bee gardening

Bee Gardens: 12 Essential Native Plants Bees Love

As a gardener, you can make a huge difference in the lives of bees by actively planting bee gardens. Bee populations are in serious decline, with habitat loss being a primary cause. As gardeners, we can do our part to help keep these important pollinators well-fed. Growing a diverse variety of flowering plants can satisfy the appetites of various bee species. Along with planting lots of flowers that attract bees, we can also improve the environment for bees by creating a safe haven in our gardens for them to call home.

bee gardens

Essential Elements for Bee Gardens

  • Provide water sources -Bees, just like humans, need a source of water to stay healthy and safe. Bees can’t swim! They must be able to stand where it’s dry and drink. Good systems include shallow bird baths or pot bottoms filled with water and pebbles or corks.
  • Provide nesting sites-A good way to attract pollinators to your garden is to provide nesting sites for them such as patches of bare ground, dead wood, and overwintering areas. 
  • Avoid pesticides –Pesticides are harmful to pollinators and other beneficial insects. They can remove important floral resources, cause subtle yet concerning effects on reproduction, navigation, and memory, and kill bees outright. Pesticides can also compound the effects of other stressors on pollinator populations, such as loss of habitat and exposure to pathogens and diseases. 
  • Plant Native plants –One of the pleasures of home gardeners is having your favorite flowers right outside your door and creating your personal paradise. However, you should always research which plants are native to your area and which will be more difficult to grow. Native plants will typically be able to fend off disease and common pests who live in your area more easily compared to a foreign plant species. Researching native plant species that thrive on your natural soil and seasonal weather changes allows you greater enjoyment of watching your bee gardens flourish by using plants that are well-adapted to your area.
joe pye weed uses
Bee Gardens

12 Native Plants for Bee Gardens

If you’re like me, you love the presence of bees in the garden. It’s such a delightful sound to hear a generous company of bees happily browsing and buzzing among mother nature’s medley of flowers.

These tiny treasures not only herald the arrival of spring, but they cheerfully do the labor of spreading pollen. We can partner with them and do them a big favor by adding a variety of native plants to our landscape and bee gardens. They’ll be sure to thank us and let us know their pleasure. Today, let’s discover what plants our little buzzing friends like best. 

black eyed susan

Black-Eyed Susan

(Rudbeckia hirta)

Black-Eyed Susan features attractive yellow flowers that are 2 to 3 inches wide. Flowers display a single layer of bright yellow petals that surround a dark brown-black center. Sometimes the petals are more of an orange or red color. The petals are long and taper to a rounded point. Flowers stand erect on sturdy stems. Dark green pointed leaves create the perfect backdrop for these cheerful yellow flowers.

These big beauties are sure to bring joy and happiness to a variety of pollinators all summer long. Bees, butterflies, and birds will enjoy these happy Susans June through August.

If you plan to start your Susans from seed, it’s a good idea to start them early inside to extend the growing season if you’re in Connecticut. Keep in mind that it takes 60 days from germination for Susans to bloom.

Also important, this plant is drought tolerant and grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9. Be sure to plant your Susans in full-open sun for optimal flowering.

butterfly weed

Butterfly Weed

(Asclepias tuberosa)

If you want to see butterflies and bees having a party in your pollinator and bee gardens, this is the wildflower for you! The plant typically features bright orange flower clusters. The clustered, flat-topped blooms appear between May and September. The deep green elongated leaves provide the perfect backdrop for the plant’s vivid orange flowers.

Butterfly weed is beloved for its magical ability to attract a variety of beneficial pollinators like bumble bees, honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. This herbaceous perennial is also an attractive treat for rabbits but does resist deer well. It will fully establish after about 3 years. The blooms will become more vibrant and plentiful with each new year. Though considered poisonous, the root may have medicinal properties.

Butterfly weed is also known as Orange Milkweed (though it’s not a true milkweed), Pleurisy Root, and Chigger Flower. Butterfly Weed is native to Connecticut and is found throughout most of the United States. It thrives best in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9. Butterfly weed grows naturally in wide-open prairies, enjoys full sun, tolerates variable well-draining soil, and is drought tolerant.

