Suitable Plants for Honeybees

Not getting enough of a buzz from your garden? The Queen Bee herself suggests some bee-friendly plants

The Queen Bee herself, Lori Weidenhammer

Attract honeybees to your garden with this long list of plants

Recently at my Saturday job at the UBC Botanical Garden, one of the customers asked about bee-friendly plants. Turned out she was a beekeeper, in fact, but wanted to know if there were any more suitable plants for her honeybees.

The FOG (friend of the garden) volunteering there said it would be great to have a list posted somewhere so we could be more helpful to customers (as well as our buzzing friends!) who need all the help they can get at this time on the planet.

In the meantime, here are a couple of sure-fire bee attractors in my garden: Eryngium (sea holly), Red Monarda (bee balm), Crocosmia (aka Montbretia), Delphinium, crocus (including the pink fall-bloomers), Doronicum (leopard’s bane, great for early bees), oregano ‘Barbara Tingey’, mint when it blooms, Physostegia (aka “mother-in-law’s tongue” or obedient plant. This hilarious plant features single blossoms that stay put when you move them – kids love them too, and they are usually available in pink and white varieties. 

The Queen Bee, Lori Wedenhammer

A few weeks ago, I met Lori Weidenhammer aka “The Queen Bee”, at the Inspiration Garden in Coquitlam, where she was in full bee regalia. It was fun getting to hang out with the Queen for a few hours that day, and later she sent me list of her favourite super bee-friendly plants. It’s always good to be reminded what works to nurture them, as we need all the bees we can get.

Lori’s List:

  1. Lavender (Lavandula sp)
    If you like lavender, cultivate a big patch in your garden, or place several pots on your balcony. Try growing several varieties! Herbal beekeepers believe the oils from herbs have medicinal properties for bees as well as humans.
  2. Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)
    My favourite sunflowers include ‘Earth Walker’ for many blooms on one stem, the deeply rich mahogany coloured blossoms of ‘Velvet Queen’ and ‘Russian Mammoth’ – a smorgasbord for several varieties of bees. Avoid the new “pollen-free” varieties.
  3. Dragon’s head (Dracocephalum moldavica)
    This herb smells and tastes like lemon balm but I like it better; it retains its fragrance and taste when dried. Bees love the attractive mauve flowers.
  4. Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
    Watch the bees get befuddled when they get the large pollen grains in their eyes – they must then land, using their “windshield wipers” to clear their vision. Bees have a special notched leg for wiping their antenna clean! Pollen from flowers in the mallow family tends toward a light pink colour. I call bees covered in pink pollen my “ghost bees”.
  5. Wooly Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina)
    Native bees love this drought-tolerant plant. Wool Carder bees take the soft fuzz on the plants and line their nest with it! They are super defensive – watch this type of bee chase other bees away from “their” plants. Children love the soft, furry leaves of Wooly Lamb’s Ear, traditionally used to bandage wounds.
  6. Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)
    Grow this cover crop in your veggie garden between your climbing beans. Beekeepers in the neighbourhood will thank you for the deep, earthy flavor that buckwheat nectar lends to honey. You can also seed buckwheat in pots.
  7. Rose (Rosa rugosa)
    I consider it an honour when the leaf cutter bees leave polka-dotted holes in rose leaves! They use the bits of leaf to line their nests. Heritage or native roses with single blossoms are the best for this.
  8. Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
    Berries and bees are best mates. If you plant an everbearing variety, the blossoms will help feed the bees over a succession of days.
  9. Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale)
    Watching bees collect black pollen from Oriental poppies is an unusual visual delight. As a beekeeper, I enjoy discovering the striking black cells in the hive which occur with poppy pollen season.
  10. Borage (Borago officinalis)
    Borage is a magnet for honeybees and bumblebees. Its gorgeous edible blue flowers look great in salads and cool drinks.
  11. Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
    Catnip has an incredibly long blooming season! As well as being loved by Miss Kitty, catnip provides food for the larvae of butterflies and moths.
  12. Kale (Brassica oleracea)
    Bees absolutely adore the flowers of the Brassica family, so allow some of the plants to bloom and go to seed! The nutritious blossoms taste great in salads.
  13. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
    Children love to chew on the licorice flavoured fronds and leaves of fennel. This culinary plant attracts a wide variety of beneficial insects to your garden including lacewings, ladybugs and bees of all sizes.
  14. Honeywort (Cerinthe major atropurpurea)
    As an artist, I love the sculptural quality of this plant and its unusual deep blue-green colouring. The sound of bumblebees inside Cerinthe blossoms is amplified by the bell-shaped flowers.

Lori Weidenhammer is an artist and educator living in East Vancouver with her partner and collaborator Peter Courtemanche and their son. She regularly appears at schools and community events as Madame Beespeaker and The Queen Bee. A food security volunteer and activist, Lori works with students of all ages to identify native plants, learn to eat locally, garden to help pollinators, and practice guerilla gardening!