Honey bees are crucial for the pollination of numerous fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Their contribution is valued at billions of dollars every year in the U.S. alone. Yet, in recent years, their numbers have dwindled due to challenges like habitat destruction, pesticide exposure, diseases, and parasites. One proactive measure we can adopt is planting bee-attractive flora such as flowers, trees, and shrubs in our gardens and yards. With thoughtful planning, we can ensure a range of bee-friendly flowers from early spring to late fall. Here’s a guide to choosing and cultivating local plants that invite and sustain honey bees for natural pollination.

Focus on Native Plants

The best plants for attracting and supporting honey bees are native species that have evolved alongside one another. Native plants are easier for pollinators to utilize because they have specialized characteristics that are suited for the local climate and soil conditions. Some examples of great native plants for honey bees are milkweeds, asters, goldenrods, sunflowers, hollyhocks, coneflowers, rhododendrons, basswood trees, willow trees, and wild blueberries. When designing pollinator-friendly planting areas, aim to incorporate a range of plants that will provide overlapping bloom periods so that bees have a constant supply of nectar and pollen.

Provide Different Flower Shapes

Honey bees need open, flat flowers that they can easily land on and access the nectar and pollen. Plants like daisies, coreopsis, cosmos, salvias, and single petal flowers are excellent choices. Try to include some plants with brushy, tightly clustered blooms like hydrangeas and catalpas too, as bees can more easily collect pollen from these types of flowers. Tubular flowers also allow bees to reach inside easily to access nectar. Foxglove, trumpet vine, penstemon, and morning glory are good options with tubular blooms. By varying the flower shape, different sized bees can forage efficiently.

Focus on Old-fashioned Varieties

Many modern hybrid flowers have been bred to be showy with multiple layers of petals, but this makes it harder for bees to reach the pollen and nectar. Seek out heirloom and old-fashioned varieties of plants with single, open blooms and easy access to pollen and nectar when possible. Passionflowers, zinnias, roses, dahlias, marigolds, snapdragons, and daylilies are some flowering plants where older varieties work well for pollinators. Avoid overly refined cultivars and double blooms.

Plant in Clumps

Rather than dotting pollinator-friendly plants sparsely around your landscape, plant each type of plants in large clumps or swaths of at least three to five feet wide. Mass plantings help attract more pollinators because they can see the big bloom area from farther away. Dense plantings also provide more landing spots and reduce the energy bees expend foraging from plant to plant. Focus your clumps in areas that are partly sunny with well-draining soil.

Provide a Water Source

Like all creatures, honey bees need a reliable clean water source to survive. Provide shallow dishes of fresh water near your pollinator plants so bees don’t have to travel far for a drink. Add half-submerged stones or twigs so the bees have a landing spot to access the water easily without drowning. Change the water frequently to keep it fresh and avoid the spread of diseases. Plants with extra-floral nectaries that secrete nectar outside the flower can also help satisfy a bee’s water needs. Native plants with extra-floral nectaries include joe-pye weed, passionflower, Japanese knotweed, and American basswood.

Use Organic Gardening Methods

Bees and other pollinators are extremely vulnerable to common insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides used in gardens. Use organic growing methods without any pesticides or weed killers to make your yard as safe as possible for bees. Also look for the Bee-Safe logo when shopping for plants from nurseries and garden centers to choose options grown without harmful systemic pesticides that persist in the plant’s pollen, nectar, and tissues. Keep nursery receipts so you can trace back any issues. Support organic farms and suppliers when possible.

Provide Nesting Sites

Installing a beehive in your garden is a productive way to attract more honey bees for natural pollination. Hives require some investment and learning to maintain properly, but having an active colony based in your garden ensures continuous pollination as bees travel to and from their home. Position hives in a shady place, elevating them on platforms near flowers and nesting areas within range of the bees’ flight. New beekeepers should take classes to understand caretaking duties like monitoring hives, feeding, and medicating. With proper setup and care, home-based honey bees will thrive and provide excellent pollination services in return.

Having a beehive in the garden may take more work than simply planting pollinator-friendly flowers. But hosting your own colony of this super pollinator allows you to directly participate in reversing honey bee declines. Hands-on hive management also lets you harvest fresh honey. Welcoming bees into your green space as both pets and partners makes for a more engaging garden experience.

Spread the Word

As you work to make your own yard more pollinator-friendly, spread the word in your neighborhood and community. Share plant lists and tips for converting lawns and gardens into bee habitat. Reach out to local parks, nature centers, zoos, schools, and other public institutions about planting projects. Contact your city government and encourage them to revise mowing policies and convert unused plots into wildflower meadows for bees. Support advocacy groups such as The Pollinator Partnership that lobby for policies that protect bees and their habitat. With voices united, we can create positive change for honey bees across cities, states, and the entire country.

Creating a pollinator-friendly habitat with locally native plants can help honey bees thrive in your area while also benefiting your garden’s health and productivity. Even small actions by many individuals can add up to make a big difference for bees. Do your part by planting for pollinators wherever you have the opportunity to make your bit of the world just a little more friendly to life-giving honey bees.