Seems every year I’m planting a few more things that are good for the bees and this year is not different. Certainly there are many annuals out there that the bees enjoy, such as bachelor buttons and I have them scattered all around the place. They readily reseed themselves and are a welcome, if sometimes overly prolific variety. But when it comes to selecting plants for the bees I keep, I always plant perennials. Last year it was caryopteris, (dark knight) a purple flowered plant that blooms late in the season. Here in the High Desert of eastern Oregon we are very dry and we sometimes approach a dearth of food for the bees in the hot days of August. So when selecting plants to attract bees think about when they flower. You don’t want them to all bloom early in the spring and then be done. Sedums are also excellent plants that bloom late and the bees just love them.
So what to add this year? Well I did add one more caryopteris simply because the bees love it and it blooms until the first frosts shut it down, but what new plants could be added? I decided on three different ones to add more diversity and a variety of pollen types for the bees to make use of. Pollen is nearly perfect food and contains the protein, amino acids and enzymes the bees need to live – yes they do eat more than just honey. Each type of pollen offers the bee varying levels of the various amino acids and enzymes they need.
The first new plant to go in was an elderberry. This plant can grow to ten feet tall and produces clusters of white flowers in the spring. Yes, it is the same plant that produces berries that can be eaten or used for elderberry wine. The second plant was Agastache otherwise known as hyssop. It can smell a bit like licorice and is often used as an herb in soups, stews and salids, though use it sparingly. The pink/red flowers bloom in late summer, adding to my collection of plants that will provide a food an nectar source for my bees during the hottest and driest time of year. Once established the plant is a drought tolerant, low maintenance plant that butterflies like in addition to the bees. The plant does best in our part of the world if not pruned until late spring after the last of our frosts. The third plant I selected also adds to the selection of food available to my bees late in the season and that is goldenrod. This plant blooms for a long time and is another the butterflies enjoy. It grows up to about 18 inches and its lemon yellow flowers are a refreshing break from the summertime “browns” that begin to dominate when the temperature hovers around 100 degrees. This is another hardy plant that once established needs only occasional watering.
As you can tell, I have focused mainly on adding plants that bloom late in the season. If you keep bees or plan on getting them, take a mental inventory of when your area may be lacking in flowering plants. We have tons of fruit tree blossoms in the spring as well as many other plants. When the spring time bloomers have done their thing the raspberries come along and they bloom for the rest of the season. If there is one thing you could plant that the bees just love and is available to them for most of the season, it would be raspberries. Not to mention you get a delightful treat out of the deal yourself.
So there’s a short run down on some plants I have added to the yards just for the bees. The list is long and there are many other plants to choose from, just one word of warning. Bees rely on these plants for resin, nectar and pollen. Most of the plants you get at the big box stores are full of GMO and neonicatinoid contamination and are best avoided as there is mounting evidence of the detrimental effect these compounds have on honeybees and butterflies. Obtain our plants from a known source. Get to know someone at a local nursery who can tell you where the plants came from and if they are poisoned with neonicatinoids or not. It will be better for you, especially if your eating your bees honey and better for the bees as well, so that you get to share in the sweetness of their efforts.
As always I hope these articles help you understand more about honeybees and make you a more successful beekeeper yourself.
The photo is from Curlew photo and if you like it you should check them out at the link on the right hand side.