Popular Color Variations (Asclepias tuberosa):

  • ‘Hello Yellow’ – This variety features cheerful yellow flowers.
  • ‘Gay Butterflies’ – Red flowers adorn this plant variety.
  • ‘Western Gold Mix’ – This plant has lovely yellow-orange flowers.
goldenrod
Bee gardens are incomplete without Goldenrod

Goldenrod

(Solidago Spp.)

Goldenrod is an herbaceous perennial. This native plant grows best in USDA hardiness zones 2a through 8b. Most varieties prefer full sun to partial sun, moist variable soil, and naturally grow in open meadows, woodlands, and even boggy areas. Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) is a great choice for the Northeastern US.

This plant has thick sturdy stems, with elongated and pointed leaves, that support a robust array of conical flower heads. The tiny yellow-green flowers form in multiple long clustering lines known as an inflorescence and have an almost fluffy appearance when fully mature. Goldenrod flowers bloom from mid-July through September.

These attractive, nectar-laden panicles are an irresistible treat for local insects like bees, wasps, caterpillars, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators. Monarchs specifically, depend upon goldenrod to survive and thrive. Birds also love this plant for its tasty seeds, which come in late fall.

Best of all this plant is celebrated for its medicinal and nutritional value. It can be used for tea, herbal infusions, and made into tinctures. Its flowers are a wonderful treat on salads or can be added to soups and casseroles. Once established, this plant is drought-tolerant and will look amazing in bee gardens. Additionally, goldenrod is hypoallergenic and should not be confused with ragweed.

joe pye weed
Joe Pye Weed are essential for bee gardens

Joe Pye Weed

(Eutrochium Spp.)

The luxuriant pinkish-purple flower heads of this native plant draw a variety of beneficial pollinators to your bee garden. Its fragrant wildflowers attract birds, butterflies, bees, and resist deer easily. It grows best in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9 and does very well here in Connecticut.

The flat-topped clustering blooms sit atop broadleaved blue-green foliage and flower July through September. The perennial plant grows to be about 2 to 8 feet tall and wide and makes a great privacy hedge. Joe Pye Weed prefers moist well-draining variable soil, full sun, and is drought tolerant once well established.

This plant may have been used medicinally by the Native Americans as a remedy for typhoid fever, as well as a remedy for kidney and urinary infections. Modern science, however, does not recognize any medical application (yet). Also worth noting, the seeds are useful as a dye for textiles.

Read more about Joe Pye Weed here: 

bee gardens

Lanceleaf Coreopsis

(Coreopsis Lanceolata L.)

Lanceleaf is native to most of the US, the southern parts of Canada, and Mexico. It grows best in zones 3 through 8. It is also known as Lanceleaf Tickseed. This bright yellow perennial flower is large and robust. In fact, flower heads can reach up to 2 inches wide!

Lanceleaf coreopsis flowers feature a generous clustering of 8 delicate petals around a deep orange wreath of finer petals, and finally culminate in a yellow-orange center. In appearance, they are daisy-like. The sun-yellow petals are themselves toothed at the end. Flower heads stand tall, up to 2 feet, while oblong pointed leaves issue from long hairy stems. Its numerous blooms will fully come in during the second year. April, May, and Jun are the best months.

The plant itself grows in clumps and establishes easily. Plant this hearty native perennial in full sun with well-draining soil. The nectar of these flowers not only attracts bees, but will captivate other beneficial pollinators like butterflies, beetles, skippers, moths, and wasps too.

bee gardens

Milkweeds

(Common Milkweed: Asclepias syriaca)

This wildflower is sure to dazzle the eyes with its rounded flower heads and vibrant colors. Tiny flowers radiate out from the center to create beautifully rounded clusters called umbels. The large blooms sit atop sturdy stems and are backdropped by bright green ovoid leaves. New bloom clusters are green, with newly emerging pink flowers that follow. As the umbels mature, deeper shades of pink and purple appear. Blooming occurs June through August.

Milkweed not only attracts over 450 native insects, but is beloved by monarch butterflies as well and provides their preferred nectar. The leaves, too, are vitally important as they alone provide the essential food newly hatched Monarch caterpillars need. Bumblebees too, are supported by this hardy perennial and facilitate its pollination needs. Bee sure to add this lovely wildflower to your pollinator and bee gardens.

Milkweed is a sun-loving plant that tolerates variable soil. It grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9 and grows abundantly in Connecticut. It typically grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, but can reach up to 8 feet.

