What do NE bees want?

Arlington, MA

Anyone care to name their most bee-attracting plants? Especially spring bloomers?

I know there is oodles of information and lots of lists offered by organization--but it would be great to hear observations from gardeners, on the ground, in the northeast or similar climate. Over in the hummingbird & butterfly forum, there is a thread about top 3 butterfly plants that has given me a lot of good ideas (and those beauties are welcome here anytime, of course). But a lot of messages are from places with longer growing seasons, like Florida and Texas. Even if there's overlap, according to organizations with lots of information, the same plants may attract pollinators in one part of the country and not in others.

I'm interested in both annuals (most of those will be in containers) and perennials (preference to natives and simple/single/heirloom ornamentals).

Thomaston, CT

My biggest bee magnet is....spearmint! I have every kind of bee imaginable on my plants, & it's been that way all summer.....spearmint is very invasive, you need to keep it in a pot....I didn't & it's all over my herb garden & patio.....bees also seem attracted to my phlox.....

Arlington, MA

Spearmint, excellent! A flavor my tea-fiend daughter likes, so it would be good to grow. (I have lots of pots. And more coming in the mail. There's more full sun pavement area than full sun yard, here.)

I forgot to mention that *our* best bee plant has been borage. It was a last-minute choice when I was buying seeds, because it's in Herbs rather than Flowers, but it has turned out to be a star. Pretty blooms that change color.

Thomaston, CT

Herbs are good 'bee' choices...I also noticed my white hydrangea blossoms were covered with bees....no blues this year....sigh....

central, NJ(Zone 6b)

Clover here for the honeybees and besides butterflies the bees love my butterfly bushes

Hornell, NY(Zone 5a)

We have oodles of sunflowers, tithonia, and purple coneflowers. And bees everywhere. The big bumblebees seem to love the tithonia, along with butterflies and hummingbirds.
Al

Arlington, MA

thanks flowAjen--I've been looking into clovers for my small raised bed--also sunflowers and coneflowers (I have a few little echinaceas grown from seed--they're not ready to bloom yet).

Al--love the tithonia. Are yours in pots or in the ground?

Hornell, NY(Zone 5a)

I grew mine under my light stand in early spring, along with my tomatoes and peppers, then transplanted in the garden in mid-May (too big for potting). They can be sown direct late in May along with ordinary sunflowers, but take much longer to bloom in the Fall. Mine were huge, nearly 8' tall and very showy. Since they aren't seen much around here I had everybody asking what they were! Beautiful flowers on the bushy plant, but they don't cut well because of the flimsy hollow stems.
Al

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Agastache! I have been trying to grow agastache (hummingbird mint, hyssop) for years. As a last ditch effort, I planted some on a sunny hill. Wow! You could do it a container but you might have to it as an annual. Our motto this year is "Come for the crocosmia, but stay for the agastache," meaning that EVERYONE (butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and other bugs) is attracted to the crocosmia -- it's tall and bright red. You can probably see it from space. But they end up drunk in the agastache.

Ours came from High Country Gardens. It probably started blooming in the beginning of July and is still going strong.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

My simplest formula is to keep something in bloom at all times until I can't. Last year at this time the bees were drunk on goldenrod. This year the perennial agastache is doing the job, as Carrie says. Sedums and hostas are getting attention too as long as they are in bloom. From week to week I see there are different favorites. A few weeks ago it was the native hydrangeas. A month ago they loved the verbascum. Always coneflowers always sunflowers. Always nepeta. Lavender attracts them too..

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

True. true.

Arlington, MA

I've planted some hyssop this year, but not much success with the seedlings (I'm guessing they got nibbled) so I'm going to try mature plants next time. In an earlier year I planted nepeta--they do love anything that's tall with rows of purple flowers, don't they?

Or with spreading disks of purple flowers--a garden next to my bus stop has one of those with as many bees one that one plant as I have in the whole backyard, usually. It *might* be purple top verbena, but it looked a little different than those. I will snap a picture next time and maybe someone can tell me....

Crocosmia is new to me. It's gorgeous. Why haven't I seen it before?

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

I don't know! It IS gorgeous, and it has commanding Iris-like spiky foliage when it's NOT in bloom that look great. My husband has of late, taken to collecting the crocosmia seeds and planting them hither and yon, I had never seen them either. Years ago when I was just starting out someone offered them for postage and I took her up on it.

In your original post, you said "especially spring bloomers," and I don't know of any spring bloomers. Also bee balm (monarda), verbena and catmint (nepeta). Maybe they prefer certain shapes of flowers?

