Bees live on the pollen and nectar of flowers, so the best way to attract them to your garden is to always have flowers in bloom -- from early spring through late fall.
Growing many different types of flowering plants will attract the greatest number and variety of pollinators. Here are some flower garden favorites that will keep your local bees busy and well fed:
• Open, bowl-shaped flowers such as crocuses, poppies and wild roses offer easy access and are usually rich in pollen as well as nectar. They are particularly attractive to honeybees and bumblebees.
• Daisy-like flowers attract both bees and butterflies. Their flat centers make good landing pads and they usually offer a rich supply of nectar and pollen. Examples of these bee-friendly flowers include golden marguerites, asters, sunflowers, heleniums, single dahlias and rudbeckias.
• Little wild bees love plants with fluffy-looking flower clusters. They are particularly fond of Joe Pye weed, veronicastrum, goldenrod, agastache and astilbe. Many different types of bees are drawn to the flowers of scabiosas, ornamental alliums, chives and globe thistle.
• Pollinators seek out plants in the legume family because they produce extra nutritious pollen. Planting beans, peas, clover and lupines will help keep honeybees and bumblebees happy and healthy.
• All plants in the mint family attract bees with their sweet nectar. Favorites include bee balm, catmint, lavender, thyme and salvia.
• The flowers of borage and comfrey are magnets for bees. When these plants are in bloom, you'll have bees feeding on them from dawn to dusk.
• Flowers in the carrot family, such as Queen Anne’s lace and angelicas are favorites of hoverflies and tiny solitary bees.
• Bumblebees are big fans of snapdragons. They're the only pollinators strong enough to open the flowers and reach the nectar inside!
CULTIVATED VS. NATIVE
Research has shown that native plants typically attract more pollinators than cultivated varieties. There are thousands of species of native bees and many are specialists that have a unique partnership with certain types of native plants.
Modern cultivars that have been bred for qualities that will appeal to us, such as double echinaceas or pollenless sunflowers, are often less appealing to bees. There's no reason to avoid planting whatever types flowers you like, but your garden will be more bee-friendly if you also include some native species. For a free list of flowering plants that are native to your region, visit the North American Pollinator Partnership Campaign.