Bee Happy: Bees’ Favorite Plant Families

Image from The Organic Kitchen Garden 2017 wall calendar. Beehive in a cottage garden © Mark Bolton Photography.

From The Organic Kitchen Garden 2017 wall calendar by Ann Lovejoy — Planning to grow your own food may start with crop lists and bedding plans, but to ensure successful yields, it’s best to include a plan to nurture bees. It’s said that bees pollinate about one-third of human foods, but in fact, many important crops, from alfalfa and cotton to almonds and onions, are largely dependent on bee pollination. Creating edible gardens that attract and nourish bees and other pollinators will boost your fruit and veggie production and support these helpful creatures.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do to help is not hinder them. Solving garden issues with natural care techniques and using certified organic products to control pests and diseases help us keep our land free of harmful chemicals. It’s important to be aware that many nursery plants with labels that suggest that the plants are “protected” from pests are actually treated with systemic toxins.

We can also support bees and other wild helpers by planting a wide range of flowers that bloom throughout the entire growing season. Since many native bees awaken early in the year, it’s important to provide reliable winter and spring bloomers that will thrive in your region. Snowdrops, snow crocus, hellebores, and other first flowers will feed these hungry early risers, as will other perennials and shrubs that flower during the cool seasons. Spring and summer annuals, especially long bloomers like sweet alyssum and calendulas, will fill out the menu.

Bees’ Favorite Plant Families

Image from our Bee Happy 2017 wall calendar. Large photograph © Michael Durham.

Bees and other pollinators seek out nectar-rich blossoms that are easy to plunder (notably single rather than double flowers). Certain families are especially reliable nectar producers:

  • Herbs in the nectar-rich Lamiaceae family include lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, bee balm, basil, and catmint.
  • The legume clan ranges from edible peas and beans to soil-building clovers that capture nitrogen from the air, fix it in nodules on their roots, and then release it upon death to replenish poor soils.
  • Rose relatives produce lots of nectar. These plants include apple, peach, plum, pear, and cherry trees, plus raspberry and blackberry bushes and strawberry plants.
  • Bees love figworts, especially butterfly bush (Buddleia), Diascia, Penstemon, Phygelius, Scrophularia, Verbascum, and Veronica.

Ann LovejoyWith more than 20 books to her credit, award-winning author Ann Lovejoy is one of the country’s leading experts on sustainable garden design and techniques. A popular cooking and gardening columnist for numerous national and regional publications, Lovejoy is fully committed to sustainable agriculture and is active in many community projects. For more information, please visit her blog.

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2 thoughts on “Bee Happy: Bees’ Favorite Plant Families

  1. Super_C#gardener

    This is a beautiful post. Do you have any recommendations of urban city gardens and how to help with restoration of the soil / bee population? I occasionally put flowers into the ground in areas that I worry were polluted by factories long ago.

    I specifically make sure to test the soil quality of plants for eating, and keep those in separate raised beds.


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