Planting Bulbs For Bees – Popular Bee Friendly Bulbs For The Pollinator Garden
By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)
In recent years, pollinator gardens have become quite popular among hobby gardeners and seasoned growers, alike. Flowering plants within the garden offer beautiful floral displays in the landscape, as well as serve as essential sources of pollen and nectar needed by insects. While many people may opt to plant large drifts of wildflowers from seed, even those growing in limited spaces can grow bee-friendly flower gardens in containers and in naturalized plantings.
Planting a pollinator garden is one of the best ways to attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects into one’s yard. Fortunately, even the most inexperienced homeowners are able to easily plant and maintain a wide variety of nectar-rich plants. While it is common practice to grow flowers from seed or to add annuals to the landscape, the addition of flowering bulbs can take pollinator gardens to the next level.
About Bee-Friendly Bulbs
Planting spring bulbs for bees is a great way to ensure the early arrival of pollinators into the garden. Though often overlooked when planning a pollinator garden, spring bulbs are among the very first flowers to bloom in late winter and into early spring. These early blooming flowers ensure that bees are able to feed before other native nectar sources are readily available.
When considering bulbs that bees like, thinking beyond common bulb options is a great way to expand and add visual interest to the landscape. While spring flower bulbs such as daffodils and tulips are easy to find at local garden centers, there are vast varieties of other spring flower bulbs adaptable to many growing conditions.
Planting Bulbs for Bees
Planning a spring flower bulb pollinator garden begins in the fall of the previous growing season. When selecting which types of bulbs to plant, there are several aspects to take into consideration. First, and foremost, make certain that the selected bulb varieties are suited for growth in the correct USDA growing zone.
Since many spring bulbs require a winter chill before blooming, it’s important to ensure that these requirements will be met before planting. Though most bulbs will need to be planted in full sun, some will prefer shady locations. Always read package guidelines before planting to ensure that plants will thrive.
Planting spring bulbs may be somewhat more costly than growing from seed, so choosing naturalizing bulbs and corms will ensure beautiful early season blooms for many years to come.
Types of Bulbs for Pollinators
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Read more about Beneficial Garden Friends
How to Attract Bees and Other Pollinators to Your Garden
Every garden needs pollinators and bees are among the best. Without them, there would be limited flowers and even fewer fruits and vegetables. Since bees add more than a soothing buzzing sound, it's worth putting some thought into making your garden inviting for them.
Bees are basically looking for two things when they visit your plants:
- Nectar: Nectar is loaded with sugars and it’s a bee’s main source of energy.
- Pollen: Pollen provides a balanced diet of proteins and fats.
Many popular flower varieties are hybridized for features that are valued by the gardener, like disease resistance, flower size or color and bigger, longer blooms. Unfortunately, hybridization has reduced the production of nectar and pollen and sometimes leaves the resulting plant completely sterile and useless to bees and other pollinators. Another factor is that the amount of nectar secreted is dependent on climate conditions such as temperature, humidity, and moisture in the soil.
Top 10 Bee-friendly Flower Bulbs
Bring your garden to life with a banquet of blooms for bees. Let’s do our bit to help the bee population—we know how important pollinators like bees are, we rely on them to pollinate our flowers and food crops, and to do this important job they rely on our gardens to provide the valuable source of nectar they need to keep going!
Packing your garden full of flowers so that pollinators like bees and butterflies never have far to travel to get to their next meal is a fantastic way to help. Not only will this benefit them, but your garden will look fabulous at the same time and they will in turn pollinate your plants to keep your garden healthy and productive.
Whether your garden is big or small, you live in a built-up area or out in the countryside, planting as many flowers as you can squeeze in turns it into the perfect stop-off and refuel point for a busy bee. If you live in the city, even a window box or container on a balcony can be a lifeline for bees.
There’s nothing better and more rewarding than a beautiful garden which is filled with colour and buzzing with life. Focusing on autumn-planting varieties, we’ve come up with a selection of bulbs which provide a fantastic source of nectar from late winter when the bees first emerge, right through to early summer.
Do your bit to help boost the bee population by choosing from our Top 10 bee-friendly bulbs for planting in autumn:
1. Nectaroscordum ('Sicilian Honey Garlic')
You can’t go wrong with a variety which has ‘nectar’ in its name – Nectaroscordum silicum, also known as Allium silicum or 'Sicilian Honey Garlic', is not only a great plant for bringing bees to the garden, but is incredibly beautiful too. Flowering during early summer, they’re the perfect plant for keeping interest in the garden after the spring flowers have faded and while summer plants are still establishing.
