Late-Winter Garden Flowers for Bees

Late-Winter Garden Flowers for Bees Featured Image
Amur Adonis is a very early bee flower with very showy flowers.
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The late-winter blooms of glistening snowdrops, golden witch hazel or the earliest crocuses are all bee-pollinated. Most of the first American woodland wildflowers are also pollinated by native bees. These pretty flowers are vital early forage for bee populations everywhere, which is why they should be a part of our spring gardens.

How Honeybees Beat Winter Cold

Bees flying over crocuses
Bees are quick to respond to chance warm days in winter when flowers first appear.

Bees cannot regulate their own body temperature. That means when it’s very warm they are most active, and as temperatures drop, they slow down and become unresponsive. The perfect temperature in a honeybee (Apis mellifera) hive is 95 degrees F, and at just 55 degrees F honeybees can no longer fly well. But, they never go dormant. They have found ways to keep themselves warm in the hive, even on very cold winter days, so they can immediately start flying to find nectar on a chance warm late-winter day when early flowers begin to appear. This helps them supplement waning stores of honey and stave off potential starvation.

Beehives in winter
Even on the coldest winter days, the inner cluster of honeybees inside is warm.

When temperatures drop, honeybees cluster in the hive around the queen. When temperatures head toward freezing, the bees closest to the queen begin to vibrate their wings and abdomens to physically create heat by friction–kind of like rubbing two pieces of wood together to create a fire. The bees on the outside of the cluster huddle tight, and still as insulation. This keeps hive interiors warm and bees ready for action.

Bee inside crocus
Reflective crocus flowers are actually several degrees warmer inside.

Spring flowers also help out! Some actually act like little greenhouses and warm up several degrees for bees. These blooms lay low to the ground, face upwards, are reflective, and track or catch the sun, which allows the temperature within each blossom to be a little higher. So, at each visit, the bees warm up a little. These mini-greenhouse flowers include adonis, crocus, and daffodils.

The First Bee Blooms

Bee on a Glory-of-the-snow flowers
Glory-of-the-snow is beautiful, early garden bulbs for bees.

Most of these are bulbs and wildflowers, but some bee-favored blooms appear on shrubs. Bees are most attracted to fragrant flowers with blooms or nectar guides of yellow, blue, or ultraviolet shades. That’s why so many bee flowers are yellow or blueish-purple. (Click here to learn more about the flower cues that attract bees and other pollinators).

Late-Winter Bee Flowers

Blue with blue pollen of blue Siberian squill flower
The pollen of blue Siberian squill flowers is also blue.

The small, bright yellow blooms of Amur Adonis (Adonis amurensis, Zones 3-7) are some of the first garden flowers to appear, sometimes flowering as early as January during warmer winters. Their clear, golden flowers have many petals, reach just several inches high, and rise above attractive ferny foliage. The leaves will disappear a couple of months after flowering. Winter aconite (Eranthus hyemalis, Zones 3-7) is similar, but it only reaches a few inches, has fewer gold petals, and naturalizes over time. Plant very early daffodils (Narcissus hybrids, Zones 4-8), such as ‘Jetfire’ and ‘February Gold’, alongside these and look for bees on their sun-drenched blossoms.

Bee on buttercup-yellow flower
The buttercup-yellow blooms of winter aconite stand on 3- to 4-inch plants.

Many little blue bulbs (4 to 8 inches) are all charming, naturalize, and provide essential bee forage in January, February, or March, depending on your zone. Siberian squill (Scilla siberica, Zones 2-8) with its nodding little bells of the richest violet-blue, has equally blue pollen, which is a fun site to see on a bee pollen basket. The flowers of glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae, Zones 3-8) look a little similar, but they are infused with white, upward facing, a little larger, and have yellow pollen. The even larger flowered Jessie spring starflower (Ipheion ‘Jessie’, Zones 5-9) is a bit taller (8 to 12 inches) and has the deepest blue starry flowers and looks very pretty alongside classic, super fragrant, violet-purple grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum, Zones 4-8), which blooms in earliest spring. (Click here to read more about grape hyacinths.) Plant all of these among the violet-blue, pink, or white daisy-like flowers of Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda, Zones 5-8) and woodland crocus (Crocus tommasinianus, Zones 3-8), which all bloom at the same time and attract bees just as powerfully

Bee flying towards snowdrops
Snowdrops can appear as early as late December or early January when winters are mild.

