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Bee-friendly plants: Flowers, Trees & Co.

19.06.2023  /  Reading time: 14 minutes

In this article you will get an overview of bee-friendly plants for your garden. We explain which flowers, herbs, woody plants and wild plants have value for bees and provide them with food and habitat.

This article contains:

  1. Insect pollination & fertilization
  2. Pollinators: Bees are important helpers in the garden
  3. Flowers that attract bees: What do bees eat?
  4. Plants that attract bees: List for overview
  5. Pollinator plants: Herbs & flowers for bees
  6. Table: Bee-friendly flower, herbs, and wild plants for all seasons
  7. Vegetable plants for insects & bees
  8. Bee friendly shrubs for the garden: Trees & bushes
  9. Table: Bee friendly woody plants for the garden
  10. Frequently asked questions about bee friendly plants

Quick Overview

Bee-friendly plants: An overview with examples

  • Flowers for bees: Beard flower, borage, dahlia, corn poppy, daisy, marigold, sunflower, marigold,...
  • Herbs for bees: Basil, savory, fennel, coriander, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, hyssop,...
  • Vegetable plants for pollinators: especially annual crops such as eggplant, beans, cucumbers, squash, melons, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini,...
  • Bee-friendly trees: apple, sycamore, pear, rowan, rock pear, lime, plum, willow,...
  • Shrubs for bees: Blackberry, hazelnut, raspberry, currant, sloe, snowball, hawthorn,...

You should avoid these plants:

  • Refrain from using varieties of flowers with double blooms, such as certain varieties of peonies, dahlias, chrysanthemums, hydrangeas, and camellias
  • Forsythia
  • Ginkgo
  • Cherry laurel
  • Magnolias
  • Certain Rhododendron species
  • Thujas
  • Cypresses

Insect pollination & fertilization

Pollination is the transfer of pollen to the stigma, i.e. from the male to the female reproductive organ of a flower. Pollination results in fertilization and the seeds or fruits can grow. Insects such as bees, bumblebees, butterflies, beetles and various flies play a very important role in the pollination of plants. In Germany, however, bees in particular are among the most important pollinators. Besides insect pollination, however, there are other ways for plants to fertilize their seeds. Some plants rely on the wind or water, and there are also plants that can pollinate themselves and do not need any external help at all(self-pollinators).

Pollinators: Bees are important helpers in the garden

Bees have an important role in the garden because they are very powerful pollinators on which many plants depend. They are so efficient in their work that they cannot be replaced by other pollinating insects such as wasps or butterflies. Pollinating insects contribute to the fertilization of plants and thus to their reproduction - so without bees, the continued existence of many plant species would be at risk. Without pollination, most plants do not produce fruit and gardening efforts are in vain without the little helpers. Therefore, not only the preservation of biodiversity, but also our food security depends on pollinating insects.

Bees at the field widow flower
Bees are very powerful pollinators of vegetable crops and fruit trees, but also benefit from wildflowers such as field widowflower. Image by Ted Erski on Pixabay.

Bees are highly endangered: How to save the bees?

However, as for many other insects, the situation of bees is not particularly rosy and there is a lack of food and habitat. Especially wild bees are for the most part on the red list. They are not protected by beekeepers and are left to their own devices, which often means their death sentence if there is a lack of food and nesting opportunities nearby. To provide just that to bees, you can make your garden bee-friendly and plant appropriate flowers, herbs and vegetable plants. In addition, it's helpful to know how wild bees nest in order to provide them with nesting opportunities. Like any living thing, insects also enjoy a supply of water, especially in dry, hot summers. If you already have a birdbath, you can line it with stones that stick out of the water. The insects can then land on them and drink.

Flowers that attract bees: What do bees eat?

Bees mainly eat nectar and pollen, which they collect from flowers. Nectar provides a lot of sugar and thus energy, while pollen is very rich in protein and is mainly fed to the larvae. If flowers are scarce and the bees cannot collect enough food, beekeepers often provide them with sugar water.