2. Allium 'Globemaster'
All Alliums attract pollinators and are a favourite with bumblebees, honeybees and butterflies. Allium 'Globemaster' is an excellent example, blooming in early summer with giant flowerheads formed of masses of nectar-rich purple flowers. Each giant flowerhead is a real feast for a bee, they also get to maintain their energy levels as there is no need to tire themselves out by flying from flower to flower.
3. Eranthis hyemalis ('Winter Aconite')
Flowering from around February to March at the same time as the first bumblebees are beginning to wake up, Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite) are an essential source of nectar. A naturalising variety, their beautiful golden-yellow blooms form a cheery blanket of colour, returning in bigger and more impressive natural dirfts year after year.
4. Galanthus nivalis ('Snowdrops')
The common snowdrop is the best snowdrop variety for attracting bees. Plus, it flowers from January onwards so it’s great for any pollinators which are waking up early. Snowdrops notoriously take a while to establish but over the years they form beautiful, natural drifts which create a wonderful effect in borders or woodland areas.
Beautiful, chunky upright goblet flowers which come back every year and available in an array of colours are always a welcome sight in spring. Crocuses are a real delight in any early spring garden and the bees just love them. Not only are they nectar-rich, but queen bumblebees even use their flowers, which close at night, to sleep in!
6. Muscari armeniacum ('Grape Hyacinth')
This classic ground cover is a nectar feast for bees. Over the years these strong naturalisers form magnificent swathes of blue, perfect for filling a bare space with tricky growing conditions or to underlay any spring planting scheme. All Muscari (more commonly known as Grape Hyacinths) are beneficial to bees, but it is the traditional Muscari armeniacum which they love the most.
7. Fritillaria meleagris ('Snake’s Head Fritillary')
Perfect for growing in a cool, grassy area, these elegant and natural Snake’s Head Fritillaries provide a great source of nectar for bees in mid-spring. If you’re re-wilding a part of your garden or you have a meadow area, these are really fitting. They’ll also do well in borders, flowering each year with their pretty lantern-like flowers which pop up in either white or maroon.
8. Allium 'Mount Everest'
The large-flowered Allium 'Mount Everest' provides plenty of blooms all in one convenient flowerhead. Like all Alliums, they’re a magnet for bees and butterflies. This white form is great for combining with mauve-flowered varieties to make an eye catching contrast that looks bold and impressive in the late-spring garden.
9. Colchicum and Sternbergia
Plant top-size Colchicum and Sternbergia bulbs in early autumn and they will flower just a couple of months later in the same year! These beautiful autumn crocus naturalise too, so each year they will return for a repeat show. These big blooms provide a much-needed injection of colour to the garden as well as essential fuel for bees during the late season. Bumblebees visiting Colchicum and Sternbergia flowers are stocking up ready for a long winter hibernation.
Bees can’t resist the nectar-rich flowers of Camassia, and this makes them a great asset for a wild area of the garden, meadow or a mixed cottage-style border. These moisture-loving bulbs are happiest the cool dampness of a meadow area where their upright stems will hold their clusters of beautiful starry flowers at just the right height to shine above long meadow grass. Camassias are perennial bulbs and will naturalise over the years, forming bigger groups and more flowers each time they return in late spring.
How to grow Spring Bulbs
Growing spring-flowering bulbs couldn’t be easier! All of the above are fully hardy and simply require planting directly outside in the autumn. There is no need to water in after planting or to water your bulbs through the winter months. When planting in containers, a good-quality peat-free multipurpose or a compost mixed with loam is ideal.
When planting directly into borders, choose a space which benefits from full sun or partial shade with preferably a free-draining soil. In areas with heavy clay soil, it is a good idea to add a small amount of grit when planting your bulbs to help loosen the structure of the soil slightly. Fritillaria meleagris and Camassia grow happily through grass as well as borders and prefer a cool, moist soil.
Bulbs come in various forms and sizes and require different planting techniques so it is best to check the individual instructions on each of our product pages for best results. As a general rule, flower bulbs should be planted at 2-3 times of the size of the bulb deep. If the bulb has a pointed side, this should be facing upwards.
Some bulbs or corms are naturally small and may be more nugget like without a pointed side, in which case it doesn’t matter which way up they are planted as they will find their own way and turn as they start to grow.
Get the most from your Bee-friendly Bulbs
Our Top 10 bee-friendly spring bulb varieties listed above are all perennial and will flower year after year. That’s great news for the bees which have made their habitat in your garden! Enjoy them to the full during their flowering months, and then when the blooms start to fade allow them to die down naturally. They can be deadheaded, but the stem and leaves while green will still be using sunlight to transfer energy to the bulb which it needs to flower again the following year. Once the foliage has turned yellow it can be cut down to the base. There is no need to lift or store the bulbs listed above, just simply let them stay in place and naturalise in your garden!
