Horticulture Magazine

The 14 Best Flowers, Trees & Herbs For Bees

bees sitting on Allium sphaerocephalon

What could be more charming than sitting in your garden, watching the bees dance from flower to flower?

And while their gentle buzzing certainly adds to the natural ambience, bees are also an integral part of our ecosystem.

Bees are the world’s most important pollinators and we rely on them to pollinate up to a third of all the food we eat [source] as well as 80% of flowering plants. [source]

Sadly, bees in the UK are under threat and, given how impactful they are on the success of our crops, losing them would be catastrophic. [source]

A small child points a finger at a bumblebee on a flower
Bees need our help!

Thankfully, as a gardener, you have the opportunity to make a difference.

Attracting bees into your garden is not a huge benefit to your plants, but you can also rest assured knowing you are making a positive impact on the planet as a whole.

So if you have decided to embark on cultivating a bee-friendly, Earth-enhancing garden then this article is sure to set you on the right path.

We’ve studied the six years of research by the University of Sussex and the Goulson Lab (run by Professor of Biology and bee expert Dave Goulson) to help identify the plants bees love the most.

In short, their findings showed that Marjoram, Fleabane, Lamb’s Ear, Wallflowers, Buddleja, Verbena, Catmint and Borage are all among the flowers most appealing to bees.

Plants For Bees By Season

Choosing a range of plants that flower in different seasons can benefit bees and pollinators across the entire year, rather than a short period in the year.

Here are some of the top plants to grow for each season; choosing and growing just a few from each would be truly beneficial for your local wildlife:

SeasonPlants
SpringWallflowers
Fleabane
Aquilegia
Holly
Rosemary
SummerMarjoram
Phacelia
Lavender
Helenium
Hollyhock
Borage
Chives
AutumnSedum
Oregano
Sephora Japonica
WinterCrocus
Winter Flowering Honeysuckle
Apple Tree

We include more detail on some of these bee-friendly plants below, as well as a few of Dave’s videos to help in your quest. Let’s get to it!

Choosing the Right Flowers

As we’ve said, bees bring life to your garden and vice versa.

The nectar that bees forage for is packed with sugar which gives them the energy to stay busy. The pollen provides vital proteins and oil to keep them healthy.

It’s interesting to note is that different species of bee have tongues of different lengths, so choosing a variety of flower shapes will allow more bees to enjoy your garden.

When it comes to choosing the right flowers a good, solid goal is to aim to cater for as many different species of bees as possible, as well as picking plants that flower in different seasons ensuring that you are providing for them all year round.

1) Crocus

A honey bee takes refuge in the petals of a crocus

A firm favourite among hairy-footed flower bees and queen bumblebees, these springtime flowers are the perfect start to their busy year.

Not only do these plants add a delightful splash of colour to your garden, but they provide vital shelter for bees who will often take refuge in them overnight.

If you’re lucky you should catch them leaving in the morning, laden with pollen.

2) Phacelia

honeybee on Phacelia tanacetifolia flowers

According to Biologist Dave Goulson, Phacelia is “perhaps the single most attractive plant for bees on the planet.”

With a sweet scent, pretty blue flowers, and ferny leaves, this summer flowering plant produces an abundance of nectar and pollen, and is sure to keep your garden buzzing.

3) Sedum

honeybee pollinating sedum

This traditional classic flowers late into summer and early autumn.

Its large umbrella-shaped blooms are super accessible for hungry bees, making this a popular plant for several types of species.

4) Winter Flowering Honeysuckle 

bumblebee on honeysuckle flowers in winter

This highly fragrant plant sports gorgeous, tubular flowers making them perfect pitstops for winter-active bumble bees.

A native plant and intrepid climber whose flowers are followed by berries, which will also attract many species of birds.

5) Lavender 

bee in flight between purple lavender flowers

Bees adore lavender and this perennial plant grows back year after year.

What’s more, it flowers during the midsummer gap – a time where, surprisingly, there is little forage and honey bees are at their hungriest.

