Honeybees are often considered the important bee on this earth. While that is strictly not true, honeybees are an important food producer for us and do a great job pollinating our flowers. And I do not know a beekeeper who does not love his or her bees. So what kind of flowers can we grow to best suit our honeybees? And how and where should we put their hives?
Why are honeybees so important to us? Working outdoors my whole life, I can only remember having been stung by to things, honeybees and wasps. With the 4000 or so species of North American native bees, I have never been messed with, stung, or bothered. I am consistently doing things that most lay persons would think would throw bees into tantrums. While I prune flowers, cut back perennials, and brush my hand against bees, they do not sting.
I have told my kids and anyone who worries about bee stings, “They only sting when protecting their home, or if they get squished against.” True statement. With honeybees, this is also true. But I am learning that people can be “bee immune” or not. Maybe your smell is wrong. Maybe they smell fear.
How did Honeybees Get Here?
Honeybees are not native to North America. At least, not since Noah’s Flood. Before that, there is reason enough to suggest that they were part of this world. But we have to deal with how they got here since then.
European settlers, coming to the “New World” brought their hives with them. Since we humans love sugar and sweetness, it is only natural that we would reap honey from hives. Besides that, honey is a natural antibiotic, antiseptic, and swelling reducer. Honey can help soothe sore throats, easy coughs, and heal wounds.
So, our ancestors brought honeybees over on their ships. And they escaped. They are hardy enough to survive throughout much of North America. I have seen hives in hollow logs, between walls in sheds and houses, in ceilings, even in used tractor tires. They can make a home almost anywhere.
A Little About Honeybees
I do not consider myself an expert in bee lore and logic. However, I have taken classes on beekeeping, and do study them in my leisure. The honeybee, Apis millifera, creates its honey by a complex process inside a special stomach.. The bee sucks nectar from a flower, depositing it in the special stomach where is changes and undergoes chemical processes. Then that bee gives it to a honey making worker bee in the hive, who refines it to honey, and seals it up in a wax covered “jar” in the “pantry”.
Honeybees not only collect nectar for honey making, they also collect pollen. On the sides of their abdomen are pollen sacs, which fill up with pollen of the flowers they are collecting from that trip. Once a honeybee starts collecting from a certain flower, it will go back and forth to only that flower species, at that time.
Also, along the body of honeybees are minute hairs which pollen sticks to as it travels from flower to flower. This is how they pollinate the flowers they are visiting. For an example, a honeybee starting on dandelions in my lawn in April with gather nectar and pollen, and move to another dandelion, doing the same. The pollen sticking to the hairs of the bee with be dragged with it, pollinating the next dandelion, and so on.
If you would like to know more about honeybees, check out the book, Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping by Caron & Connor.
Where to Put Hives?
If you are a beekeeper, or you want to be one, where would you put your hives? There are lots of factors that go into deciding this question. My biggest problem with keeping bees is my kids. I have one child who is afraid of most insects and another who finds them fascinating. Any hives on my property would have to be put where both would leave them alone.
Ideally, hives would go amid the flowers in a well loved garden, that blooms from April to October. It would be protected in winter from Northwest winds, and in summer be shaded by trees. And it would be nowhere near fields or lawns where insecticides are used. My landscape, except for my kids, provides all those protections.
Kinds of Flowers for Honeybees
Now, I made it a point to photograph as many honeybees as possible in 2021, trying to find them on every type of flower. And I nearly did. There were a few things which honeybees were not observed on, such as tomatoes, and peppers. And they seem to have a hard time with any flower that is slender tube shape, such as penstemons. But in general, they go for everything.
However, that does not mean that honeybees do not prefer certain colors, fragrances, or flower types. They certainly do. According to researchers, bees see violets, blues, and purples best. But they see all colors better than humans.
Purple and Blue Flowers for Honeybees
If they go for these colors first, what should beekeepers grow in the garden for season long colors? Choose perennials and annuals with the longest bloom times, the most fragrant scents, and the brightest colors. The following lists include blue, purple, and violet colored flowers in their native and cultured state (cultivars).
Spring Blooming True Blue Flowers
- Willow bluestar – Amsonia tabernaemontana
- Bluebells – Mertensia virginica
- Blue woodland phlox – Phlox divaricata
- Siberian bugloss – Brunnera macrophylla
- Viber’s bugloss – Echium vulgare
Summer Blooming True Blue Flowers
- Giant sage ‘Black & Blue’ – Salvia guaranitica
- Delphinium ‘Morpho Grand Blue’ – Delphinium grandiflorum
- Sea Holly ‘ Blue Glitter’ – Eryngium planum
- Balloon Flower – Platycodon grandiflorus
Fall Blooming True Blue Flowers
- Blue sage – Salvia azure
- Downy Gentian – Gentiana puberulenta
- Smooth blue aster – Symphyotrichum laeve
- Great Blue Lobelia – Lobelia silphilitica
Spring Blooming Purple and Violet Flowers
- Fremont’s clematis – Clematis fremontii
- Narrow blue-eyed grass – Sisyrinchium angustifolium
- Blue wild indigo – Baptisia australis var. minor
- Siberian iris – Iris siberica
Summer Blooming Purple and Violet Flower
- Blue vervain – Verbena hastata
- False indigo – Amorpha fruticosa
- Leadplant – Amorpha canescens
- Wild petunia – Ruellia humilis
- Anise Hyssop ‘Blue Fortune – Agastache foeniculum
- American bellflower – Campanulastrum americanum
- Spike blazingstar ‘Kobold’ – Liatris spicata
- Sea lavender – Limonium vulgare
- Catmint ‘Purrsian Blue’ – Nepeta faassenii
- Catmint ‘Walker’s Low’ – Nepeta faassenii
- Wood sage ‘May Night’ – Salvia x sylvestris
- Lamb’s ears – Stachys byzantium
- Globe thistle – Echinops species
- Tall thistle – Cirsium altissimum
Fall Blooming Purple and Violet Flower
- Leavenworth eryngo – Eryngo leavenworthii
- Aromatic aster – Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
- New England Aster – Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
Other Flowers for Honeybees
If you have any kind of gardening experience, then you know that bees of all sorts love sunflowers. Indeed, any type of compound flowers in the Aster Family are favorites of bees. It does not matter color in the least. I have heard that red is often seen as black to bees, but they still land on the Blanket Flowers in my garden.
- Purple milkweed – Asclepias purpurascens
- Golden Alexander – Zizia aurea
- Winter Aconite – Eranthis hyemalis
- Roundleaf Groundsel – Packera obovata
- Butterfly milkweed – Asclepias tuberosa
- Marsh milkweed – Asclepias incarnata
- Annual sunflower – Helianthus annuus
- Purple coneflower – Echinacea purpurea
- Ornamental onion ‘Millenium’ – Allium species
- Culver’s Root – Veronicastrum virginicum
- Blanketflower – Gaillardia species
- Annual Sunflower – Helianthus annuus
- Rattlesnake Master – Eryngium yuccafolium
- Goldenrods – Solidago species
- Tall sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ – Hylotelephium spectabile
- Wingstem – Verbesina alternifolia
- Common boneset – Eupatorium perfoliatum
- Willowleaf Sunflower ‘First Light’ & ‘Autumn Gold’ – Helianthus salicifolius
Honeybees will always be a part of our gardening life, even for those who are allergic to their stings. For those of us who are bee immune, planting more flowers for them not only increases the chance of getting their honey, but also increases the diversity of our gardens around us.