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7 Bee friendly plants and early spring flowers

7 Bee friendly plants and early spring flowers

Combe Grove Bee Friendly Plants

At Combe Grove, we are single-minded in our ambition to improve biodiversity and part of our sustainability objective is to improve the estate for all wildlife and leave behind a lasting legacy that has helped secure a prosperous and abundant future for generations to come.

As we journey towards our goal of achieving Gold status with Green Tourism we continue to do all that we can to attract important species to our wildflower meadows and bees are crucial to the success of our market garden.

We can all help to provide bees with a place to feed in the early spring by planting flowers that are high in nectar and pollen. Spring doesn’t begin until the end of March, but there are plenty of plants that flower before then. Planting these will not only add colour and life to your outside space earlier in the year but can also be highly beneficial for pollinators.  Maybe you could consider giving a gift of bee friendly plants for Mothering Sunday.

According to Friends of Earth,  since 1990, the UK has lost 13 species of Bee with another 35 species considered under threat of extinction. Whilst our actions alone may seem small, if we each put effort into being bee-friendly, we can protect the pollinator’s habitat, halting their decline.

Why are bees essential for the planet?

Whilst some may just see bees as the fleeting insect that darts between beautiful flowers in the warm summer months, bees play an essential role in the ecosystem, pollinating and helping the growth of new life to crops, plants, and flowers. Through pollinating, bees help plants to breed, grow and produce food. It is estimated that 1/3 of food is dependent on pollinators of which bees play a huge role. Some crops such as blueberries and cherries are thought to be 90% dependent on pollination by honeybees.

Most bees hibernate throughout the winter months and wake as the days start getting warmer. However, honeybees remain active all year round, despite freezing temperatures.

One of the ways that we can help to protect bees is by adding plants to our gardens that are rich in nectar. Here we share a list of bee-friendly plants and early spring flowers that can help transform a garden into a honeypot for pollinators.

Lavender

Considered one of the best plants for bees, the ideal time to plant lavender is in the spring, when the soil is dry and naturally warming up. Lavender should never be planted in the winter when the soil is cold and wet as the young plants will become vulnerable. However, as the plant gets older and stronger, its resilience to the cold winters will develop and lavender may continue to flower for the majority of the year. Lavender requires a sunny spot in dry and alkaline soils and once flowered, attracts most types of bees and other pollinating insects. Due to the shape of the flowers, longer tongued bees such as bumblebees have the easiest and fastest access to the pollen of these purple flowers.

Bluebells 

The vivid blue and purple tones of the bluebell will initially attract bees and make a great food source for pollinators. Bluebells flower around April/May and grow best along a hedge or under trees. Named one of the UK’s most loved wildflowers, Bluebells are easy to grow and provide a great flower for the tricky shaded spots in any garden. They are also a protected species so it is illegal to collect Bluebell bulbs from the wild. When buying Bluebell bulbs, be sure to check that they have not been wild-collected and have been grown in the UK to avoid any imported pests or diseases. 

Apple Trees

Fruit trees are an excellent way to invite bees into your garden. Although they can take time to grow, after 5-12 years, apple trees will not only produce tasty fruit year on year but they will also grow simple yet beautiful flowers that are wonderful for bees and other pollinators. Pollinators are especially attracted to apple blossom as a result of its high sugar concentration. Research shows that honeybees make up 97% of the pollinators that visit apple trees.

Dicentra flowers (Bleeding Hearts)

Dicentra are considered a wonderful food for bees as they bloom in the early spring. Generally pollinated by insects with longer tongues, Dicentra flowers are wonderful for bumblebees.

Winter-flowering honeysuckle 

When in bloom, winter-flowering honeysuckle provides nectar to many different types of bee. This plant is considered one of the most highly-scented garden plants. Its sweet scent paired with its bright creamy white flower is the perfect combination to attract bees and provide them with food before the summer months. It is advised to grow winter-flowering honeysuckle in full sun in well-drained soil, however, it will still thrive in partly shaded areas.

Mahonia 

Mahonia plants are beneficial to many forms of wildlife. Their vibrant yellow flowers provide a wonderful source of nectar for pollinating insects like bees whilst their delicious edible berries are enjoyed by birds. 

Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops)

Flowering from January to March, snowdrops are a beautiful addition to the garden that can also attract bees. Snowdrops thrive in damp and shaded conditions such as woodland areas and darker corners of the garden. As they flower early, Snowdrops are wonderful for bees waking early from hibernation. Planting Snowdrop bulbs in the autumn is the perfect way to ensure that they will be ready for early spring. 

Dandelions 

Considered a weed by many, Dandelions are in fact a wonderful source of food for our beloved bees. Flowering from early March, each and every Dandelion contains up to 100 different florets which are rich in pollen and nectar, making them wonderful plants for attracting bees. Jane Memmott, a Professor of Ecology at the University of Bristol stated: “If Dandelions were rare, people would be fighting over them. Because they’re common, people pull them out and spray them off and all sorts of horrible things. Just let them flower.” 

The Bee Blacklist

Whilst many flowers are beneficial for bees, there are certain variations that have the opposite effect. For example, whilst double-headed flowers may look pretty and fill the garden bed with vibrant colour and petals, they can be bad news for pollinators. Double-headed flowers produce much less nectar, making them a bad choice for gardeners wanting to attract more bees. Furthermore, even if these plants have produced a small amount of nectar, it is hidden deep in the flower amongst vast petals, causing bees to waste their energy searching.

So, next time you are spending time outside, take the time to notice bees. Take note of which plants they are spending time with, as you may want to add some of these to your own garden.

If you enjoyed this post on “7 Bee-friendly plants and early spring flowers”, then feel free to check out our other journal posts.where we share more wildlife conservation tips.