Tag Archive: Bees

  1. 10 Terrific Flowers for Honey Bees

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    Rudbeckia lacinata ‘Autumn Sun’ is a late-summer bloomer that bees love.

    The decline in honey bees (Apis mellifera) has heightened the popularity of honey bee plants. Many favorite flowers for honey bees, like sweetclover, thistle, alfalfa and dandelion, are Eurasian plants too weedy for flower beds. Thankfully, there are some beautiful summer garden flowers, many being  North American natives, which are also great nectar and pollen plants favored by these Old World native bees. Regional natives are also superb forage plants for regional bees.

    The best honey bee plants provide a good supply of both sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen sought after by these and other long-tongued bees. Lots of beautiful garden flowers provide both in high quantities. Here are our top 10 favorites organized by bloom time. Choose one for each blooming period and you’ll have great bee blooms throughout the growing season! All are sun-loving and grow best in good soils with regular to good drainage. Amend with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend and feed with a fertilizer for flowers, such as Black Gold Rose & Flower Fertilizer, for best results.

    Early Summer Bee Flowers

    Echinacea pallidaPale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida, perennial): An elegant beauty with fine, drooping petals, the pale purple coneflower is a bee favorite that also produces seeds much loved by finches. A native of grasslands and savannahs across the Eastern United States, this tough coneflower will bloom for up to three weeks from June to July. When in bloom, its flowers will feed lots of bees. You might even see a few butterflies on them as well.

     

    Achillea millefolium 'Strawberry Seduction' PP18401Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium, perennial): The bright, flattened heads of common yarrow are covered with tiny daisy flowers that bees really favor. Native to both Eurasia and North America, this plant attracts loads of pollinators no matter where it’s planted. There are many beautiful varieties for the garden; two of the better variants are the rich red ‘Strawberry Seduction’ (image left) and ‘Wonderful Wampee’, which has pink flowers that fade to nearly white. 

    Summer Bee Flowers

    IMG_8181Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus, annual): Nothing attracts and feeds bees like good old sunflowers. Their massive and prolific blooms come in shades of yellow, gold, red and orange and give way to lots of oil-rich seeds enjoyed by seed-eating birds and humans alike. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose with various flower colors, heights and flower sizes. The dwarf varieties ‘Little Becka‘ (image left; 3-4’ tall with gold and brown flowers) and ‘Big Smile’ (1-2′ tall with classic golden flowers with black centers) are choice selections for any garden.

    Agastache_Blue_Boa_4Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, perennial): The pretty spires of purple flowers produced by the giant hyssop become simply covered with bees. A native across the northern regions of North America, this fragrant perennial in the mint family it tough and very hardy. The hybrid Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ (image left by Terra Nova Nurseries) is an exceptional variety from Terra Nova Nursery that is exceptionally beautiful.

     

    Monarda punctata and Salvia coccinea JaKMPMHorsemint (Monarda punctata, perennial): Few garden perennials draw bees as efficiently as the long-blooming horsemint. A native of much of the United States, this sun-lover produces tiers of unique pink to white bracted flowers through much of summer and into fall. The blooms of these fragrant plants last a long time and become completely covered with pollinators. Plant in very well-drained soil for best performance.

     

    Echinacea_Dixie_Belle_1Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, perennial): The popularity of purple coneflowers and their many hybrids serves as a testament to their beauty and resilience. All are a favorite of bees, and like the pale purple coneflower, seed-eating birds enjoy the seedheads that follow. The purple-pink daisy flowers begin blooming in summer and will easily continue into late summer and even fall if the old flowers are removed. Some of the better new variants for big, long-blooming flowers include ‘Dixie Belle’ (left, image by Terra Nova Nurseries) and the super heavy blooming ‘Pica Bella’

    019Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp., annual or perennial): Nothing says summer like a beautiful black-eyed Susan, and bees appreciate their prolific flowers just as much as we do. One to seek out is the heavy blooming dwarf ‘Little Goldstar’ (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Little Goldstar’).

     

     Late-Summer and Fall Bee Flowers

    Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'Asters (Symphotrichum spp., perennial): The pinks, blues and purples of late-summer and fall aster flowers are a delight to all bees. There are so many wonderful varieties to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. The classic ‘October Skies’ (image left, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) is a wonderful late bloomer with lavender-blue flowers and orange centers, and the dusty sky blue ‘Bluebird’  (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) is an earlier bloomer with prolific flowers.

     

    Eupatorium purpureum 2Joe-Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp., perennial): This group of mid-to late-summer bloomers produces big, fuzzy heads of purplish-red flowers filled with nectar and pollen. Native across North America, many of the sun-loving perennials are adapted to moist ground. One of the finest garden varieties is Eutrochium purpureum ‘Little Red’ with its 4′ tall stature and pretty reddish-purple flowers.

     

    SolidagoGoldenrods (Solidago spp., perennial): Lauded as one of the best bee flowers for late summer and fall, goldenrods become a buzzing mass when they open. In fact, goldenrod honey is a delicacy, known to be darker with a distinctive bite. Excellent garden-worthy goldenrods include the dwarf forms ‘Golden Fleece’ (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’) and ‘Baby Gold’ (Solidago ‘Baby Gold’).

    With just a few of these garden beauties, feeding the bees all summer long is easy.