The various bee species in Germany differ to some extent in their feeding habits: Some species, such as honey bees and many wild bee species are so-called generalists. This means that they are not specialized on certain plant species and find food on many different plants. Other species are specialists and fly only to certain plant species, making them particularly effective at pollinating those species. In addition, there are also bee species such as cuckoo bees or bumblebees, which lay their eggs in the nests of other conspecifics so that they can feed on their food.

Plants that attract bees: List for overview

Bees are attracted to the bright colors of flowers, so it's important to have a wide variety of flowering plants in your garden. But not all flowers are created equal, and not every plant has ecological value for your garden. Especially some new cultivars often provide less or no food for pollinators. Therefore you should inform yourself in advance which plants are suitable. It's best to choose mostly native plants and go for species richness of early and late bloomers in your garden, so that something blooms in your garden all year round. It is important to plant not only flowers, herbs and vegetables, but also shrubs and trees. In addition, it is helpful to leave wildflowers and herbs standing. Wildflowers, in fact, also provide food and, in some cases, nesting sites for wild bees, which nest in hollow stems! A list of examples of bee-friendly plants can be found below.

Bee on a willow catkin
Besides flowers and herbs, woody plants are also important for bees, such as the willow catkin. Image by Frauke Riether on Pixabay.

Pollinator plants: Herbs & flowers for bees

As already mentioned, you should provide a wide range of flowering plants. There are numerous flowers such as poppies, sunflowers or marigolds that are valuable for bees. In addition to native flowers and herbs, you can also plant Mediterranean herbs such as basil, lavender or sage, which also bloom again every year. The important thing to remember when choosing non-native plants is that they are not invasive and will crowd out other, native plants. In addition to cultivated plants, however, wildflowers and herbs are also of great value to insects in your garden, as they provide additional food and habitat without you, the gardener:in, having to do much to provide it.

Table: Bee-friendly flower, herbs, and wild plants for all seasons

Below we give you a few examples of plants with their bloom times that you can put in a bee-friendly garden. This list is of course not complete, but should give you ideas and inspiration.

Flowers Flowering time Herbs Flowering time Wild flowers & Wild herbs Flowering time
Beard flower August to September Fennel July to August Widow flower May to August
Borage May to September Nasturtium July to October Columbine May to September
Dahlia (star dahlia) July to October Catmint May to August Aster August to November
Verbena July to October Coriander June to August Comfrey May to August
Marigold June to September Lavender July to September Speedwell April to September
Corn poppy May to July Mint July to September Daisy March to October
Cornflower June to July Oregano July to September Bellflower June to August
Daisy June to August Rosemary May to June Kidney vetch May to September
Garden cosmos July to September Sage June to July St John's Wort June to September
Sunflower July to September Thyme May to October Creeping groundsel May to June
Hollyhock July to September Hyssop July to August Lily June to September
Stundent flower June to August Lemon balm June to August Man litter July to August

Refrain from flowers with double flowers

Flowers with double flowers are plants that have been modified by breeding and have only petals for aesthetic reasons. In most cases, the pollen-producing stamens are missing altogether or are difficult for insects to reach, which is why no food can be found in these flowers. However, their bright colors still attract hungry pollinators, leading them on a false trail.

Many modern rose varieties, peonies, dahlias, chrysanthemums, hydrangeas or camellias have double flowers. However, there are always exceptions, such as the old wild varieties, which in turn have 'normal' flowers and are more interesting for insects. Hibiscus is also a flower that is of no value to many bee species, as the flowers often do not match their anatomy. They simply can't reach the nectar.

You don't have to completely give up these plants, but you should be aware of what their ecological value is. Still, they attract insects and you can combine them with other plants that provide nectar. As always, having as much diversity as possible is key to supporting insects in your garden.

Blue hydrangea in the garden
Hydrangeas look beautiful and also attract insects, but do not provide food for pollinators. Image from Pexels from Pixabay.

