Succession Planting With the Best Plants for Bees
Learn to Plant the Best Flowers for Honeybees
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Even before we began keeping bees, we tried to garden in such a way as to not harm bees and other pollinators. Now that we are keeping bees, our goal has shifted from not harming pollinators to helping them any way we can. One of the ways we help is by succession planting for bees and other pollinators and learning what are the best plants for bees.
Many gardeners are familiar with succession planting so you have a continual harvest throughout your growing season. There are several ways of doing this. You can sow seeds every couple of weeks instead of sowing all the seeds at the beginning of the growing season. You can also plant a fast producing plant with a slower producing plant like planting radishes with summer squash. The radishes will get pulled before the summer squash plant covers them.
Succession Planting for Bees
So much depends on your climate. Remember if a plant won’t grow in your climate, it’s not going to be the best plant for bees in your area.
Succession planting for bees means planting flowers, vegetables, herbs, and flowering shrubs and trees that will offer consistent pollen and nectar flow for as long as possible.
You’ll want to overlap the bloom times so there isn’t a lull in the bees’ food supply. This will take some planning and trial and error but it’s worth it. Some plants have a long bloom time and some have a relatively short bloom time. You can capitalize on this by only planting flowers that will bloom for several months instead of several weeks.
Finding the Best Flowers for Honeybees
Bees need both pollen and nectar so you’ll want a variety of plants. Some give a lot of pollen and some give nectar others give both.
Bees like to load up on one type of pollen or nectar per foraging outing. That means if you have similar plants clumped together it makes foraging more efficient for the bees. The clumps need to be about three-feet wide. They can also be repeating. For instance, you could alternate a clump of purple coneflowers and a clump of black-eyed Susans down a driveway.
Bees actually have some of the best eyesight in the animal kingdom, but they can’t see everything. For instance, they can’t see red. They can see some red waves in orange and yellow but not just red. They can see green, blue, violet, and UV the best. Keep this in mind when you’re planning your plants for bees.
The shape of the flowers also matters. Bees like flowers that have a single layer of petals, called a single petal flower. Many ornamental flowers have been bred to look beautiful with multiple layers of petals, called double petal flowers. The bees also need a shallow flower with a landing pad.
Bees are drawn to the patterns of nectar guides in flowers. Nectar guides are low ultraviolet reflectance near the center of each petal. While we can’t see ultraviolet, bees can and the nectar guide helps them forage more efficiently.
When you’re planning your gardens, consider all of your property, not just the designated garden area. Using perennials that attract bees in your front flower beds is a great way to support the bee population and have a nice looking front yard.
Also, consider using native plants as much as possible. They will be much easier to grow and the local pollinator population will like them. Some of the earliest flowering plants are weeds such as dandelions. These plants are vital for bees that have just spent a long winter inside their hive.
You never really know what happens to bees in winter until the days start warming up and it’s warm enough to do a hive check. The bees that survive winter have been surviving on their honey stores and maybe some fondant for bees for months. I’m sure these early weeds are a welcome sight as they begin foraging.
Not only do weeds provide nutrition for hungry bees, but bulbs, herbs, and trees do as well. Bulbs such as crocuses, snowdrops, and hyacinths emerge early in the spring and bees love them. Herbs such as borage, rosemary, and lavender are early bloomers.
Many fruiting trees such as apple, peach, and plum, bloom as soon as it starts to warm up and the bees are beginning to leave the hive in search of food. But fruiting trees aren’t the only trees for bees in the spring; maples, oaks, and redbud trees are also great for bees.
For perennials, consider bleeding hearts, lupine, spiderwort, phlox, or wild onion or garlic in your spring succession planting plans.
The summer is full of blooming plants for the bees to forage. Wildflowers such as blanket flower, wild sage, wild bergamot, and milkweed are popping up all over the place and vegetable gardens are in full swing. It’s a great time for bees.
You can supplement the wild and garden blooms with roses, butterfly bushes, elderberry, and basswood (linden) tree. Hostas and cosmos are also wonderful summer flowers for bees.
As the summer fades into fall, it’s harder to find plants that are still flowering. This is also the time the bees are making their final push to gather nectar and pollen for the winter. Don’t overlook the importance of helping the bees out during the fall.
We have a Chinese flame tree on our property — well, we actually have lots of them because every single seed germinates and we have to keep cutting the new ones down so we don’t live in a forest. Every September it is full of beautiful yellow blooms. Not much else is blooming here at that time and when you walk by the tree you can hear it buzzing with all the bees foraging on it.
In addition to letting some of your garden produce go to seed, consider planting other fall blooming plants such as aster, goldenrod, sunflowers, pineapple sage, and lemon balm. Plant these in clumps around your property to help bees in their final push toward winter.
With a little planning and research, you’ll be able to help the bees in your area not just survive, but thrive.
What are the best plants for bees in your area?