Favorite flowers for bees and other pollinators?

Ispahan Zone6a ChicagoFebruary 20, 2012

While selecting plant materials for my new garden, I have had no trouble finding great information about food sources for hummingbirds and butterflies. I have made sure I have included a few prime flowers for both.

However, I had had a much harder time finding information about flowers that attract bees and other lesser known pollinators. Most information about bees online is focused on keeping bees with the goal of harvesting honey. I am just interested in finding a few plants that wild bees will enjoy.

Here are a few flowers that I will be planting that, according to online references. seem to be enjoyed by bees:



Agastache 'Blue Blazes'

Alcea rugosa

Perovskia 'Blue Spires'



Can you all think of any other plants that are good for bees and/or other pollinators that I should consider?

Thanks in advance for any help or input,


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I plant almost exclusively with the bees, butterflies & hummingbirds in mind. Here's a list of some things I've added to my garden beds the past couple of years:

Lobelia cardinalis/cardinal flower
Gaillardia/blanket flower
Cimicifuga racemosa/black snakeroot
Gaura lindheimeri/wand flower
Monarda didyma/bee balm
Phlox paniculata/tall garden phlox
Rudbeckia hirta/gloriosa daisy
Hosta/plantain lily
Caryopteris/blue mist shrub
Centaurea/bachelor buttons
Heuchera/coral bells
Buddleia davidii/butterfly bush

Here are just a few of the reasons why:

Lobelia siphilitica/great blue lobelia

Chelone lyoni/turtlehead

Caryopteris/blue mist shrub

Sedum spectabile/stonecrop

Penstemon digitalis/beardtongue

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:22AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Perennial asters (Michaelmas Daisies). The last few years if I've seen half a dozen honey bees in my garden during spring and early summer I'm lucky, but come late summer when the asters bloom they're covered in honey bees, this plant is a real bee magnet.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:26AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

anything fragrant ... it attracts them ...

and keep in mind.. some things are fragrant.. even if you cant smell them individually .... its the massing effect of the volume of individual flowers ....

asters.. fall blooming for me.. are the only thing left flowering that late in the year .... and it appears that is why it attracts bees ...

one incredible august bee attractor is autumn sweet clematis ... of which i am forgetting the latin right now ... man/girl.. if you want bees.. just plant one of those ...

and one trick.. is to insure.. that you have a multitude of flowers blooming in every month of summer ... it does you no good to have all the spring bloomers .. and nothing in mid summer.. and then wonder where they are in fall .... you have to attract them early.. and hold their interest all season long ....


    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 12:03PM
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I've never seen bees go after any plant like they do Russian Sage. They even sleep on its blooms here. They also love Redbud tree flowers, sedums, roses, nepeta, echinacea, agastache, penstemon, and monarda.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 12:16PM
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Years ago I grew marjoram and lavender next to one another and when they bloomed at the same time I was surprised(and happy)to see all honey bees on the marjoram and all bumble bees on the lavender. Don't know if it was a color preference or a scent preference.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:30PM
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I keep notes throughout the growing season of what's in bloom each week so I can see the types of plants I need to add more of early or later in the season.

Not even Bluestone Perennials can figure out why but the two black snakeroot plants I bought from them bloom at completely different times of year. They're planted in the same bed within a few feet of each other, get the same amount of light & moisture. They are the same cultivar. One bloomed in July, the other one bloomed the second week of October. The bees were all over them both times.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 1:43PM
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Of course, you will want Asclepia (butterfly weed). A. tuberosa and A. incarnata bloom at different times. Also very attractive to bees and butterflies are the Solidagos (goldenrods). Sevearl varieties, bloom time varies. And two Stachys (Lambs Ear)in my gardens that draw in the bees big time are S. Hummelo and S. Superba.

In shrubs, the Clethras and Hydrangeas draw in a host of bees along with Pennsylvania Leather Wing beetles. Great aphid preditors.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 3:21PM
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GREAT QUESTION!!! I'm looking for 'bee plants' as well. You are right, it is hard to find out what plants are good for bees. I'd also broaden the search, you can also include plants for non-native bees (honey bees).

I just went through a beekeeping class, and found out that a honeybee makes 15 visits to a flower before the flower can be considered fully fertilized. (Hence the lack of complete fruit set, or mis-shapened fruit, apples, pears..)