Vegetable plants for insects & bees

Not only flowers and herbs are flowering plants, because vegetable plants also bloom. It depends on whether the plant is annual or perennial. Annual vegetable plants bloom directly in the same year and then form their fruits. These include, for example, zucchini, melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and beans. These crops produce beautiful colorful flowers directly in the first year. In addition, some of these crops also rely on insect pollination, because without it, cross-pollinators like beans and cucumbers wouldn't produce fruit to harvest in the first place. So if you grow your own vegetables, not only will the bees benefit from bee-friendly planting, but you as the gardener:in with a richer harvest as well. Other plants, such as root vegetables or chard, are biennials and don't flower until their second year. You can allow some of the biennial crops to flower in your beds and then obtain your own seeds. Carrots in particular, or umbellifers in general, are very attractive to some specialized bee species.

Bee friendly shrubs for the garden: Trees & bushes

Shrubs and trees also play an important role for insects and other small animals in the garden. Their thickets provide shelter and habitat for birds, snails, beetles and other insects. For bees in particular, tree cavities or dead wood are a good place to nest. Since wild bees also depend on having a nesting opportunity close to the food supply, trees in your yard are especially important! After all, wild bees don't fly that far from their nest, quite the opposite of the honey bee, which can fly up to 6 km away from its hive. In addition, woody plants bloom every year, which makes them attractive plants for bees and other pollinators.

Table: Bee friendly woody plants for the garden

Trees Flowering time Shrubs Flowering time
Apple tree April to May Blackberry June to August
Sycamore April to May Hazelnut January to April
Pear tree April to May Raspberry May to August, depending on the variety
Mountain ash May to June Currant April to May
Sweet chestnut June to July Firethorn May to June
Rock pear April to May Sloe April
Cornelian cherry March to April Snowball May to June
Lime July Gooseberry April to May
Plum April to May Hawthorn May to June
Horse chestnut May Wild grape July to September
Willow March to May Winter heath March to April

You should avoid these woody plants:

In contrast, there are unfortunately also woody plants that are planted in many gardens as hedges or trees, without much value for the native fauna. Some of these shrubs are even poisonous or invasive and cause more damage. Which shrubs these are for example, I enumerate you in the following. Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but encourages you to research the shrubs you would like to plant. In addition to the plants listed below, cypresses, thujas, ginkgo and magnolias are also rather critical in terms of their bee-friendliness.

Bee on fruit tree
Avoid exotics like magnolias, gingko and cherry laurel and plant native fruit trees instead. Image by HeungSoon on Pixabay.

Rhododendron

There is a great variety of species of rhododendrons, as they occur worldwide. Therefore, even some species have no ecological value in our latitudes. However, native wild species are suitable for a natural garden, as they can also be valuable for bees and other insects. Rhododendrons, in fact, bloom quite early in the year and attract many insects by their flowering splendor. Among the native species of Germany are, for example, Rhododendron ferrugineum, Rhododendron hirsitum and Rhododendron tomentosum.

However, most rhododendron species are considered toxic to humans and animals, so you should always wear gloves when pruning or planting the shrub. However, this does not apply to pollinators, but it may be that toxins end up in the honey this way. This honey is called pontic honey, which can cause symptoms of poisoning in humans.

Forsythia

Forsythia are usually the first indicators that nature is awakening in spring. They attract insects with their bright yellow flowers, but then disappointingly find that there is nothing to be had. Most forsythia do not provide nectar or pollen and produce only so-called dry flowers. Nevertheless, forsythia do not harm insects because they are not poisonous. However, there is a certain variety of forsythia that actually also provides pollen and can be successfully flown by bees. This variety is called'Beatrix Farrand' and is probably quite low maintenance and undemanding. So if you want forsythia in your garden, it's best to choose this variety!