Other Popular and Well-Distributed Milkweeds:

  • Whorled Milkweed (A. verticillate) – Connecticut Native
  • Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) – Endangered
  • White Milkweed (Asclepias variegata)
  • Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata)
  • Green Comet Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora)
  • Swamp Milkweed (A. incarnata) – Connecticut Native

Avoid This Variety of Milkweed in Connecticut:

  • Tropical Milkweed (A. curassavica) – This non-native plant poses a threat to other native milkweed species and local wildlife. It is especially harmful to Monarch butterflies as it carries a lethal parasite. This variety is also marketed under the names: Mexican Milkweed, Bloodflower, Mexican Butterfly Weed, Mexican Orange Milkweed, and Semi-Tropical Milkweed. It should be avoided at all costs.
purple coneflower

Purple Coneflower

(Echinacea purpurea)

Purple Coneflower is a native to the eastern US and is admired not only for its medicinal properties but also for its charismatic personality. It draws bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, numerous other birds, and other beneficial pollinators. Purple Coneflower makes a splendid addition to your bee garden.

Echinacea, as it is also popularly known, displays gorgeous purple-pink flowers, summer through fall. Individual flowers can reach up to 6 inches wide and have a large domed center. Individual petals are slender and delicate with fine teeth at their tapered end. The domed centerpiece of the flower features a geometrically arranged spiral of fine pointed scales. The grand flowers stand proudly atop thick and sturdy smooth stems.  Foliage and flowers can reach about 5 feet tall.

Purple Coneflowers bloom best in poor, well-draining soil. The plant loves open prairie sun and is drought tolerant. Deadheading spent flowers will encourage new flowering. The plant grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8.

Echinacea also boasts numerous health benefits and has emerging scientifically backed medicinal applications.

PURPLE ANISE HYSSOP

Purple Anise Hyssop

(Agastache foeniculum)

This delightful flowering plant features clustering blooms that array themselves along erect square stems. The blueish-purple spear-like blooms stand tall above the foliage June through September in Connecticut. Individual blooming spikes can reach up to 6 inches long. The flowers of this perennial plant attract various species of bees, moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Mature plants grow to be 2 – 4 feet tall and 1 – 3 feet wide. Anise Hyssop grows best in full to partial sun and well-draining soil. Anise Hyssop thrives in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8 and is native to North America.

Anise Hyssop’s broadleaved foliage is aromatic and perfect for brewing into tea or adding to salads. The leaves have a minty-licorice aroma and the seeds, which are also edible, can be added to baked goods. Both you and your bees need this plant in your bee gardens.

tickseeds

Tickseeds

(Coreopsis Spp.)

A cheery addition to bee gardens, tickseed plants, also known as Pot of Gold,  are prized for their bright and cheerful yellow flowers. Though yellow is the most common color, some varieties display red, orange, rosy-pink, or bi-colored flowers. Daisy-like blooms prolifically adorn this plant’s upright clumping foliage and bloom in early summer through fall.

Some tickseed varieties have rounded petals while others have tapering and toothed petals. Petals issue fourth from orb-like yellow, orange, or black centers. The color and shape of the foliage vary by species also.

With over 100 different species, there are plenty of varieties to choose from. Tickseed can come as a perennial or an annual, depending upon the variety you choose. Tickseed plants typically reach 2 – 4 feet tall, tolerate poor soil, are drought tolerant, and love full open sun. Tickseeds are excellent hosts to bees and butterflies and are usually ignored by deer.

Native to New England, and extending into Connecticut and Massachusetts, Tall Tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris) can grow up to 8 feet tall. Tea made from the leaves of this tickseed has been used in the past by Native Americans to treat internal bleeding.

WOODLAND SUNFLOWER

Woodland Sunflower

(Helianthus divaricatus)

Native to New England and extending into Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Massachusetts, the Woodland Sunflower is an essential plant for a variety of insects, including numerous bee species, and a variety of butterflies that depend upon its nectar and leaves. Birds and squirrels enjoy the seeds of the Woodland Sunflower while rabbits and deer feed upon its foliage.

The bright yellow flowers of the Woodland Sunflower are daisy-like and about 2 inches wide, with a single layer of elongated petals. Petals issue from yellow centers and taper to a point. Blooming occurs from midsummer through fall. The leaves of this plant are long and lance-shaped.