Prairie Moon nursery sells both plants, and seeds, they have been in the business for years and have a great website. (prairiemoon.com) You can put in 'bees'/'bee' as keyword searches, and they do have a page for birds/butterflies.

The wildflower website listed below is only for American native plants, out of Austin, Texas.

I haven't had much luck with the search features at the USDA website, but you can search for plants (native and otherwise that will take different conditions). Not every plant has been fully indexed for the advanced search so sometimes the lists will be very short with the perameters you choose. http://plants.usda.gov/adv_search.html

High Country Gardens has a good website that you can search for plants that are bee favorites, many of those will be for drier areas.

There are a few books that will be coming out soon at Amazon that cover plants for bees, I think one or two will be good, but most are just basic books with some nice artwork, and no really good information. YOu need to have things for them most of the year, especially in fall when wild bees (and honey bees) need as much food as they can get. they need both nectar flowers and pollen (protein flowers.

There is another beekeeping class this week, I hope to attend, and get some better information. This one is geared for the homeowner who wants to help keep habitat for bees (both kinds), and is organically based. (The other class was for large scale 'bee farming' with very little on habitat management.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Native Plants Database at Wildflower.org

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 4:44PM
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Maggie M.(z7 Sunset7 CA Sierra Foothills)

Saw this and my first thought was sweet alyssum. Also, when I grew breadbox poppies - they were awash in bees. The article (with short flower list) below notes they prefer single petal flat flowers in Blue, purple and yellow to doubles.

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardener's Supply, Attracting Bees

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 6:03PM
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Late blooming Cimicifugas attract millions of hoverflies. The same applies to chrysanthemums and late blooming asters. As far as the butterflies are concerned, NOTHING can beat Eupatorium cannabinum.It also attracts other insects.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 11:17AM
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I grow quite a bit of catmint and it is always covered in a variety of bees and has a long bloom season for me. I know it's a shrub but the bees (especially the big fat bumblebees) also love the Rose of Sharon flowers and they bloom later in the season for me. As others have mentioned Russian Sage, calamint, caryopteris have all been good for me. Last summer I added quite a few of a salvia I believe is called Hot Lips that was popular with the bees and hummingbirds. It has a small hot pink tubular flower and is already starting to put out some leaves in my garden. It bloomed all summer for me. There is a beekeeper near where I live and I see tons of honeybees and also tons of the big fat bumblebees. I see the leafcutter bees also - or at least the evidence they've been visiting.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 1:10PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I garden for pollinators too. Most plants guides will specifically mention butterflies and hummingbirds, but neglect bees. This could be because some people are allergic or they have bee phobias. That's understandable if you're talking about Yellow Jackets, or maybe Africanized hybrid honey bees. I seek out the plants bees swarm too, and try to plant more. Sometimes when I'm at the nursery, I will watch which plants seem to attract the most bees.

Top bee perennials in my gardens:

Echinacea purpurea
Sedum Autumn Joy and Matrona
Nepeta, including Nepeta cataria - catnip (the kind cats like!)
Asclepias spp. (milkweeds)
All Asters
Eupatoriums like Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium 'Chocolate', and Eupatorium coelestinum
Cimicifuga (Actaea) racemosa
Helianthus 'Lemon Queen'
Silphium perfoliatum
Agastache foeniculum

For annuals, they love Sunflowers, Cosmos, Morning Glories, Zinnias, etc.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 5:32PM
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Ispahan Zone6a Chicago

Wow! I am so grateful for all of these wonderful responses, and I am ecstatic to find that I have already selected a lot of your recommendations for my garden.

I love hummingbirds and butterflies and have read/own many books about gardening for their benefit. But I have been frustrated at the lack of information regarding home gardening for bees of all types, wasps, flies, etc. In other words, all of the lesser known but equally important pollinators that seem to have been pushed to the sidelines of fashion.

It is so good to know other gardeners are also interested in this subject. Please keep sharing your experiences and suggestions!