Cherry Laurel

Cherry laurel, while very popular, should not necessarily be planted as a hedge if you care about insects and nature. For one thing, it is often planted alone as a dense evergreen hedge. Here any diversity is missing. For another, these plants secrete their sweet sugar sap through the leaves, which attracts insects and may give the appearance of being insect friendly. This is the reason that cherry laurel attracts insects even without flowers, but does not provide them with food. However, many native animals still give this plant a wide berth because it is a neophyte and does not come from here. In addition, cherry laurel is poisonous and birds in particular, which like to seek shelter in hedges, therefore keep their distance. Tips for designing a bird-friendly garden can be found here in the article. A major ecological problem is also when the leaf clippings are 'disposed of' in the woods, as this allows the invasive plant to spread further and displace native species. If you want to plant the poisonous cherry laurel, please do not dispose of the cuttings in nature!


As you can see, it's not quite as black and white as it may seem when you first start researching on the Internet. The most important thing is simply to ensure the greatest possible variety of plants , because then the insects have a choice and can decide which plant they want to fly over. Nevertheless, it is best to do without these controversial plants and plant hawthorn and co. instead. Because not only the insects and birds have an advantage from these hedges, but some of them are also edible for us humans!


For questions and comments, feel free to write us at [email protected]. Want to get helpful gardening tips throughout the year and plan your own beds for the best? Then register here or download the Fryd app for Android or iOS.

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Cover image by Anja on Pixabay.

Source: BMEL (2022) ,Bienenfreundliche Pflanzen' at https://www.bmel.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Broschueren/BienenfreundlichePflanzen.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=27

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Author

Marie

Marie studied agricultural science at the University of Hohenheim. Her main focus is on ecological agriculture and permaculture. She writes articles for Fryd to educate people about ecological interrelationships and alternatives to current land use. Our current economic systems, especially in agriculture, have numerous negative effects on nature and destabilize our ecosystems. We need a great diversity in our gardens and beds again to counteract the extinction of species. Every gardener can contribute to creating and maintaining habitats and food for a wide variety of creatures. With her articles, she would like to pass on her experience in dealing with natural systems and give people the opportunity to contribute to a stable ecosystem and thus also to securing our livelihood.

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Der Gurkenfreund:) 1 hours ago
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Hi there:) I wanted to go to school this morning as normal and suddenly a good friend of mine is standing outside my front door with this whole load of plants and I'm honestly a bit overwhelmed now😅 Picture 1: I don't know Picture 2: Tree spinach Picture 3: Tomatoes Picture 4: Basil Picture 5: Raspberries Are all the plants healthy so far? Can anyone tell what variety the tomatoes, basil and raspberries are? In the 3rd picture, the pot of the tomato plant on the far left is already much too small, so that its roots have branched out through the drainage holes. What do I do with it? Brief info on what I have done for now: -I have put the tomatoes under cover -The spinach will be separated as soon as possible -I have also watered them sufficiently Do you have any other tips for me?

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Gartenhase 1 hours ago
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Blooms with me 😂😂 I'm also quite happy in the greenhouse / only my raised beds still need some work 🥹🥹 This wet period really came in between

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Lisa die Imkerin 2 hours ago
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My new, but actually old, raised bed is now working again. I thought it wasn't going to happen this year. I actually wanted to have it ready in March. It was a complete disaster before that, as it was totally filled with extremely dense roots (tree roots). The raised bed of horror! It was back-breaking work to get everything out, as I didn't want to knock the box to pieces, but wanted to reuse it. We managed it at the last minute in mid-May, so that at least tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants could be planted in time. Tomatoes hang over the front, zucchinis I pull upwards.

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FAQ

There are some flowers that provide food for bees, such as bearded flowers, borage, star dahlia, verbena, cornflower, marigolds, sunflowers, hollyhocks or marigolds.

Native woody plants have a particularly great value for bees. Plant best berries, hazelnut, firethorn, snowball, linden, willow or fruit trees such as plum, pear and apple.

Some plants do not provide pollen or nectar for bees. These include flowers with double blossoms such as peonies, dahlias or chrysanthemums. You should also avoid cherry laurel, gingko, magnolia, forsythia and cypress.

Bees feed on nectar and pollen, which they collect from flowers. Nectar is very rich in sugar, while pollen provides protein.

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