Bulbs for Bees
Keeping the basics in mind, it’s easy to build your garden to draw more buzzing attention during the spring, summer, and fall. With so many great varieties available, it can be overwhelming to find bulbs that will offer the look you want for your backyard while being a hit with your local bees. There are a number of time-tested classics that have proved to be bee favorites in our yards:
Tulips are a favorite with the bees, thanks to their delicious nectar and pollen. They aren’t native to North America, but they’ve had no issue naturalizing and becoming a bee staple.
Crocuses are a pretty early-season perennial with tons of delicious pollen to start the season right. They are particularly adored by honeybees!
Primroses (also known as sundrops) are practically a buffet of nectar and pollen that appeals to a variety of pollinators early in the season, including bees. While they might not be tasty enough to be as popular with bees as other pollinators, they are a good selection to round out the variety offered in your garden.
Chionodoxa are also known as Glory-of-the-Snow are early risers that stay true to their name. They have vibrant blue blooms that are the perfect shade for luring in bees.
Alliums are from the same family as onions and garlic. Their orb-like, alien-looking blooms are great at attracting butterflies as well as bees.
Hyacinths have colorful flower clusters that are sure to impress early in the season. Their luxurious fragrance isn’t just attractive to you, it will also lure bees to your garden.
Camassias are a North-American native that bees know and love, blooming in late spring and early summer. These pretty flowers have a pretty cool history, having helped Lewis and Clark survive while they explored America - adding another layer of historical interest to your yard and garden!
Lilies are attractive to pollinators like bees, as well as hummingbirds and people. These popular flowers are full of sweet nectar and offer varieties that prefer spring and summer blooming to dazzle your garden for longer.
Pineapple Lilies are native to South Africa, but their fruity look and delicious nectar make them popular with bees and butterflies. These tropical heat-lovers give a stunning show in the summer while blooming. They might be a hit with pollinators, but they are also incredibly critter-resistant, offering the best of both worlds.
Liatris, are also known as Blazing Stars, call North America home and are packed with pollen. They are pretty in your garden as they bloom in late summer, but are also popular as a picked flower to bring inside. Their popularity is easy to see, as they are often surrounded by the sound of buzzing bees.
Mirabilis are from Mexico and offer a tropical vibe that our local bees can’t resist. While they are also known as Four O’clocks it might be more appropriate to call them Eight O’clocks for their habit of blooming in the evening.
Cyclamens are a beautiful fall bloomer, which makes them a great way to keep your local bees satisfied late in the season.
In recent years, we’ve become more and more aware of the plight of bees in our neighborhoods. Gardens that used to be alive with the busy buzzing of these pollinators are noticeably quieter. You can start to save the bees by improving your garden! Creating a bee-friendly garden requires no sacrifice, since they are already attracted to many of our seasonal favorites. Conscientious gardening will result in a healthier, happier and more vibrant garden, all while providing a much-needed boost to your friendly neighborhood pollinators.
20 Gorgeous Flowering Plants that Will Attract Bees
Create a buzz with these blooming beauties.
We really can't overstate the importance of bees. Seriously, did you know that they are crucial to the health of the planet and survival of mankind? Bees pollinate any number of plants, including fruit trees and vegetables. In fact, it's estimated that they pollinate between 75 percent and 85 percent of all food crops that humans consume. One way you can help ensure bees have plenty of healthy nectar to eat is to plant flowering plants. Bees are particularly attracted to bee balm, echinacea, snap dragon, and hostas, as well as numerous wildflowers such as California poppies and evening primrose. Because they have good color vision, bees flock to flowers that are blue, purple, white, and yellow. If attracting bees to your garden is important to you, skip plants such as eucalyptus, ferns, and lemongrass. One important note: Bees are sensitive to chemicals, so opt for organic fertilizers and avoid toxic pesticides and herbicides.
When planning your bee garden, make sure to study your garden to determine whether you need to plant full-sun perennials or shade perennials. And keep in mind that, depending on what you choose to grow, you may be looking for some DIY trellis ideas. And it can never hurt to have one of the best garden hoses on-hand. All plants need water!
Often confused with the allergy-inducing ragweed, goldenrod is actually purported to have many health benefits, including pain and inflammation reduction. Bees will flock to its golden blooms.
The fragrant foliage of bee balm (also know as wild bergamot) will attract many pollinators to your garden. Plant in a sunny spot for spring and summer blooms.