I have always loved bulbs, corms, tubers, rhizomes, etc. They are easy to plant and beautiful to behold. Honey bees like them too, for gathering food during the nectar and pollen season.
They don't like all of them, though, so I compromise and plant some for them and some for me. Here are some of the bulbs they like to see in their foraging area.
For fresh food in late winter, they like to see these blooming when it's warm enough for them to be outside the hive -- and preferably close by so they won't have to expend too much energy gathering the nectar and pollen.
Glory of the Snow is a pretty one that has blue or violet-blue flowers, sometimes with white centers. It likes full sun or partial shade and will naturalize. It is good for cut flowers and alpine/rock gardens. These flowers provide honey bees with nectar and pollen.
Snowdrops are a lovely sight. They have fragrant white flowers. These little beauties like full sun to partial shade and will naturalize. They add winter interest to your garden and are suitable for alpine/rock gardens. They provide honey bees with nectar and red pollen.
Winter Aconite gives us a little bit of sunshine with its pretty yellow flowers. It likes full sun to partial shade. It provides honey bees with nectar and yellow pollen.
From early spring to late spring, the honey bees like to see these bulbs putting forth their beautiful blossoms. In my garden they really love the crocuses and blue hyacinths. They always visit those year after year.
English Bluebell is a sweet flower to have in your spring garden. It has beautiful blue flowers that hang in clusters from arching stems. These plants like full sun or shade and moist, well draining soil. Honey bees collect nectar and blue pollen from the flowers.
Crocuses always make me smile when I see them starting to bloom. Their flowers are loved by honey bees, which collect nectar and light-orange pollen from them. They are great for naturalizing and for alpine/rock gardens.
Hyacinths are the most fragrant flowers in my garden when they begin to bloom. They come in a rainbow of colors: lavender, pink, white, yellow, and purple. Here at my house, the lavender ones are a big favorite of our honey bees. They also visit the pink ones, but they don't seem to care much for the white ones. They like full sun or partial shade and are suitable in alpine/rock gardens. The honey bees get nectar from this plant, which must be really good stuff because they visit these plants every year without fail.
Waterlily tulips are a lovely addition to your alpine garden or can be used as a ground cover in your flower beds. They like to grow in full sun or partial shade and will naturalize. Honey bees get pollen from these lovely tulips.
In summer the bees appreciate having these bulbs blooming nearby on days that are too hot for foraging far from the hive.
Alliums include not only the ornamental onions, but also the onions, garlic, chives, and leeks in the vegetable garden. I love the big round balls of the blooms and I am amazed that the flowers smell like the vegetables we eat. Honey bees love the nectar and pollen.
Red Hot Poker is a showy plant with bright red/yellow blooms that will light up your garden in summer. It attracts birds, butterflies, and bees. This plant likes full sun and is good for cut flowers. Honey bees get nectar and pollen from this plant.
Some flowering bulbs won't attract honey bees to your garden because they don't offer easy access to the nectar or pollen. These include flowers with double blooms, those that don't produce good nectar or pollen, and those that are bred not to produce nectar and pollen. Species bulbs are the best choice for honey bees.
How many bulbs are enough to feed the bees? The more the better, but a 3-square-foot spot will attract some bees to visit. It also depends on what else is blooming at the same time as the bulbs. Some gardeners will see them visiting their bulbs, while other gardeners with more choices available may not see this at all.
It's time to start planting bulbs, so plant some for the honey bees too.
The list of bulbs is from the Plants for Honey Bees database, which includes information from these sources.
Bee Culture Magazine
The Beekeeper's Garden, by Ted Hooper & Mike Taylor
Honey Plants of North America, by John H. Lovell, 1926
Details about the various plants and photos came from the All Things Plants Database
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