Tips & Tricks for Providing Pollinator-Friendly Plants

“Beekeeping Season” is often thought of as the time of year when the world and environment around us will become alive and renewed again. Trees and flowers are in bloom, birds are chirping and the best part of all for us beekeepers is being able to hear (and feel) that beautiful buzz and hum of an active beehive.  

But why should we, as beekeepers, be concerned with what flowers, plants, and trees are blooming nearby? Don’t the bees already know what’s out there? They definitely do know and will find what resources are there, but there are a few great reasons why it’s important for you to know, too.  

Pollen and Nectar Resources

An active colony of many thousands of honeybees will require a vast amount of resources like the nectar used to build wax or pollen used to help rear brood. They will forage in the area, typically 1-2 miles away (but up to 5 miles if they really need to), around your bee yard to locate that food.  

Certain plants and trees will be blooming and able to provide those resources throughout the year, but only during certain times. These timelines can be impacted by weather, location, and the season.  

Knowing what plants are available to your bees and their typical bloom timeline can help you know if they may require supplemental feed. (Check out our PerfectBee Snippet series starting with “When to Feed Honeybee Colonies” to learn more about feeding your bees).  

A diet that contains nectar and pollen from a wide variety of plant types is best for a honeybee colony. Some sources of pollen and nectar aren’t as beneficial as others, so the more types of flowers and trees, the better!  

To determine if your honeybees are eating a varied and healthy diet, pay close attention to the bees themselves and what they have stored inside the hive. Make sure they have enough pollen and that it’s a variety of colors and sources. Watch as they return to the hive carrying pollen and make note of what colors they are bringing in. You can later look up the color of the pollen to research the plant and see if it’s a valuable resource for your bees.  

Read on to find out how you can determine what’s blooming in your area when and what to do if resources are slim during integral times of the year.  

Figuring Out What’s Blooming in Your Area & When

To determine what bee-friendly plants are blooming in your area and when, it will take a bit of homework on your part. We do love working for our bees, though, so we’re sure this one will be easy!

  1. First, print out or access an editable photo of a map online that’s centered on your bee yard and hives.  
  1. Then, you can draw (or create using a photo editor) a few circles that are various distances around your beehives, using increments like 1 mile, 3 miles, and 5 miles, as they can go that far if they must but will be quite exhausting.   
  1. From there, you can either walk or drive as close to the circle markers as you can safely/easily get to and make note of what’s blooming. Go on an adventure! Take photos and make note of the time of year and recent (and/or historical) temperatures.   
  1. Consider how the timing of weather and seasonal changes may impact pollen and nectar resources throughout the year. For example, even if a pollen source plant is typically blooming from March to April during a year, it may rain for the entire bloom duration and wash away any pollen that your bees could have made use of.  

To keep track of bloom timelines throughout the year, try taking notes using a calendar. Check out an awesome one that our PerfectBee Collaborator, Marta, came up with here to track blooms and other important beekeeping data (Her suggestions are geared toward her location in the Northeast U.S. and timing may need to be adjusted based on your beekeeping season).

Consider Native Pollinators 

One thing to keep in mind when bringing honeybees to your backyard apiary is to consider the bees and other pollinators that lived there before your bees were brought in. Though honeybees can quickly acclimate to the environment around them, when tens of thousands of new foragers are added to an area, it does impact the other pollinators.  

To help ease some of the competition for natural resources between your honeybee colonies and other pollinators like wasps and butterflies, you can do your part to ensure there is access nearby to a wide array of flowering trees and plants. Taking the time to understand how and when to change the environment around your bee yard can help both you and your bees and it will certainly help some of the native pollinators, too.  

How Can I Help Provide Additional Resources for My Bees?  

There are plenty of ways you can change the environment nearby to better benefit your bees and your bee yard:  

  • Let your yard “bee” wild – Many of us have seen yards filled with dandelions in early Spring when others have started cutting their grass and much-needed early blooms for bees and pollinators alike with it. Participate in “No Mow May”, which can have a huge impact on helping bees to find food when it’s not yet available nearby otherwise. But really, ignoring the lawnmower for parts of your lawn at any time of the year can help leave food behind for your bees by embracing “weeds” like dandelions, clover, violet, or plantains.  
  • Get Planting! – Growing food or flowering plants in your yard creates the perfect mutually beneficial relationship between you and the bees. You provide them with sustenance, and they help to pollinate the plants, it’s a win-win!  
    • You can research any vegetable and herb plants, trees, and flowers online to determine if they provide a valuable source of pollen and/or nectar and when they may bloom in your area. When planting, choose native plant species that typically bloom during times you know not much is available near your bees. Consider adding perennials that will return yearly or bi-annually. 
    • Your herbs and vegetable plants can be a great source of food for your bees, especially when other resources are not available. Some herbs and vegetables are typically harvested before they flower. Instead, consider planting an extra basil, mint, dillweed or rosemary plant and letting it flower, just for your bees and other pollinators.  
    • Trees are another incredible source of both nectar and pollen that bloom early in the year to offer bees resources that aren’t available in other plants or flowers yet. And not just fruit trees, either, though those are beneficial. Trees like willow, maple (especially red maple), witch hazel and linden trees are excellent choices to plant in and around your yard to give bees a food source. 
  • Connect Locally – Joining a local beekeeping club and connecting with other beekeepers can provide you with the chance to learn about what flowers and plants bees love that bloom in your area and the times they’re available.  

Helping Bees and Other Pollinators Outside of Your Bee Yard 

Helping honeybees everywhere is a great passion of many beekeepers. Get involved in local and nationwide programs to provide an even greater benefit to bees and pollinators everywhere, not just your own honeybee colonies.  

Programs like the Pollinator Pathway, Bee Informed Partnership, and the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund can help you find local options for making a big impact in the world of bees and pollinators.  

Learn More

To find out more about how you can positively impact your own honeybees and pollinators in general, check out the following resources:

Colony Member Resources 

Member-only Academy Lessons:  

  • Why and How Bees Forage – Understanding the ways that honeybees complete their foraging routes can make it much easier to know what sources are around your bee yard.  
  • Understanding The Honey Flow – Knowing about the honey flow can help you figure out what resources will be available and when for your bees.  
  • Thoughts About Responsible Beekeeping – Knowing how your honeybee colonies impact the environment (and other pollinators) around them can help you handle competition for resources and be a better beekeeper  

Colony Members, check out these Colony Forum posts to learn even more about blooms for bees:  

  • Toxic plants for bees  -This discussion thread is a bit on the other end of things, this discussion focuses on plants that bees should stay away from 
  • The plant Caryopteris  – A great option for a plant to feed bees in the fall  
  • Plants for Bees – Joe shares some beautiful blooms that his bees love in Maine 
  • Gardening for your bees – Our members weigh in on what plants they choose to add to their gardens to benefit their honeybee colonies 
  • Regional Plant List – Colony member Judi shares a good example of plants available by region