Thanks again,

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 10:24PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

The 2 plants that immediately came to my mind are the same 2 that Ken also mentioned. My sweet autumn clematis is covered with hundreds (yes literally) of honeybees in late summer. You can hear that shrub from a very far distance away. The blooming of the clematis has almost become an "event" in my garden with my friends. No one can believe how loud the bees are or just how many cover the vine. You do need a lot of room for one if it's happy!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 9:22PM
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A little late in my response but I wanted to add that the plant that attracts the most bees in my garden, by far, is echinops. My down-the-street neighbor keeps bees and they just cover these plants. A close second for me is monarda.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 3:49PM
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Echinops attracts a lof of bumble bees for me. They make much more noise than honey bees. Oriental and trumpet lilies are magnets for moths.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 4:17PM
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Ispahan Zone6a Chicago

As an update, I found two great organizations (both with fabulous and informative websites!) that are working towards preserving and promoting both native pollinators and honey bees. One is called Pollinator Partnership and the other is the Xerces Society. Google them. You will not be disappointed! :-)

For those with smartphones, the Pollinator Partnership website even has a free app in the iTunes store called Bee Smart for selecting pollinator-friendly plants suitable for your region. The app is kind of limited at this point but it has the potential to be useful if they develop it further.

There are many plant lists available on both websites, mainly focusing on native North American plants.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pollinator Partnership

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 5:12PM
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Ispahan Zone6a Chicago

Here is the link for the Xerces Society:

Here is a link that might be useful: Xerces Society

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 5:14PM
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coolplantsguy(z6 Ontario)

Phuopsis stylosa is covered with bees here.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 5:59PM
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Here is another link from our Extension Agency, it was recommended to me by one of the people speaking at a pollinators workshop. There are 4 links and at least one is over 4MB, I'm on dailup so will look at it closer myself on a less busy day.

Here is a link that might be useful: Resources on Pollinators

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 9:05PM
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franeli(z4 NH)

I'd like to add a few to everyone's list:
garlic chives
any of the thymes

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 8:18AM
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I agree with skibby - echinops for me, too. Also veronica virginicastrum "Facination", which is a tall plant.

We sat in awe watching the bees on the Veronica - it was like watching the landing port on "The Jetsons"!


    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 9:27PM
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It would help if I named the plant correctly! It was 'Veronicastrum virginicastrum'n not veronica

    Bookmark   February 24, 2012 at 9:55PM
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Great topic! I've enjoyed reading all the input.

The three plants in my garden which I find to be most popular with bees are lavender (which is covered with many kinds of insects along with the bees) and a couple of woody plants, an old-fashioned Roseum Elegans Rhododendron and Malus (apples and crabapples.) The Rhodie is between the house and the drive, about 5 feet from the front door and when blooming in May has so many bumble bees from when it is warm enough for them to fly in the morning until dusk that you can hear the humming from more than 15 feet away. The crab and apples seem most popular with honey bees (and the crabs are a great late winter/early spring food source for birds.)

A few other perennials that the bees like but in my gardens aren't quite so constantly covered include some of the small-belled clematis like C. viorna, Nepeta, thyme, foxgloves, and Salvias. Woodies include blueberries (Vaccinium), roses that haven't been sprayed, button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), some of the deciduous rhododendrons, heaths (Erica) and heathers (Calluna.)

There are also a bunch of plants that grow wild in the area that the bees love, though in my experience many would be most appropriate for a wild garden, not a more manicured suburban garden as they tend to spread vigorously by seed and/or by root spread:
ironweed (Veronicastrium spp.)
goldenrod (Solidego spp.)
boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium or Eutrochium purpureum) genus has changed
milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
native asters, in particular blue wood or heart-leafed aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Many members of the mint family, like ajuga, self-heal (Prunela), beebalm, Monarda spp, and culinary mints are pretty voracious spreaders via roots and shoots and so need to be sited accordingly, but the bees do enjoy them.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 10:21AM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

I don't remember if it's as popular with bees as it is with butterflies, but verbena bonariensis is aways busy in my garden.

The linden tree in my yard buzzes in the spring while the tree is flowering. It's a little intimidating and I wonder where all the bees come from. For real early spring meals: pussy willow and crocus (and dandylions) are popular.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 3:05PM
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Campanula UK Z8

Scabious, oenothera, potentilla, and many annuals, in particular, tithonia.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 5:13PM
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I've counted a dozen or more bees, both bumble & honey, on my sedum at the same time. I have 'Autumn Joy' as well as 'Blackjack' and the bees are on them constantly. Since they bloom later in the season when nights are turning cooler, the bumblebees apparently think nothing of spending the night face down in the flowers.

