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How to Plant Flowers for Your Bees

Flowers and bees are a perfect match. Bees gather nectar and pollen enabling plants to reproduce. In turn, pollen feeds baby bees, and nectar is turned into honey to be enjoyed by the bees and you. Everyone’s happy.

While many kinds of trees and shrubs are bees’ prime source of pollen and nectar, a wide range of flowers contributes to bee development and a bumper crop of honey. You can help in this process by adding some of these flowers to your garden or by not removing some that already are there.

Each source of nectar has its own flavor. A combination of nectars produces great tasting honey.

Asters (Aster/Callistephus)

The Aster family has more than 100 different species. The aster is one of the most common wildflowers ranging in color from white and pink to light and dark purple. They differ in height from 6 inches to 4 feet and can be fairly bushy. Asters are mostly perennials, and blooming times vary from early spring to late fall.

Callistephus are china asters, which run the same range of colors, but produce varied styles of flowers. These pincushions-to-peony style flowers start blooming late in summer and continue their displays until frost. They are annuals. Plants can be bought potted from local nurseries or purchased by seed.

Sunflowers (Helianthus/Tithonia)

Sunflowers are made up of two families. They provide the bees with pollen and nectar. Each family is readily grown from seed, and you may find some nurseries that carry them as potted plants. When you start sunflowers early in the season, make sure that you use peat pots. They are rapid growers that transplant better when you leave their roots undisturbed by planting the entire pot.

Salvia (Salvia/Farinacea-Strata/Splendens)

The Salvia family, with more than 500 varieties, includes the sages (Salvia officinalis) and many bedding plants. The sages are good nectar providers. When in bloom, they’re covered with bees all day long.

Bee balm (Monarda)

Bee balm (Monarda didyma) is a perennial herb that provides a long-lasting display of pink, red, and crimson flowers in midsummer. They start flowering when they reach about 18 inches and continue to grow to 3 or 4 feet in height. Deadheading them encourages more growth, which can prolong their flowering period. Bee balm is susceptible to powdery mildew but the Panorama type does a good job of fending off this problem. Bee balm is a good source of nectar for bees as well as butterflies and hummingbirds.

Hyssop (Agastache)

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) has a licorice fragrance when you bruise its leaves. It produces tall spikes of purple flowers in midsummer. Sometimes you can find a white variety of this plant. The bees happily gather nectar from it. Hyssop flowers from seed the first year that you plant it.

Mint (Mentha)

Chocolate, spearmint, apple mint, peppermint, and orange mint are only a few of the types of mints available. They come in a variety of colors, sizes, fragrances, and appearances, but when they produce a flower, bees are there. Most mints bloom late in the year.

Cleome/Spider flower (Cleome)

Spider flower (Cleome hasslerana) is heat and drought tolerant and grows well in the cold Northeast. This annual is easy to start from seed and grows more than 4 feet tall with airy flowers that are 6 to 8inches across. It comes in white, pink, and light purple and adds an unusual flower to your garden. It’s also a good producer of nectar for the bees, blooming from midsummer to fall.

Thyme (Thymus)

Thyme varieties are low-growing hardy herbs. Common, French, wooly, silver, and lemon are but a few of the varieties available. Several are used in cooking. In spring most nurseries have large selections. These varieties also can be started by seed at least two to three months before planting.

Poppy (Papaver/Eschscholzia)

Danish flag (Papaver somniferum), corn poppy (P. rhoeas), and Iceland poppies (P. nudicaule) are easily grown from seed. Some are deep scarlet or crimson, but others are found in pastel shades. All bloom freely from early summer to fall, need full sun, and grow 2 to 4 feet tall. California poppies (Eschscholzia) are golden orange and easily grown. They are a good pollen source for honey bees.

Bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea)

Annual and perennial selections of bachelor’s buttons are available. The annuals (Centaurea cyanus, C. imperialis), found in shades of white, pink, yellow, purple, and blue, also are referred to as cornflowers.

The perennial version is a shade of blue that blooms early in summer, and sometimes again in late fall. They’re sometimes referred to as mountain blue buttons. Annual and perennial varieties produce an ample supply of nectar.

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