White, nodding snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) of all kinds bloom as early as December or January during very mild winters and attract bees to their sweetly scented flowers in flight. The simple, easy bulbs naturalize in small sweeps and resist late snowfall with ease.

Bee on a North American wildflower
Native bees rely on the numerous bloom of spring beauties, a North American wildflower.

Some North American native spring wildflowers are essential for native bees. Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica, Zones 3-8) with their tiny pink and white striated flowers, are some of the most important. They create vast sweeps of tiny flowers that bloom in the latest months of winter. The feathery-leaved Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, Zones 3-7) is another, which has delicate stems dotted with little v-shaped flowers of white. Early bumblebees find them irresistible. The yellow-flowered American trout lily (Erythronium americanum, Zones 3-8) with its flared, yellow, lily flowers and spotted foliage, is another to draw many early bees.

Late-Winter Bee Shrubs

Bee on witch hazel flowers
The strong scent of witch hazel flowers attracts bees on mild winter days.

Hybrid winter witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia, Zones 5-8) has the most exciting varieties to offer with flowers of yellow, orange, or rusty red. Even though they often bloom in January or early February, bees are drawn to their highly fragrant flowers. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas, Zones 4-8) has a comparable habit, golden flowers, and bloom time with the added benefit of edible fruits in summer, which are relished by birds. The common Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia, Zones 5-8) is another first-bloomer for bees that is easy to grow if given lots of sunlight. Their golden flowers are well-known and admired.

Bee on Cornelian cherry flowers
The golden flowers of Cornelian cherry are a favorite of bees.

All of these shrubs can be planted in fall or spring and appreciate a good helping of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost amended into the backfill at planting time.

Even a few of these flowers will make your winter landscape glow with color. And, the fact that they are some of the first flowers to feed bees makes them that more desirable and welcoming in the garden.

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is an especially pretty American wildflower for bees.

The Best Trees for Bees

Tees that Feed Bees Featured Image
Redbuds are one of the best small landscape trees for feeding bees!

Are you looking to give your local bees a much-needed boost?  Then why not give them a tree!  Plant any of the trees described below in fall or spring, and they’ll provide a banquet of nectar- and pollen-rich blooms that will have your neighborhood honeybees, bumblebees, and other hymenopterans buzzing with appreciation.  Their attractive foliage and flowers (and other features) will also win plaudits from neighboring humans.  Most trees flower for only 2 or 3 weeks, so you’ll need several different species for a spring-to-fall bee banquet.

Large Trees for Bees

Male red Maple flowers
Male red maple flowers in March. (Image by Famartin)

Red Maple
A native of swamps and forests throughout much of North America, red maple (Acer rubrum, 60-90′) is a veritable bee oasis in late March and early April when little else is in bloom.  The tight clusters of small, maroon flowers are a stirring sight in the early-spring landscape, especially when displayed against a deep blue sky.  Red maple is also one of the first trees to have foliage color in fall, its three- to five-lobed leaves turning yellow or red as early as mid-September.  Numerous cultivars in a wide range of shapes, sizes, fall coloration, and climatic preferences are available from nurseries.  Although this tough, adaptable tree has few requirements, it is at its best in full sun.

White flowers of yellowwood
The dangling white flowers of yellowwood. (Image by Ulf Eliasson)

A showy-flowered member of the pea family, yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea, 30-50′) is breathtaking in late spring when it drapes itself with dangling chains of fragrant white blooms.  Its decorative compound leaves turn a striking butter-yellow in fall, and its smooth, gray, beech-like bark is handsome year-round.  This Mid-Atlantic to Midwest native takes a few years to get going in the garden, eventually forming a large- to medium-sized, low-forking specimen.  Varieties with pale pink flowers are sometimes offered by specialty nurseries.  Yellowwood prefers well-drained soil and full sun, and is hardy from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9.


Sourwood produces sprays of white summer flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum, 20-50′) is renowned in its native Southeast United States for the honey that derives from its early-summer blooms.  The frothy, cascading clusters of dainty white flowers are one of the highlights of the midseason garden.  Factor in its handsome, glossy leaves, brilliant fall color, scaly gray bark, and conspicuous winter seed capsules, and you’ve got one of the best four-season small trees for USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.  Full sun and moist, humus-rich, acid soil suit it best.


Bee on linden flower
Bees of all kinds are attracted to linden flowers.

