’t need to be anything fancy, just a place they can take a rest or stay out of sight when needed.
At the end of the workday, honeybees return to their hives, but native bees are different and are usually solitary, meaning they don’t have hives. Providing nesting sites is only necessary if you’re working with native bees. Native bees often nest in cavities like dead wood and hollow stems, or even burrow into the ground, depending on the species.
Our Honey Bees
Growing local plants beneficial to the bees and their honey production is a great way to help maintain (or increase) the plummeting bee population. Attracting honeybees rather than native bees requires different plants and flowers; the same goes for our honeybees.
As authentic Manuka honey gains traction, you may wonder how you can get your hands on this honey yourself. Unfortunately, no amount of honeybees you bring to your garden can make Manuka honey unless you live in New Zealand. While the European bees that make our Manuka honey might occasionally indulge in other nectars, they are committed to the Leptospermum scoparium tree (i.e. the New Zealand Manuka tea tree).
The blossoms responsible for our uniquely tasting and textured honey are native to New Zealand and grow nowhere else in the world. New Zealand has a unique environment, which is why these tea tree plants aren’t found anywhere else, and why Manuka honey is only made in New Zealand forests.
Sources:Pesticides can harm bees twice—as larvae and adults | Science | AAAS