Wait, you want me to ATTRACT bees?

BEST Flowers that attract bees to a pollinator garden

The first time I heard that people actually want bees in their backyard I thought they were a bit crazy!

 

It seemed like I was just asking to get stung, or worse, one of my small children getting hurt and never wanting to go outside again!


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But finally, I stopped panicking and started listening. Then I was able to learn about how honeybees and native pollinators are declining, and that home gardeners might offer the best chance for these insects to make a comeback.

 

The decline of the honeybee.

 

Over the last handful of years, the plight of the honey bee has come to light in agricultural and horticultural systems, including the home garden. Their populations are decreasing at an alarming rate and potentially putting food production in danger.

 

Fortunately, bees and other native pollinators are now being seen for the benefits they bring to gardens, fields, nurseries, and orchards worldwide.


What kind of flowers do bees need?

 

One of the most essential things gardeners can do to encourage a rise in bee populations is to grow plants in their gardens and landscapes that attract pollinators. Giving them a reliable source of food will help promote population growth. 

 

Plus, when you attract bees to your backyard, there are other fun creatures that you will see, such as hummingbirds and butterflies!

 

Fortunately, many plants attract bees and pollinators.

 

When bees are scouting for food, they are searching for two types of plants:

  1. Flowers that provide nectar.

  2. Flowers that provide pollen.

 

Nectar provides carbohydrates (i.e., sugars) and an instant boost of energy to bees. Excess nectar is stored in their belly until they get back to the hive and to share with other bees. An enzyme in their stomachs turns the nectar into diluted honey, which is stored in comb cells to evaporate the remaining water.

 

Pollen is the primary source of protein for bees. When brought back to the hive, it is packed into brood cells. As needed, it is mixed with honey to make “bee bread,” and consumed by nurse bees to produce royal jelly for the larvae. 

bees eat pollen and nectar


22 Common Plants that Attract Bees!

 

Perennial flowers are a great option to bring in honey bees because after the initial investment and time spent planting, these plants grow back year after year. Most perennials are typically easy to plant, easy to grow, and require very little attention to flourish.

 

Annual plants, on the other hand, must be regrown from seed each summer, but usually, produce more flowers and for a longer time than perennials during the growing season.

 

I am drawn much more to perennial flowers because once they are in the ground and growing, there is not much seasonal maintenance. So as you can imagine, most of the plants below are perennials, but you will find some of my favorite annual bee flowers towards the end. 🙂

 

As you are reading, please keep the following things in mind:

 

  • Most of the plants listed below have many cultivars or varieties available for purchase. Some are better suited for different growing zones, some grow to different heights, and they all have slightly different blooming times. You may need to do additional research or contact a local nursery or garden club to find plants that work best in your area.

 

 


#1. Aster

bee on a fall Aster flower

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Growing upwards of 6’ tall, with dozens of blooms on a single plant, asters make a great addition to any flower garden and are great for attracting bees.  Asters are daisy-like perennials that bring a variety of colors to your garden towards the end of the growing season when most other plants have stopped flowering.

 

Flower colors come in white, pink, purple, blue and red and plants range in size from short groundcovers to towering plants. With so many choices, it’s easy to find a variety of aster that fits into your pollinator garden.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-10

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 1-8’ tall, 1-4’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September

Light Requirements: Sun, but will tolerate some high canopy shade.

Genus: Aster

 


#2. Bee Balm

Honey Bee on Bee Balm (Monardra didyma)

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A North-American native perennial, bee balm wonderfully attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Bee balm grows up to 4’ tall and produces brightly colored tubular blooms that are a fantastic nectar source. Deadheading flowers will encourage a second round of blooms.

 

There are over 50 cultivars commercially available, representing many different colors. Some are mildew resistant, and certain ones will be better for your region than others, so please check the hardiness zone and do your research.

 

Easy to grow, deer resistant, and drought-resistant! Bee balm is a member of the mint family, so be careful where you plant it as it tends to spread prolifically.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 3-4’, up to 3’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September

Light Requirements: Full Sun, but also does well with a bit of shade

Scientific Name: Monarda didyma

 


#3. Black-Eyed Susan

Yellow rudbeckia flowers

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Black-Eyed Susans are an incredibly drought-resistant, native perennial that grows wild in grand expanses sweeping across the Midwest prairies. Their bright yellow daisy flowers draw in bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to feed on their nectar. 

 

These sun-loving beauties are quickly gaining popularity outside of their meadow habitats because of their easy-growing nature. Black-eyed Susans are also incredibly easy to find at your local nursery!

