What are the Best Plants for bees?

What are the Best Plants for bees?

Flowers Feed Bees

All flowers are not created equal when it comes to honeybees. Plants have flowers with different shapes, colors, scents, and seasons, all to attract different pollinators. From the plants perspective, they are simply trying to spread their genes so that their species can survive and thrive.

From the bee’s perspective each flower offers a variety of food options to give them a diverse and complete diet. Some flowers have protein rich pollen and very little nectar, while others have an abundance of juicy, sweet nectar.

Honeybees visit different flowers to collect what is needed by the colony as a whole. Growing brood will mean the bees need more pollen to produce food for larvae. At the same time, a larger force of foragers will need to gather more nectar for the energy to make all those trips to gather pollen. The house bees caring for the young and those managing the food storage give orders to the foragers for what they need. This is how a colony works. It is a superorganism intent on survival and reproduction. When food sources are available, the colony grows.

This burst of growth in a hive generally coincides with a nectar or honey flow. 

bees with full pollen baskets
bees feeding brood

What is a Nectar Flow?

This is a term used by beekeepers to indicate the time period when major nectar producing plants are blooming. This is the time when honeybees are busily collecting mass amounts of that nectar to store as honey for use when nectar is sparse. That period is called a dearth.

Each region has its own nectar flow with its own regionally-specific plants. Most of the time this is in the Springtime, but can also be in the Summer and Fall, depending on weather and rainfall. 

Here in Arizona, our major nectar flows are in March through May. If we get a good monsoon season, we can often have another August through September.

Cat’s Claw in Cordes Lakes in May, 2023

The flowers our bees are after are the following:

  1. Citrus
  2. Desert Wildflowers
  3. Mesquite
  4. Palo Verde
  5. Cats Claw

In addition to the desert forage, there are agricultural crops that beekeepers can place hives on throughout the summer. Alfalfa, squash and melons can offer a huge nectar flow in the heat of summer.

What flowers do bees like best?

There is much research that has been done, and is ongoing, regarding why bees choose the flowers they do. Simple observation can also go a long way into understanding the types of flowers honeybees prefer.

honeybee on a coreopsis

Flower colors honeybees tend to prefer are:

  1. Blue
  2. Violet
  3. Ultraviolet
  4. Yellow
  5. White

Flower colors honeybees tend to prefer are:

  1. Wide blooms
  2. Open petals
  3. Multiple Exposed anthers

Flowers that draw bees also refill their nectaries after a bee visits. Some refill within minutes will others take hours. 

Another fascinating discovery is that flowers respond to the vibration of Honeybee wings by releasing sweeter nectar when bees are near. Read more about that HERE.

Honeybees and flowering plants are so interconnected that neither would survive without the other. In fact, every aspect of each is specifically designed to ensure the other’s existence.

What plants are best for Arizona Honeybees?

Because of our climate, most honeybees in Arizona are active year round. That means the best way to think about planting for honeybees is to try to ensure that there are nectar producing plants every month of the year. 

Check out this post on Creating a Bee Friendly Low Desert Garden. Take note of the flowering seasons and then make sure your landscape is designed with each of those seasons in mind.

Finally, be sure to not use chemical pesticides and fertilizers on those plants. Not only are they poisoning the bees, but they affect the electrical field the flowers use to communicate important information to the bees. This article describes this fascinating phenomenon.

Consider the honeybee and flower a small glimpse into the overall picture of how all life on Earth is interconnected. Ensuring the health of one part affects every part.

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As always, if you have any questions about beekeeping in Arizona, or for resources you need to find here, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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