This perennial plant tolerates variable well-draining soil, thrives in full or partial sun, and reaches 4 to 6 feet tall. Woodland Sunflower grows best in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8.

wood asters

Wood Asters

(Eurybia divaricate)

There are various types of asters and they come in a variety of colors. Flowers are disc-shaped and have narrowly spiked petals that delicately issue from bright yellow-orange centers. They are a delight for butterflies and bees alike.

The aster is a native perennial herb that’s tough as nails and blooms well into the fall. Aster is also known as the Michaelmas Daisy because it tends to bloom right up until the Feast of Saint Michael, which is at the end of September.

Here in Connecticut, we have about 3 main varieties that do really well here. We have the Eastern Aromatic Aster with its purple-blue flowers, the New York Aster with its white flowers, and the New England Aster which also has white flowers. The Aromatic Aster has larger flowers, blooms later in the season, and fills the air with a lovely balsam-like fragrance when brushed or blown by the wind.

Eastern Asters typically do best in partial sun or shade, require well-draining soil, and need good air circulation. These varieties are drought, deer, and rabbit-resistant. Additionally, the young leaves of the White Wood Asters are edible after cooking. This wildflower shrub is the perfect addition to a woodland, cottage, or in bee gardens and is the perfect skirt around older trees. It grows best in zones 3 – 8.

wild bergamot
Wild bergamot in bee gardens

Wild Bergamot

(Monarda fistulosa)

Also known as Wild Bee Balm, Horse Mint, and Eastern Bergamot, this herbaceous perennial is a prize in bee gardens. Its bright pink-purple flowers look like a mini fireworks explosion, as delicate petals radiate upward and outward from a domed center. Bergamot also comes in other colors including a scarlet red variety (Monarda didyma) that shares many of the same features as Wild Bergamot. However, the wild purple species is best for our buzzing visitors.

Bees of all kinds adore this plant and are happily drawn to feed from its fragrant flowers during summer. Hummingbirds and butterflies also appreciate bee balm. Deadheading spent flowers will encourage new growth.

Plant your bee balm in full sun to partial shade with variable well-draining soil. The more sun your bee balm receives, the better its blooms will be. Water at the base of the plant to prevent powdery mildew. Once established, your bee balm will naturally expand and spread year after year.

Due to Connecticut having a shorter growing season, bergamot should be started inside if growing it from seed. Keep in mind that bergamot takes 720 days to bloom from the time of germination. This means the plant will bloom in the second year after planting and reaches its mature size by the third year.

Bee balm is well worth the wait. The leaves and flowers of this amazing plant make a wonderful tea and can even be included in salads. I like to dry my bee balm leaves and flowers during the summer so I can enjoy them through the long winter months. Just be sure to save some of the flowers for your bees. Bee balm is a native to most of North America and thrives in zones 3 through 9.

bee gardens
Bee Gardens

Bringing It All Together

I appreciate you coming along on this journey with me. Gardening is such a rewarding hobby, and I hope you will endeavor to have robust and flourishing bee gardens of your own. Inviting bees to your garden is a wonderful and rewarding way to pollinate your other plants. This is especially true if you are growing edibles like pepper, tomatoes, squash, and other similar flowering plants that depend upon our local pollinators to reproduce.

If you happen to enjoy walking out into the forest and exploring the trails, keep an eye out for these native perennial wildflowers. I have found that the key to well-rounded bee gardens is observing mother nature and seeing what works best in the wild lands. We can then incorporate what nature has already perfected into our own landscape.

When planning bee gardens, be sure to space your plants well. As these are native plants, you should expect your little seedlings to fill out and flourish quickly. Many will continue to spread, year after year. Also, be sure to water them regularly as they are first establishing. Even for plants that are drought tolerant, it is always a good idea to water your seedlings regularly.

Thanks for stopping by. It was a pleasure having you. Check back often to learn more about nature-based living.

Happy bee gardening!

Sources & Resources

Black-eyed Susan

Butterfly Weed

Goldenrod

Joe Pye Weed

Lanceleaf Coreopsis

Milkweeds

Purple Coneflower

Purple Anise Hyssop

Tickseeds

Woodland Sunflower

Wood Asters

Wild Bergamot

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