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 1-3’ tall, up to 1.5’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August, September

Light Requirements: Sun or partial shade

Scientific Name: Rudbeckia fulgida

 


#4. Coneflower

Bee on Coneflower

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This daisy-like perennial blooms midsummer and are relatively drought-tolerant, making them a great addition to bee gardens in hot climates. There are only a handful of species in the genus, and they all share common characteristics described by words such as “stiff,” “dry,” and “tough.” Plants are deer resistant and can be left standing over the winter for birds to eat the seeds.

 

Also known as Echinacea, coneflowers are typically easy to find and come in a wide range of cultivars. Bee’s and other pollinators LOVE coneflowers, and they are highly recommended for your flower garden.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 2-3’ tall, 2’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August, September, October

Light Requirements: Sun

Genus: Echinacea

 


#5. Cosmos

a bee is on a cosmo in the garden

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Available in a variety of colors, cosmos grow wild in meadows across Mexico and North America. Many of these native varieties have been cultivated and in turn, became a favorite bedding plant in ornamental gardens. Due to their predisposition for growing wild in meadows, they do well in hot, dry climates and average to poor soil conditions.

 

Cosmos have colorful flowers, similar in shape to daisies. The 3-5” wide blooms make excellent cut flowers but are known for attracting bees, butterflies, and birds to your garden. Plants left alone in the fall will self-seed for the following spring.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-11

Life Cycle: Perennial or Annual

Approximate Mature Size: 1-7’ tall, 18-30” wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August

Light Requirements: Sun

Genus: Compositae

 


#6. Goldenrod

Bee on Goldenrod Flower

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Goldenrod is a common native plant primarily found in open areas such as prairies, and meadows. Many people confuse goldenrod with ragweed, which is that pesky plant that makes so many of us sneeze each Fall!

 

Goldenrod plants do have many useful properties, and because of this, they are finding their way into garden landscapes. These late-blooming flowers are known for their ability to attract bees and other pollinators.

 

A bonus is planting goldenrod near vegetable gardens will draw insect pests away from your valuable plants!

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 1-6’ tall, up to 3’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September, October

Light Requirements: Sun to part shade.

Genus: Solidago

 


#7. Joe-Pye Weed

joe pye weed with honeybees

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Towering Joe-Pye weed plants are filled with nectar and pollen and feature beautiful pinkish-purple flower heads. Sturdy stems support the large flowers, so plants rarely need to be staked, making them great accent plants at the back of your bee garden or along fences.

 

Joe-Pye weed grows best when given plenty of water, especially young plants. Older, established plants can handle brief periods of drought.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 6-8’ tall, up to 3’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Genus: Eutrochium

 


#8. Liatris

Gayfeather (liatris) purple flower plumes

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Commonly known as “blazing stars” or “gayfeathers, Liatris blooms unique flowers that add interest to your pollinator garden. Grass-like leaves clump together at the base of the plant, with a tall spike of dense flower heads.

 

The pinkish-purple flowers bloom from the top down and are loved by bees!

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 3-4’ tall, up to 1’ wide

Bloom Time: July, August, September

Light Requirements: Sun

Genus: Liatris

 


#9. Milkweed

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Although a beneficial plant for attracting bees, milkweed is often treated as a weed and removed from gardens and landscapes. These hardy perennials thrive in the sun and can tolerate average to poor soil. There are many varieties of milkweed, and will sometimes be referred to as “butterfly weed” at your local nursery.

 

Milkweed is also fantastic for the famous Monarch butterflies, who use it both for nectar and as a host plant for their caterpillars.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 2-5’ tall, up to 2’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August

Light Requirements: Sun, to part shade

Genus: Asclepiadaceae

 


#10. Pansy

mixed pansies in garden

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Known for their colorful “faces,” pansies have an extensive range of colors. I like that they will thrive in both container gardens or when planted directly in the ground. They are treated as annual plants due to their legginess but will come back if left to go to seed. 

 

Pansies like partial sun and cooler temperatures. They also need plenty of water to thrive.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-8

Life Cycle: Perennial, usually grown as an Annual or Biennial

Approximate Mature Size: 6-8” tall, 6-8” wide

Bloom Time: April, May, September, October

Light Requirements: Partial shade, will tolerate sun if given enough water

Genus: Violaceae

 


#11. Penstemon

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Native to the Western United States, penstemon flowers flourish in full sun and less than ideal soil conditions. There are over 300 species to choose from coming in a variety of colors. Nectar rich flowers are incredible for pollinators such as honeybees.

 

For optimum growth, don’t fertilize or mulch with organic materials. Use rocks as mulch to allow proper drainage and prevent crown rot in the winter. Leave some seeds on plants to ripen as new seedlings are stronger and more vigorous than parent plants. 

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 6”-8’ tall, 8-20” wide

Bloom Time: April, May, June, July, August, September

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Genus: Penstemon

 


#12. Peony

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One of the most well-known and loved perennials, peonies make a fantastic addition to any flower garden and bees love them. Some bushes may bloom for up to 100 years if you pick an appropriate variety for your climate and soil type.