Lavender also repels moths, fleas, flies, and mosquitoes so this fragrant flower really is the gift that keeps on giving! 

6) Aquilegia

Western honey bee sat on pink aquilegia flower

Aquilegia (or ‘Grannys Bonnet’) is a herbaceous perennial that should return each year.

It usually flowers in late-spring or early summer when bees tend to be very active and has many beautiful and colourful varieties to choose from.

7) Helenium

bee collecting nectar from orange helenium flowers

Perennial flower Helenium (or ‘Sneezeweed’) is a firm favourite with bees of all sizes, including many smaller solitary bees.

While it should come back each year, it may need to be planted as an annual depending on which area of the UK you live in.

It should flower across 3-4 months in late summer and autumn.

Trees for Bees

If you are fortunate enough to have space, planting a tree is a wonderful, forward-thinking way to provide food and shelter for bees far into the future.

Equally, for those among you with a more modest-sized garden, ornamental fruit trees are an elegant alternative to keep the bees happy without compromising on valuable space! 

8) Apple Trees

A busy bumble bee pollinates an apple tree’s blossoms

Not only does this tree bear one of the world’s most popular fruits, it is also irresistible to honey bees.

Whilst the bees keep your apple tree producing healthy fruits and seeds, the tree provides the bees with the energy and raw material they need to produce delicious honey: certainly one of nature’s sweetest treasures!

9) Holly Trees and Bushes

white flowering holly bush up close

As well as its signature, spiky foliage, this festive plant also produces small white flowers in springtime which provide an abundant food source to help bees thrive.

Come autumn, its berries will also attract plenty of birds and other, wildlife keeping your garden brimming with life.

10) Sophora Japonica

white Sophora Japonica tree blossom

Also known as the Chinese Scholar Tree, this ornamental plant grows to around 100cm in height.

With delicate pea-shaped flowers and feathery foliage, this miniature marvel flowers late into summer and early autumn, making it particularly helpful for bees.

Bee-Friendly Herbs 

Not only are they great for our cooking, but lots of herbs are also loved by bees too.

These plants are also especially good for small gardens, so bear in mind that even if you only have a patio to work with, you can still encourage bees to visit you! 

11) Borage

bee foraging on blue borage flower

Nick-named “Bees Bread” because of its nectar-rich blue flowers, this magical little herb is a real hit with bees of many types!

Not only will it keep bees well-fed, you can also add its delectable, edible flowers to salads or freeze them in ice cubes to chill your summer cocktails.

12) Oregano

closeup of honeybee on oregano flowers

A fragrant and essential culinary herb, oregano is loved by honey bees, bumblebees, and a whole range of solitary bees.

It flowers in a range of pretty pink shades and the leaves can be added fresh to a wealth of dishes or, alternatively, can be frozen or dried to be used throughout the year.

13) Chives

bee flying over rosemary plant

This herb can be eaten fresh from the garden and is easy to grow from seeds.

For bees to benefit from chives however, you need to allow them to flower.

The purple florets provide plenty of nectar and are particularly well-loved by bumblebees. 

14) Rosemary

honey bee sat on purple rosemary flowers

A brilliant food source for bees with a long flowering season, this hardy and fragrant herb can also be harvested for its needles and added to a variety of meats, poultry, and fish.

Flowering in summer it provides plentiful nectar to keep your bees from buzzing off!

So get planting for bees…

Hopefully we’ve given you plenty of ideas to give friendly bees a helping hand. And helping bees really does help your garden as well as our planet’s delicate ecosystem. 

Regardless of the size of your garden, you can still make a real difference to the bees in your area.

You should also consider actively neglecting your garden and letting plants that are commonly considered weeds grow unabated. Studies have revealed that areas where gardens are left unkempt are often a haven for many species of bee. [source]

With so many plants to choose from it won’t be long until your garden is completely buzzing, in fact, we’re convinced it’s going to be the bee’s knees!

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