Late spring and early summer welcome the bee-thronged, sweet-scented white flowers of the many cultivated species of linden.  European natives including littleleaf linden (Tilia tomentosa, 65-115′) and its hybrid Crimean linden (Tilia x euchlora, 40-60′) are the most commonly planted of the tribe, but many others make excellent garden subjects, including Japanese linden (Tilia japonica, 50-65′) and the shorter Kyushu linden (Tilia kiusiana, 20-30′).  The flowers of silver linden (Tilia tomentosa) are perhaps too pollinator-friendly, exuding an intoxicating nectar that literally sends bees into a drunken feeding frenzy, followed by a narcotic stupor.  All lindens are valued for their attractive, toothed, heart-shaped leaves, although aphids can sometimes be a problem producing dripping honeydew and attracting ants.  The eastern U.S. native basswood (Tilia americana, 60-120′) is suitable for spacious, naturalistic landscapes. Most Tilia are considerably hardy and suitable to temperate landscapes in the US.

Small Trees for Bees

Lacy serviceberry flowers
Lacy serviceberry flowers (image by Kurt Stuber)

The fleecy white flowers of serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis, 15-40′), a member of the rose family (Rosaceae), decorate woodland edges of eastern North America from early to mid-spring.  Tasty blue-black fruits follow in early summer, but they and the foliage are often marred by pests and diseases.  Consequently, this small, slight, gray-barked tree is best used in naturalistic, peripheral plantings, rather than as a landscape focal point.  Several similar Amelanchier species occur in the wild and in cultivation, these and many other rose family members have bee-loved flowers.  All serviceberries are happiest in humus-rich soil and full to partial sun in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.

Bee on redbud flowers
Bees of all sorts pollinate redbud flowers.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis, 20-30′) opens its magenta, pea-flowers in mid-spring, just as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is coming into bloom.  The broad, heart-shaped leaves unfurl soon thereafter.  A small, often multi-stemmed tree from clearings and margins of central and eastern North America, it takes readily to sunny or lightly shaded gardens in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9.   Gardeners in the warmer parts of redbud’s hardiness range can opt for the handsome variety texensis, notable for its glossy, leathery, dark-green foliage.  Other options include weeping, variegated, white-flowered, pink-flowered, purple-leaved, and yellow-leaved varieties.
Seven Son Tree

Seven son tree
Seven son tree in the landscape.

Arresting, bee-luring sprays of fragrant white flowers are also borne by another late-blooming East Asian native, seven son tree (Heptacodium miconioides, 15-20′).  As the flower petals fade in late summer, the sepals expand and turn deep wine-red, continuing the show into late summer and early fall.  In winter, the shredding, silver-gray bark takes center stage.  This small multi-stemmed tree thrives in sun and any decent soil in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 9. This tree has a less formal habit and may appreciate some pruning and shaping if it is to be grown in a prominent place in the landscape.
Bee Bee Tree

Bee bee tree
Bees love the aptly named bee bee tree.

Bee bee tree (Tetradium daniellii, 25-30′) earns its common name by covering itself with masses of fragrant white flowers that are abuzz with bees when they open in midsummer.  They give rise to showy clusters of shiny black fruits that ripen in late summer and persist into fall.  The lush, lustrous, compound leaves are remarkably pest- and disease-free.  This East Asian native grows rapidly into a low-branched, gray-barked tree that would add beauty to any garden.  It does well in full sun and most soil types in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.

Whichever bee tree you choose for your landscape, you’ll probably have better luck if you start with a relatively small, container-grown plant.  Larger, balled and burlapped trees may look more impressive initially, but they’re slower to establish and more susceptible to pests and diseases.  Dig the planting hole to the same depth as the root ball (or shallower in heavy clay soil), and three (or more) times as wide.  Spread a layer of Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost in a wide circle around the newly planted tree, top with 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch, and water well, repeating when necessary (one or two times a week).  Your new tree – and your neighborhood bees – will thank you.

Bee flying over crab apple flowers
Most members of the rose family, such as this crab apple, have flowers that attract bees.

10 Terrific Flowers for Honey Bees

Rudbeckia lacinata 'Autumn Sun'
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.
Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend packThe 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

Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida, perennial)Pale 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'Common 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

Sunflower with beesSunflowers (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 BoaBlue 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 coccineaHorsemint (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 BellePurple 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’
Black-eyed SusanBlack-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 purpureumJoe-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.