  2. Flowers for Pollinators: Pollination Syndromes

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    A tiger swallowtail butterfly takes nectar from a summer zinnia. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Flowers are pollinator magnets—each holding the secret for pollinator attraction. Flowers communicate to the birds, bees, bats or butterflies through special cues. These cues are essentially groups of traits relating to things like flower size, shape, color, scent, nectar-levels and pollen. Another name for these groups of traits is “pollination syndromes” and not only are they important for flowers and pollinators, they’re good for gardeners to know, too. If you know them, you can design your gardens and containers for specific pollinators.

    Pollination Syndromes

    Showy flowers are displaying their NEED to be pollinated by insects, birds, or other pollinators. Truly, floral displays are about two things: sex and competition. Pollination is required for cross-fertilization (gene exchange to keep plant populations healthy and species surviving). Flowers also offer essential food rewards for pollinators. So as pollinators compete for flowers and flowers compete for pollinators our gardens reap the reward of color and movement. Types of pollinators are many, and some flowers and pollinators are specially designed for one another. One pollinator to one plant species relationship are very rare. More often plants have pollination syndromes directed towards broader pollinator groups, like bee, bird, butterfly and bat. Once gardeners know these, they can choose flowers with specific pollinators in mind.

    Ageratum-houstonianum_edited-1Bee Pollination (Melittophily)

    There are lots of bees with around 20,000 known distinct species. Nonetheless, specific floral traits attract them all. Bees are attracted to yellow, blue and ultra-violet colors, they eat pollen and sugary nectar, have a strong sense of smell, and they land on the flowers they pollinate. In turn, most bee flowers are either in yellow or blue shades or have nectar guides (petal marks indicating nectar) in these colors or ultra-violet; their nectar is sugary nectar, the flowers are fragrant and they product lots of pollen. Finally, the flowers are designed for landing, offering bell or bowl shapes like bellflowers (Campanula spp.), heads like sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), or wide tubes like snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.). Planting for bees has become more and more important as bee populations decline.

    UntitledBird Pollination (Ornithophily)

    Flowers pollinated by birds are usually red or orange because birds are more sensitive to red and insect pollinators are less sensitive to it. Red and orange also indicate big nectar rewards, another trait of bird-pollinated flowers. Hummingbirds are the most specialized bird pollinators on the planet. Hummingbirds are very sensitive to red, hover while feeding, have long beaks/tongues and must consume lots of nectar to keep their wings flapping at 18 to 200 beats per second. They also have no sense of smell. So hummingbird flowers are odorless, typically red or orange hued, tubular, nectar-filled and lack landing pads. Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), red beebalm (Monarda didyma) and fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.) are all hummingbird-pollinated flowers.

    IMG_2884Butterfly Pollination (Psychophily)

    There are nearly as many butterflies as bees with around 17,500 different known species. As a group, they all have a weak sense of smell, long curled tongues (probosces), sharp vision, and they must perch to feed. So, most butterfly flowers are brightly colored, lack a scent, are shaped for perching and have long, tubular nectaries perfect for a butterfly’s proboscis. Everyone wants to invite butterflies to their garden, and there are lots of garden flowers that attract them. Madagascar periwinkle, Lantana and phlox blooms are just three examples of the many flowers uniquely designed for butterfly pollination.

    Moth Pollination (Phalaenophily)

    Nighttime pollinators like moths have good night sight and an excellent sense of smell. So, moth-pollinated flowers are always highly fragrant and pale or white. Lots of moths are also hover feeders, so many moth-pollinated flowers are funnel-shaped and large, in addition to being very fragrant at night. Some classic moth flowers include angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.), moonflower (Ipomoea alba) and woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris).  

    nrcs144p2_026732Bat Pollination (Chiropterophily)

    If you live down South or out West, you can expect to be able to invite a bat or two into your garden, if you choose the right flowers. Most bat pollinators are nocturnal and rely on echolocation, as well as smell, to find food. These fruit and nectar feeders have very high metabolisms, so they are attracted to large lightly colored nocturnal blooms that smell strongly of fermenting fruit and have lots of dilute nectar. The fruity flowers of mangoes, bananas and guava are all bat pollinated. Many species of cacti have flowers that draw bats as well.

    Pollination Generalists

    Some flowers are “smart” and appear to have lots of bells and whistles to attract lots of different pollinators. These flowers are generally very successful and buzz with activity when in bloom. Flowers like goldenrod and thistles draw diverse groups of beetles, bees, butterflies and even flies.

    Many other pollination syndromes exist, but these are the most common for gardeners. Knowing the basics allow garden planners to plant for the birds, bees and butterflies to make our gardens and world a better place.

    Pollinator Container Plan:

    35304This trio of everblooming, sun-loving flowers look great together—with their warm and cool hues—and will attract lots of pollinators. Begin by choosing an attractive, 5-gallon flower pot and fill it ¾ of the way full with Fafard Ultra Potting Mix with Extended Feed. Then plant together the following:

    1. Echinacea Cone-fections™ Hot Papaya (upright perennial, attracts bees and butterflies)
    2. Lantana montevidensis (trailing bloomer, attracts butterflies)
    3. Agastache ‘Kudos Ambrosia’ (upright perennial, attracts hummingbirds (seen left))

    With good care, this perfect summer pot will look great all season long.