 

Peony plants take a few years to establish themselves before you will see maximum blooms. Select a sunny location with soil that drains well. Fertilize minimally and provide support to keep heavy blossoms from snapping the stems.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 1-3’ tall, up to 3’ wide

Bloom Time: May, June

Light Requirements: Full to part sun

Genus: Paeonia

 


#13. Phlox

best flowers for attracting bees

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Phlox flowers are bright, disc-like, and available in colors from white to purple, hitting many shades of the rainbow in between. These beautiful flowers come in both upright and creeping forms and work well as border plants and accent flowers. They are known for their dependable nature, abundant blooms, and the ability to attract bees and other native pollinators.

 

Phlox has been a perennial favorite in heirloom gardens for decades, yet looks entirely at home in modern-day designs.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 8”-4’ feet tall, 1-2’ wide

Bloom Time: April, May, June, July, August, September

Light Requirements: Sun to part shade

Genus: Phlox  

 


#14. Salvia

flowers for bees

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Most of us know salvia by its more common name, sage. Ornamental salvias are a cousin to the common sage we grow to use in the kitchen.

 

Plants are known for their small clusters of bright flowers that bloom in the summer and fall and draw in both bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.

 

Salvia plants can be divided into three groups:

  1. Varieties with woody stems.

  2. Plants with herbaceous stems that die back to the ground in the winter.

  3. Varieties with herbaceous stems that form basal rosettes.

 

Plants are fairly drought resistant and low-maintenance, making them a great choice for a spot in your garden that gets a lot of sun exposure but not much water.

 

There are MANY cultivars of salvia available, and it can be confusing when you start shopping. I think it’s a good idea to head to a local garden store for help finding a variety that grows well in your hardiness zone.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-10

Life Cycle: Perennial or Annual

Approximate Mature Size: 1-3’ tall, 1’ wide

Bloom Time: June, July, August, September

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Genus: Salvia

 


#15. Sedum

bee flowers for pollinator garden

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Also known as “stonecrop”, the fleshy sedum plants provide a long season of flowers that often change color as the season progresses. This long-blooming period makes them a great plant to use to attract butterflies and bees.

 

Sedums like lots of sunlight and grow well in moderate to even poor soil, as long as it’s well-drained. Richer, heavy soil causes plants to grow tall, toppling, or snapping under the weight of the flower clusters.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Life Cycle: Perennial

Approximate Mature Size: 4”-2’ tall, 1-2’ wide

Bloom Time: May, June, July, August

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Genus: Sedum

 


#16. Snapdragon

best flowers for a pollinator garden

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A cool-season flower, snapdragons add beautiful color to gardens early in the spring and then again in fall. Snapdragons are available in most colors, which will help you coordinate and contrast with other garden plants. Their tall spikes make for a longer blooming period than many other plants.

 

Tubular flowers make them popular not only with bees but also with butterflies & hummingbirds. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil and deadhead often to prolong the blooming time. They are typically grown as annuals but can overwinter in zones 9-11.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-11

Life Cycle: Perennials but typically grown as Annuals

Approximate Mature Size: 8-36” tall, 12-18” wide

Bloom Time: May, June, July, August

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Scientific Name: Antirrhinum majus

 


#17. Sunflower

best flowers that attract bees

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Nothing says late Summer or early Fall like sunflowers!

 

Known for their large, brilliantly colored yellow or orangish heads, sunflowers are a favorite with bees. In fact, it’s common for many insects to occupy a single flower head simultaneously!

 

These fast-growing, erect annuals provide a large landing area with many small nectar flowers.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 7-10

Life Cycle: Annual

Approximate Mature Size: 3-10’ tall, 12-18” wide

Bloom Time: July, August

Light Requirements: Sun

Scientific Name: Helianthus annus

 


#18. Zinnia

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One of the easiest annuals to grow, zinnias provide a wealth of color in a garden landscape as well as attracting bees. Zinnias grow best from seed and require little care other than deadheading flowers as needed.

 

Varieties are available in a range of colors, shapes, and sizes. Make sure to deadhead spent blooms to encourage a longer blooming season.

 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-11

Life Cycle: Annual

Approximate Mature Size: 6” tall, 12-18” wide

Bloom Time: May, June, July, August, September, October

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Scientific Name: Zinnia elegans

 


#19. Berry plants

 

Berry plants offer a plethora of flowers in a small area. This is a huge attractant for honey bees as it concentrates an abundant food source for the bees within a limited space.

 

As a bonus, the bees and other pollinators will be helping to create delicious berries for you to eat later in summer!

 

Here are a few popular berry plants that offer flowers that bees can’t resist:

 


#20 Fruit trees

During Spring, when other plants and flowers haven’t bloomed yet, fruit trees can provide massive amounts of food for bees!