Does anybody feel like explaining to me the different types and sizes of bees? I know (I think) they're not all honey bees but I don't know what else there is.

Thomaston, CT

There are many types of bees....more odd ones than the honeybees we're so used to......crocosmia is marginally hardy where I live.....I've been able to keep one plant going on my south side......all the others have frozen out....Lucifer is the most hardy.

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Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Yes, Lucifer is what I think we have. (It was a trade a long time ago.) I didn't even realize it might not be hardy here. It definitely attracts the hummingbirds, and when it's done, they leave.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

The Tartarian asters are multiplying in my yard. That means if someone nearby wanted to dig a few, they certainly may. OK, they are not the native aster, which I plant or encourage too. Thing is, the bees do love them the best. Goldenrod never got very ripe this year, but boy is the aster a great bee dine-in plant for fall!

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

Maybe...I'll tell you soon. Are they the REALLY tall ones?

This message was edited Oct 29, 2016 3:32 PM

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

yes. After a couple of years they become maybe four feet tall. Will post a photo if I can.

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

That would be great. We have New England asters and like them a lot. OTOH we have very little space left.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

I planted so many trees, I can't even move! Will get to it, though

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

I don't think we'll make it, but thanks very much for the offer!

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

You and anyone else are welcome. I stood next to them, at least as close as the bees would allow. I think they reach five feet tall.

Pequannock, NJ(Zone 6b)

For early season food, bees will come out on warm winter days to visit helleborus foetidus, snowdrops and witch hazel all which have long lasting blooms. They also come out for crocus but those flowers don't last as long.
Some other favorites: Seven Sons Tree, Single dahlias, Angelica gigas, chives, asters, Mountain Mint, Butterfly Weed, Heuchera villosa, squash, hydrangea paniculata with fertile flowers like Pink Diamond, callicarpa to name some.

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Great list, Loretta. Getting a larger clump of "stinking" hellebores, as well as the other hellebores is on my to-do list. I haven't actually seen bees on my witch hazel trees, but that may be due to it being cold when they are in flower. I'll make a better point of looking more closely this year.

Pequannock, NJ(Zone 6b)

Bees, flies and night moths will visit a witch hazel on a warm winter's day around here. But then I won't see any honeybees for a couple of months and I only noticed the moths one year. I guess I usually see the first bees in March.

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Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

That is so cool, Loretta. Nice pics.

Thomaston, CT

I love those witch hazels! I have been getting a new hellebore every year......this latest one was definitely drought proof!

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Do hellebores like wood mulch around them or need to be left alone? I'm spreading pine bark this weekend.

Thomaston, CT

I have some under a hemlock tree & they seem fine....I also have one growing against a rock wall, & that one is good also....they like shade....the ones in my east garden are doing the best....no mulch, just rhodos around them......

Arlington, MA

I think witch hazel hasn't come up on my lists because it prefers moist soil. Those are lovely pictures, though. I miss the bees now. I saw the last feeble bumble a couple of weeks ago.

Pequannock, NJ(Zone 6b)

Thanks Rosemary and Robindog!
Don't let moisture scare you off of witch hazel. I have sandy fast draining soil and I haven't seen my plants wilt yet - I have Diane and Arnold's Promise. It can get very dry around here. Arnold especially is surrounded by roots and canopy. If you do ever go for it, get a scented one. The scent travels through the air and it's wonderful! It makes for a short winter.
As for hellebores, I've mulched and not mulched. They made it both ways. I guess they do better with some compost or mulch. For me, the hardest part of hellebores is getting them established. Also, I find H. foetidus only lives a few years for me but they reseed a lot. If you want all those seedlings to live, keep them watered when they are young or some will disappear.

This message was edited Nov 13, 2016 8:21 PM

Lexington, MA(Zone 6a)

Thanks to all for the good advice. I have sandy soil that is usually dry, and I can also confirm that dryness has not been a problem for witch hazels-- I have Ruben and Aphrodite. I do think they might flower a bit more freely with more water and nutrients, though.

Today I was on the site for Lazy S's nursery. One feature I really like is when there is a code to tell you if a plant is attractive to hummers or if it feeds insects. A requirement for everything in the shrub border I am planting is that it does have to feed some kind of wildlife and also that most of them are natives. Therefore, these codes are very handy.

Boston, MA(Zone 6a)

Bee balm, lemon balm, oregano, thyme, and sage

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