10 Pollinator-Friendly Garden Plants for National Honey Bee Day
Photo Credit: Erik Karits/Pexels
Celebrate National Honey Bee Day by planting these amazing pollinator-friendly plants in your garden. I’ve been a beekeeper for four years now and ever since my husband and I started our beehives, we’ve noticed a major improvement in the size (and yield) of our garden. And it’s certainly no coincidence. Planting varieties of garden fruits and vegetables that attract honeybees and other pollinators can help you get more out of your garden. The 10 plants below are a great place to start.
So what’s in it for the bees? Bees travel to flowers, plants, and trees looking for two things: nectar and pollen. They drink nectar and pass it along to other bees in the hives. Honeybees have an enzyme in their saliva that turns the nectar into honey, which they can store as food for the winter. Bees also have sticky patches on their legs called pollen baskets, which allow them to gather pollen on the outside of their bodies and carry it back into the hive to feed their brood. These little baskets are the key to why bees are such fantastic pollinators: They transmit a variety of pollen every time they land on a new flower. Most plants need cross-pollination in order to successfully grow fruit, making bees a critical part of a plant’s life cycle.
The following flora are all great candidates to include in your bee-friendly garden. I actually have all 10 of them growing in my New England garden at the moment — and we’ve had fantastic yields all year. Give the ecosystem and your garden a major boost by including these plants in your garden next year.
Cucumbers produce small yellow flowers and when pollinated can grow into large hearty vegetables. I have to say, of all the plants in my garden, the cucumbers are by far my honeybees’ favorite. We have are pickling and slicing cucumbers right now, and our yield this year has been fantastic so far. I’ve made my fresh garlic pickles three times already. The tiny yellow flowers are perfect landing spaces for our honey bees, which gather the vibrant yellow pollen in their baskets.
Squash: Summer Squashes, Zucchini, Butternut
… And almost all other squash varieties. Squash produce large orange-yellow flowers that have large stamens full of sticky pollen for bees. Not all varieties of bees like squashes, but honeybees are great pollinators for butternut squash and zucchini.
Mint is relatively easy to grow and honeybees absolutely love when this plant blooms. The key is not to trim your mint too much and allow it to bolt and flower. Once it does, it makes a great attractant for honeybees and other pollinators.
Melons: Cantaloupe, Watermelons, Honeydew
Like cucumbers, melons have smaller yellow flowers that are favorites for honeybees. This is our first year growing melons. We have two watermelon plants growing now, both of which already have a few fruits. I definitely have my bees to thank for a successful first attempt at melons this year and can’t wait to plant more varieties next spring.
There is nothing better than a juicy, fresh, homegrown garden tomato in the summer. Varieties of tomatoes (and other nightshades like eggplant) are great attractants for bees. Their small flowers grow into large fruits once pollinated.
Our honeybees absolutely love buzzing around the pollen tassels on our corn — it’s a great source of protein for bees to bring back into the hive. While corn does produce both male and female flowers on the same plant and can generally pollinate itself, bees love visiting the corn tassels to give their hives an extra pollen boost.
We grow creeping thyme, or flowering thyme, which blooms bright purple buds that are a major attractant for honeybees. I’ve seen hundreds of my honeybees on a single patch. Thyme is also great for cooking, and I love grabbing a handful of the leaves to throw into soup stocks and stews.
Growing different varieties of peppers can be a great way to attract honeybees and subsequently get more fruit from your plants. Pepper plants produce small white flowers, which bees and other native pollinators absolutely love.
Peas and Beans
The white and purple flowers on green beans and snap peas are a wonderful pollen and nectar stop for bees of all kinds. Like most plants in this list, the cross pollination of the flowers are essential for the plants to fruit. Next time you enjoy a big plate of green beans or peas, thank a bee.
Fruit Trees: Apples, Plums, Cherries
Last but certainly not least, flowering fruit trees provide pollinators with early sources of nectar and pollen in the spring and early summer. Our bees especially love the apple and cherry trees we’ve planted. In the spring, we can hear the trees buzzing as we walk by them — fruit trees are an essential source of pollen early in the year when the bees need it most.