Flowers are an asset to every garden. They’re pretty, yes. But planting flowers serves another purpose: They attract bees and other pollinators to your garden. Flowers that attract bees and other pollinators are a great addition to the home garden. They attract the good guys, the pollinators who will help make sure that the blossoms on your fruits and vegetables set fruit. Planting perennial flowers for bees means that they’ll be a food source for pollinators for years.
What is a pollinator?
By definition, a pollinator is an insect or small mammal that helps to pollinate plants. This can mean the honeybee that we’re all so familiar with, but butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds are pollinators that you might see in your garden. Even ants can move pollen from flower to flower, encouraging pollination.
Living organisms — including your vegetable plants and fruit crops — have a single goal in mind. They want to reproduce and create offspring. In the plant world, this means making seeds. Your zucchini plant isn’t developing that huge crop of squash so you’ll have dinner every night. It’s end goal is to create seeds to complete the life cycle. (Gardeners can help this life cycle by saving seeds from year to year.)
Pollination occurs when pollen grains are transferred from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. When that pollination results in successful fertilization, seeds or fruit begin to develop. (See more on pollination here.)
While some pollination can occur as the wind blows pollen around, the odds increase when the pollen is moved around by your friendly neighborhood bees and butterflies, wasps, and other insects.
We want to invite these pollinators into the garden by planting flowers for bees and other insects!
Flowers for bees
Bees and other pollinators feed on pollen and nectar. As more and more land is developed, the food sources for bees diminish. This can lead to exhaustion as they have to fly further afield to find a good source of food. Planting flowers for bees in your garden provides what they need to survive, makes your garden beautiful, and attracts pollinators who will help fertilize your crops.
Opting for perennial flowers that attract bees
Annual flowers are planted in the spring, we enjoy them for a season, and they die off when the weather turns. Perennial plants are those that survive in the garden for a number of years. This means less work for you! With plentiful blossoms that are particularly enticing to bees, the perennial plants listed below are great for tucking into edges near your vegetable garden to attract pollinators.
And at a time when our honeybee population is struggling, offering them a little bit of a buffet in your backyard by planting flowers for bees seems like a good thing to do!
Be sure to consider adding native plant material to your yard to attract native bees, too. This will vary by location; ask at your local nursery or cooperative extension office for their recommendations.
Also known as coneflower, you might be more familiar with echinacea as a health supplement. Turns out, that supplement is made from this plant that sports gorgeous pink flowers that attract bees. Echinacea has a somewhat flat, pink flower that is also attractive to butterflies. More on how to grow echinacea here.
This is not the neon-bright geranium your grandma used to grow. Cranesbill geraniums are delicate looking, low-growing perennials with flowers that attract bees with their pink and purple blooms.
While humans are generally more interested in the leaves of mint, it’s the flowers for bees. Mint can be invasive, though — be sure to plant it in an area where it can run rampant or in a pot where it will remain contained.
This low growing perennial attracts pollinators with purple or pink flowers that seem to float above the leaves on long stems. The flat shape of the flowers are especially welcoming to butterflies. It’s a long blooming flower, producing blooms all summer long.
They’re a great cut flower, too — just be sure to leave some for the bees and butterflies.
There are both annual and perennial varieties of salvia, ranging in color from a beautiful blue purple to a bright red. They all produce flowers that attract bees, but if you choose a perennial variety you’ll enjoy the benefits for many seasons.
Commonly known as Bee Balm, Monarda is a member of the mint family well-known as good flowers for bees. In addition to attracting pollinators to your garden, Monarda can be used to flavor drinks and is used medicinally. There are both annual and perennial varieties of bee balm with many different types of flowers that attract bees.
You know this as a go-to herb in your spice cupboard, but the small flowers on thyme are very attractive to bees. Thyme grows low; try the variety “Mother of Thyme” for a great ground cover that will make the bees happy and be useful to you as well.
You know it for its fragrance; bees love it for the flowers. The flowers differ in shape from variety to variety, but all are attractive to honey bees. Lavender is also considered a culinary herb and can be used to flavor some of your kitchen creations.
There are many, many varieties of aster to choose from, but they’re all on the list of flowers that attract bees. The star-shaped flowers come in purples, pinks, and whites and often bloom in the fall, making it a great nectar source when many springtime flowers have stopped blooming.
Grown for its many medicinal benefits, the flat flower clusters of yarrow are a favorite landing spot for butterflies as well as bees. It’s an easy to grow, low maintenance perennial that tolerates heat and drought well, too.
Buckwheat is not a perennial; in fact, it’s a very fast to bloom annual that’s kaput in just a couple of months. But when it come to flowers that attracts bees, buckwheat does it — and quickly — with its abundant white flowers. I highly recommend that you add it to your repertoire. Read about my success with buckwheat here.
Originally published September, 2014; this post has been updated.