A couple years ago I wanted to move my 'Autumn Joy' to a different bed but it was covered with nearly a dozen sleeping bumblebees. I used a spading fork to pry it up gently, then slid it onto a tarp so I could drag it--slowly--across the lawn to its new home. The bees never moved.

I've seen sleeping bumblebees on my blanket flower too. I'll have to keep an eye on my Russian sage this year. I haven't noticed them on it up to now but it's planted beside winter sown gaura lindheimeri/wand flower and they're on that non-stop right into the fall. According to my 2011 garden notes, gaura bloomed from late June to November so it gets a lot of attention from the bees.

Winter sown Agastache foeniculum 'Golden Jubilee' grew 3X the size I thought it would so that got shovel-pruned last year despite the bees being all over it from the minute it bloomed. I still have A. rupestris which stayed the advertised size so that's a keeper. I'll plant A. Golden Jubilee again at some point but next time I'll give it way more room.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 5:37PM
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terrene(5b MA)

"anything fragrant ... it attracts them ... "

Very fragrant flowers often bloom at night and are pollinated by night fliers such as moths and bats. They also tend to have light-colored blooms such as white or pale yellow that reflect the moonlight. The fragrance and the coloring make it easier for their pollinators to find the flowers. So don't forget about the moths!

Kato, my Linden trees are also covered with bees and other pollinators. I've read that honey bees will bypass many other flowers and fly a farther distance just to visit the Linden trees. And the fragrance is incredible! When they're in bloom my entire backyard is perfumed.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2012 at 6:20PM
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Here are a few more websites that have natives. Hamilton Seeds is a GREAT, they have a nursery, and grow on their plants outdoors in pots-they start them inside under hoop houses. They are in the middle of nowhere, and it's a long day trip for me, but it's a super place, and they have yard cats, and at least one dog. Here is their info page on pollinators, bees are not listed separately:


Prairie Nursery is the one that started it all, I can't believe that I forgot them, they don't list bees separately, but many natives are native bee pollinated. The catalog is FULL of information, and charts. They both sell seeds and plants, and ship.

Another place is Pine Ridge Gardens near Russellville Arkansas. She is a botanist by training, and is part of the local native plants organizations, and takes regular fieldstrips-where the members collect seeds in season, and she grows them at her nursery. It's a bit tough to get to the nursery and you do have to make an appointment if it's not on one of the many open house days. She has super plants, and ships, if you can get there she has some large sized shrubs and trees that are hard to mail order.


Here is a link that might be useful: Prairie Nursery

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:20PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Well, I'm a little late to this party, lol, but agree with most of the recommendations. The first two plants that popped into mind were agastache and sedum. Mine are just covered in bees every year.

Another plant is a shrub, pieris. I have two large ones in front of my house. Came with the house so I don't know what kind, and they are magnets for bees and other pollinators. The big woolly bees that look like they are wearing fur coats and sound like incoming helicopters LOVE them (sorry, don't know my bees very well!).

I've been meaning to remove these shrubs for well over five years - serious case of wrong plant to put in a foundation planting in front of a one-storey house! I have put off taking them out all these years because I love the bees that they bring, and I know the bees love them. I just keep whacking them back, which kills me. Even had a landscaper or two come see if they could be moved, but it would be way too much money. I keep saying, okay bees, one more year....


    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 4:11PM
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I also garden for native pollinators, my favorite are the bumblebees. Last year the bees were all over these plants in my yard:

Wild geranium ( spring)
Salvias (bumblebeees love blue salvia .... never the red ones)
Monarda (bee balm) - bumblebees Love it!
sunflowers, annual and perennial varieties
Joe pye weed

This year I've expanded my offerings to blue lobelia, agastache, liatris, serviceberry shrubs, hypericum, cleome, among others. These are all supposed to be excellent for native bees. Check out the book Xerxes Guide to Native Pollinators. Great resource with lots of plant lists and ideas!!!!

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 10:21PM
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