As natural habitats become endangered, bees are having to work harder to find what they need to survive. Because of this, planting gardens in suburban and urban environments is more important than ever. But even if you’re not setting up a hive, having a bee-friendly garden helps the bees in your community and may even increase their genetic diversity, which is something we all benefit from.
The best plants for honey bees provide both protein-rich pollen and sugary nectar. Choosing at least one flowering plant for each blooming period means your bees will have something to dine on for most of the year, but don’t be surprised if other wildlife — like caterpillars and birds — turn your garden into a favorite feeding spot, too.
In the right soil and climate, perennials only need to be planted once. They return yearly and last from five to 20 years, depending on the hardiness of the plant. Annuals, however, need to be planted each year. Cultivating both annuals and perennials is the best bet for bees and also guarantees a colorful yard.
The pale purple coneflower is a hardy flower native to the Eastern United States that blooms for up to three weeks in June and July. These plants also attract butterflies, an added bonus.
Another good early-season bet is the common yarrow, which attracts a wide range of pollinators and adds bright color to any yard or garden.
Sunflowers come in annual and perennial varieties. While these brightly-colored showstoppers can be incredibly tall, dwarf varieties, like “Little Becka” and “Big Smile”, are perfect for any garden. They provide an abundance of nectar and pollen for bees, as well as seeds for birds and people.
Also good picks? The black-eyed Susan is a classic summer flower that's easy to grow. The blue giant hyssop is a durable member of the mint family and works well as a garden staple. Horsemint is another summer favorite with the added advantage of blooming into the fall, though it does need to be planted in well-drained soil.
Asters come in a range of distinctive dusty blues and lavenders, making them attractive to bees and gardeners alike.
Joe-Pye weeds are sun-loving perennials that grow well in moist soil — so well they often reach 4’ tall. Another good choice is goldenrod. Widely considered one of the best late-season flowers, honey made from this “late bloomer” has a distinctive bite and is considered a treat.
Regardless of what you plant, it's important to make sure that whatever you buy hasn't been treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, as this can be harmful to bees and other pollinators. You'll also need to avoid spraying dangerous pesticides, too.
In addition to pollen and nectar-rich plants, it's important that you have a fresh water source for your bees. If not, you could find them paying frequent visits to your swimming pool or your dog's bowl.Bird baths make a nice water source. Other options include an outdoor faucet dripping onto a board or a trickling irrigation hose. It's important that you set this up before you introduce your newly purchased bees to their hive. If they find another watering hole first, you'll have a hard time breaking them of the habit, even if it's in your neighbor's yard.