 

Here are a few different fruit trees that I have planted in my backyard:


#21. Herbs

Flowering herbs work well to attract bees because of their strong scent. If you don’t have much experience growing herbs, here are a few to try out:

 


#22. Vegetable plants

Veggie plants produce numerous yellow flowers that easily attract bees to the home garden. Immediately, I think of large zucchini or pumpkin flowers in my garden! 

 


4 important tips for attracting bees

 

Tip #1: Group plants and flowers together.

Background with the summer flowers in garden

One of the best ways to bring bees into a garden is to group plants together. Bees like having a selection to choose from and they especially enjoy flowers in shades of blue, purple, yellow, and white. If possible, use the same plant in an area about one square yard in size.

 

Tip #2: Pay attention to bloom times!

 

Pick plants that have a long blooming season to keep bees coming, or choose different plants that bloom at different times of the year to provide a full season worth of flowers.

 

Tip #3: Take care of your plants.

Care for plants accordingly to encourage flowers to bloom. I”m talking watering, fertilizing, weeding, and pruning. If not, there may be no nectar and pollen available for bees.

 

Tip #4: Limit or eliminate pesticides in your yard.

 

If you use any chemicals for pest control, make sure they are not harmful to bees. Avoid using pesticides that specifically target bees or apply them at dawn or dusk when bees aren’t active.

 

Personally, I think you should avoid using pesticides in your yard.

 

But if you must, neem oil, vinegar, and Epson salts are natural alternatives that can be used safely without damaging bee populations.

 


My criteria for choosing plants for bees.

 

When I sat down to compile a list of the best plants for drawing bees into your garden, a few criteria came to mind:

 

1. Abundant Source of Food.

Adult bees are drawn into a yard or garden that has a plentiful source of nectar flowers. Like butterflies and hummingbirds, they need the sugary solution to give them energy.

 

Pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies only desire nectar plants, but bees also need plants with a pollen source to get adequate amounts of protein.

 

2. Native to North America.

 

Personally, I believe it’s best to plant flowers native to North America to draw in pollinators. They provide excellent sources of energy for bees but are also preferred by hummingbirds, butterflies, spiders, etc.

 

But the line between what is native and what is not is a bit unclear. Some plants originate from other continents but have been in North America for such a long time that they are considered “naturalized” in the wild. Also, most plants you see in nurseries are not what you would find in nature anyway, but rather are a cultivar of the wild version of that flower species.

 

So I did my best when trying to make sure the following plants are all native. Forgive me if it’s not perfect. 🙂

 

How do you know if a plant is native?

 

There is a helpful search tool located on the United States Department of Agriculture website. If you are not sure if a plant is native, type in the scientific name or common name in the search bar on the left-hand side. It will show you whether the plant is native to North America, introduced, or both.

 

*View the USDA Native plant search tool here.*

 

3. Easy to Find

 

I wanted to stick to plants that are readily available at your local nursery or easy to buy from a reputable online retailer. In fact, many on the list can be ordered and shipped from Amazon, and I tried to include a link whenever possible.

 

I tried to compile a list of plants that you didn’t have to order a year in advance from a specialty nursery and then have it shipped across the country. 

 

4. Relatively Easy to Grow

 

I am certainly not a master gardener. When considering flowers, I wanted them suitable for gardening amateurs. I tried to search for plants that don’t require a lot of attention once they are in the ground, albeit the basics such as watering, fertilizing, and pruning.

 


Choosing plants for your hardiness zone

 

It’s also imperative to consider your Plant Hardiness Zone when selecting any flowers, shrubs, or trees to put in your garden. This will ensure the plant is appropriate for your local climate.

 

Whenever you buy a plant, it displays the hardiness zones on the plant tag, which explains what climates/areas it will thrive. For example, I live in Northeast Ohio, which is zone 6a. If I bought a flower that had a plant hardiness zone range of  8a – 12a, then I know it won’t survive our cold winters. Many plants only thrive in colder (lower) zones and can’t live through the hot summers of the south.

 

Making sure your plants are appropriate for YOUR hardiness zones is extremely important! And it’s the reason that a bee garden in Alabama will look completely different than the habitat I have created in my backyard in Ohio.

 

Creating your own regionally unique destination for bees is part of the fun!

hardiness zone for flowers and plants

Check out the USDA website to type in your specific zip code.

 


Final Thoughts

 

As you can see, many native plants encourage bees in your yard. Planting a variety of flowers filled with nectar and pollen will draw them to your garden, provide nourishment, and help to build bee populations back up.

 

As you may have noticed, there is a fair amount of overlap between the flowers that attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. If you’re interested, I have written a few other articles that may be of interest to you!

 

What flowers and plants do bees like best in your backyard?

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