Honeybee-friendly Plants and Flowers
Beekeepers often ask, "What can I plant for my bees?" Unfortunately the answer is "Not enough!"
- Honey bees are generalist feeders, and will visit most any type of flower that rewards them with nectar and/or pollen.
- A single bee colony may forage as far as 3 miles away from its hive for food, giving a colony a potential territory of more than 28 square miles, or a little over 18,000 acres.
- Because honey bees cover such a vast area in search of food, it is rarely economical trying to plant an area to improve one's honey flow unless the beekeeper is also growing a commercial crop.
- Many wild and cultivated plants are extremely attractive to honey bees.
- Bees will scout the territory around their hives and report back to their nest mates where the best floral sources can be found.
When is the best time for blooms?
Rather than trying to improve honey production, beekeepers can plant flowers and trees that will bloom very early or very late in the year, or during the dry summer months; these are the times when honey bees are having the most difficulty finding foods.
Honey bees will only visit a single type of flower on each trip from their hive.
Bees are very efficient at gathering food, and so they are willing to fly much farther in order to collect nectar with a higher sugar content than what may be available closer to their hive. Honey bees will only visit a single type of flower on each trip from their hive. This trait, known as floral fidelity, ensures that pollen from one flower is transferred to another compatible flower of the same species. Because of this, bees seek out large patches of identical flowers, often ignoring a few isolated blooms.
In order to attract honey bees (and other pollinators) to your gardens, plant an area with a mixture of flower types.
Provide large patches of identical flowers to attract bees. To keep pollinators returning to your area, choose a variety of different plant species to ensure that some flowers are blooming in constant succession throughout the season.
Bees cannot see the color red, and may not be attracted to many red flowers.
They can see UV light, however, and some red blossoms also reflect UV light, which may attract them. Honey bees are particularly attracted to white, blue, yellow and violet blooms. Flowers with long corollas may be inaccessible to bees.
Arkansas has numerous distinct ecoregions, with varying micro-climates and soil conditions, where many species of flowering plants may be found. Beekeepers should consult other planting references when considering what to grow in their area. The Pollinator Partnership has region-specific planting guides to attract bees and other pollinators.
Plant families attractive to honey bees:
- Rosaceae (apples, peaches, crabapple, blackberry, hawthorn, pears - NOT BRADFORD PEARS!)
- Fabaceae (alfalfa, clovers, redbud, soybean, black locust)
- Lamiaceae (mints, rosemary, sage, thyme, bee balm, basil, catnip)
- Brassicaceae (broccoli, turnip greens, canola, wild mustards)
- Asteraceae (sunflowers, dandelion, boneset, cosmos, echinacea, zinnia)
An excellent resource on bee botany is
American Honey Plants, by .C. Pellett
(1920), now available for free download.