Gardening for Bees

Bombus fervidus

Bombus fervidus on common milkweed.

Megachile bee

Megachile bee on aster.

Things to Consider

Before deciding what plants to include in a pollinator garden, consider which bees or other pollinators are already living in or visiting the area already, and then think about the pollinators that you may want to attract. Not all plants, sites and soils may be suitable for all bees, especially those that require specific nesting sites or materials plus seasonal bloom times.

Plant for the longest bloom periods having flowers available from early spring through fall. Native and non-native plants that will provide nectar and pollen at different times of the year should be incorporated to ensure the greatest number of species can find food, both for themselves and for their offspring. Native plants have bloom periods that coincide with the seasonal periods of activity of the different species of native bees, so including native trees, shrubs and perennials will complement non-native plants.

Many native bees nest in the ground, in holes bored in wood or inside pithy plant stems. Leaving small areas of bare soil in the lawn, along wood lines or near the bases of shrubs will help certain ground nesting bees to find a suitable place to create underground nests for egg laying.

See if a few weeds can be tolerated in lawns, especially weeds that flower early- dandelions, dead nettle, ground ivy and violets. Both native and honey bees use these plants as food sources.

Insecticides and some other pesticides may be toxic to bees. If you must use a pesticide, apply at night, if possible, Avoid broad-spectrum insecticides on plants in flower. Never spray flowers. Choose products that are not harmful to bees.

Tips on Choosing Flowering Plants for New England

Choose plants that flower in early spring for bumblebee queens, honey bees and native bees that are out very early in the year. Native willows, dandelions, ground ivy and dead nettle are important nectar and pollen sources for many bees. Also, red maples bloom very early and although wind pollinated, many bees will still use their flowers as food sources. For late fall, witch hazels may bloom from October through late November and are a source of food for bees that are still active in the colder weather.

Plant in drifts, using three or more plants of the same genus in a small group, rather than just using one type of plant but in several spots. An example would be to plant three purple coneflowers together rather than using three coneflowers but separately in the garden. Bees will find easier access to favorite flowers when they are located near each other.

Shrubs and Trees for Attracting Bees

Common name Latin Name Bloom time
Azalea Rhododendron Spring
Basswood, Linden Tilia americana Summer
Blackhaw, Viburnum Viburnum Summer
Blueberry Vaccinium Spring
Butterfly bush Buddleia Summer
Catalpa Catalpa Spring
Cherry (native, ornamental) Prunus Spring
Chokeberry Aronia Spring
Crabapple Malus Spring
Currant Ribes Spring
Dogwoods Cornus Spring
Dogwoods (shrub) Cornus Summer
Elderberry Sambucus Spring
Fothergilla Fothergilla Spring
Hawthorn Crataegus Spring
Honeysuckle (native) Lonicera Spring
Hydrangea (tree) Hydrangea paniculatum Summer
Ninebark Physocarpus Summer
Red maple Acer rubrum Spring
Redbud Cercis Spring
Rhododendron Rhododendron Summer
Rose-of-Sharon Hibiscus Summer
Shadbush Amalanchier Spring
Virginia sweetspire Itea virginica Summer
Willow (native) Salix Spring
Winterberry Ilex verticillata Spring
Witch-hazel (native) Hamamelis Fall

Annuals and Perennials for Attracting Bees

Common name Latin Name Bloom time Annual/Perennial
Allium Allium Spring/Summer Perennial
Alyssum Alyssum Summer Annual
Anise hyssop Agastache foeniculum Summer Perennial
Aster Aster Fall Perennial
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia Summer Perennial
Blazing star Liatris  Summer Perennial
Bluebeard Caryopteris Summer Perennial
Bloodroot Sanguinaria Spring Perennial
Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum Summer/Fall Perennial
Borage Borago Summer Annual
Bugbane Cimicifuga Fall Perennial
Clover Trifolium Spring/Summer Annual
Comfrey Symphytum Summer Perennial
Coneflower Echinacea purpura Summer Perennial
Cosmos Cosmos Summer Perennial
Dandelion Taraxacum Summer Perennial
Goldenrod Solidago Summer Perennial
Herbs (assorted) Summer Perennial
Heliotrope Heliotropium Summer Annual
Joe-pye weed Eupatorium Summer Perennial
Lantana Lantana Summer Annual
Maximilian sunflower Helianthus Fall Annual
Mexican sunflower Tithonia Summer/Fall Annual
Milkweeds Asclepias Summer Perennial
Mints Mentha Summer Perennial
Montauk daisy Nipponanthemum Fall Perennial
Mountain mints Pycnanthemum Summer Perennial
Obedient plant Physostegia Summer Perennial
Peppers Capsicum Summer Perennial
Raspberries Rubus Spring/Summer Perennial
Russian sage Perovskia Summer Perennial
Salvia Salvia Summer Perennial
Sedum/Stonecrop Sedum Summer Perennial
Snakeroot Actaea Fall Perennial
Spurge Euphorbia Summer Annual
Sunflowers Helianthus Summer Annual
Verbena Verbena Summer Annual
Veronica Veronica Summer Perennial
Violets Viola Spring Perennial
Zinnia Zinnia Summer Annual

Additional information on pollinator plants suitable for the Northeast:

Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants

Pollinator Plants: Northeast Region

Trees and Shrubs Suggested Native Species for Pollinators

Leave small areas of bare ground for ground-nesting bees, especially where soils are sandy. Do not mulch directly up the base of shrubs as some bees, like Andrena ssp., make nesting chambers in the ground under shrubs and they need access to some exposed soil. Provide a water source- a shallow dish with pebbles is a good choice, or a birdbath with a stone for bees to keep dry while sipping water.

Do not prune any plants with pithy or hollow stems until spring. These stems are used by some bees for nesting sites. Adults will emerge the following spring. If pruning is necessary, then tie stems together and hang from a branch until the following spring rather than composting or discarding them.  If nesting boxes are used, place them far away from each other to discourage parasitic insects from finding larvae.

Nesting chamber

Ceratina sp. nesting chamber in shrub Hydrangea stem. Nesting house for bees using bamboo tubes that are sealed at one end.

Nesting house

Nesting house for bees using bamboo tubes that are sealed at one

Despite good cultural practices, pests and diseases at times may appear. Chemical control should be used only after all other methods have failed.

For pesticide information or other questions please call toll free: 877-486-6271.  
UConn Home and Garden Education Center, 2019