Choosing the right plants for a bee-friendly garden is not always easy. Here you will find some great bee-friendly shrubs for your garden.
When we think of bee-friendly plants, many of us tend to imagine colourful flowers. However, it is not just bee-friendly flowers that attract the little pollinators to our gardens. There are also lots of shrubs and woody plants that offer an excellent source of food. Quite often, the most subtle flowers, that otherwise go unnoticed, are particularly important for bees. Read on to find out which shrubs are perfect for creating a bee pasture and which ones are no help to the little creatures at all.
Shrubs are an absolute must in garden design for bringing height and structure to flower beds. By choosing the right pollinator shrubs, you can help out bees – and other beneficial insects. However, not all shrubs are suitable. Conifers, for example, have nothing to offer them. The same goes for some exotic plants, such as forsythia, as the flowers produce neither pollen nor nectar. These are our top 15 shrubs for creating a bee-friendly garden.
The exotic hibiscus (Hibiscus), also known as rose mallow, is extremely popular because of its large, colourful flowers. In the past, this mallow plant (Malvaceae) was particularly fashionable as a houseplant. In more recent years, however, it has enjoyed popularity as an outdoor garden plant – and bees are big fans too. While hibiscus does not actually offer much in the way of nectar, it is considered a good source of pollen. It flowers from July to September and is a valuable source of food for bees when other perennials have already faded.
2. Wild privet
If you want a hardy and low-maintenance hedge, look no further than privet (Ligustrum vulgare). As one of the few bee-friendly hedge shrubs, it offers densely branched, rapid growth and evergreen foliage. From June onwards, the plant adorns itself with delicate white flower panicles that exude a delightful fragrance and attract lots of beneficial insects.
3. Snowy mespilus
Snowy mespilus (Amelanchier lamarckii), also known as juneberry, was, until recently, a relatively unknown fruit variety. With the delightful array of colours it displays throughout the year it is easy to see why this shrub is growing in popularity. The leaves are copper-coloured when they emerge, turn green in summer and finally take on an intense red autumn colour. Another reason could be the plant’s delicious berries, and the fact that the shrub itself is very easy to care for. In April, snowy mespilus produces delightful star-shaped flowers, which prove to be a real bee magnet and attract dozens of other beneficial insects too.
Hawthorn (Crataegus) is a popular shrub in garden design because it is considered particularly low maintenance and easy to care for. This shrub can even tolerate poor soil conditions, heat or drought. With its dense branches and often sprawling crown, the plant is also visually appealing – some hawthorn species even produce exceptionally beautiful autumn colours. In May and June, the plant displays a seemingly endless number of small white or pink flowers and is very popular with bees.
With its long, arching branches, snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus var. laevigatus) is an incredibly elegant shrub in summer. Once its many white berries appear from June onwards, remaining on the plant throughout the winter, this shrub becomes quite the feature. The small bell-shaped flowers that appear between June and September look very subtle at first glance. However, they are a particularly rich source of nectar attracting lots of bees and bumblebees.
Barberry (Berberis) is the perfect low-maintenance shrub for creating hedges that keep out prying eyes and unwanted intruders. This evergreen has elongated leaves that turn delightful colours in autumn and small fruits that make a tasty snack for both humans and animals. While the barberry’s dense foliage and sharp thorns ensure that unwanted guests keep out, the small yellow flowers attract countless insects. Mining bees (Andrena) are particularly big fans, but bumblebees and other beneficial insects also find a precious food source in barberry.
Whether a plant that reaches only 15 centimetres in height can still be classed as a shrub or should be considered a ground cover is up to you to decide. But whatever side you are on, cinquefoil (Potentilla tridentata) proves quite nicely that size does not matter. Winter-hardy, robust and easy to care for, cinquefoil feels at home almost anywhere. The shrub looks particularly beautiful in May, when the dark green leaves contrast with the white star-shaped flowers. Cinquefoil often blooms until August providing bees with a long and reliable food supply.
Willow (Salix) is probably one of our best-known woody native shrubs for bees. In addition to shrubs, there are also creeping willow species and large trees. The fact that it is dioecious makes the willow special – there are both purely male and purely female willows. While the male plants produce particularly conspicuous flowers, containing valuable pollen, female flowers provide bees with much treasured nectar. In fact, some mining bee species are known to focus solely on willows, as they are such a good food source. Goat willow (Salix caprea) is especially popular among wild bees because it is an early flowerer and has a high pollen and nectar content.
9. Mock orange
Mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius), also known as English dogwood, is one of the most popular fragrant plants and can be found in many gardens. With its elegant, overhanging growth and matt green leaves, this bee-friendly shrub is a stylish feature in any garden. Mock orange looks particularly beautiful at the end of May when the plant turns into a sea of alluring flowers that bathe the garden in a radiant white and an intense scent. And it is not just us humans that love mock orange, bees love this plant too as it provides them with a rich source of food.
10. Cornelian cherry
Despite the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) and cherry tree (Prunus avium) sharing a similar name, the two shrubs are not actually related. The Cornelian cherry belongs to the dogwood family. The only thing the two cherry plants have in common is the fact that both bear shiny red fruits in summer. Cornelian cherries, however, taste much more tart and sour. Bees like the Cornelian cherry because of its lemon-yellow flower umbels, which bloom on the plant as early as February. This makes the Cornelian cherry one of the first spring-flowering plants and offers bees a particularly good opportunity to replenish their reserves after the long winter.
11. Wild roses
Roses (Rosa) are not really known for being bee-friendly. The plants are often criticized because the densely packed petals make it hard for the insects to find their way to the nectar and pollen. However, this only applies to modern cultivated roses. Wild roses such as the apothecary rose (Rosa gallica) or the Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa) form a stark contrast. They are often inundated by bees and bumblebees gorging on their abundant food supply. Other animal species also benefit from wild roses. Birds like to feed on the rose hips and the dense shrubs provide shelter and cover for lots of native wildlife such as hedgehogs. On the other hand, wild roses are popular among gardeners because of their low-maintenance nature and their natural beauty.
With its impressive blue flowerheads, bluebeard (Caryopteris clandonensis) truly is a sight to behold. From July until the first frost, this plant turns into a unique blanket of blue flowers. Its aromatic scent and elongated green-grey leaves make this plant a real enrichment to any garden. Bees love this low maintenance shrub that offers an almost endless supply of flowers packed with nectar and pollen over a very long period.
In April and May, blackthorn shrubs (Prunus spinosa) bear an abundance of small, white flowers that envelop the bush like a cloud. A paradise for our favourite little striped insects, which are on the hunt for food again at this time of year. Fortunately, blackthorn flowers not only look good and smell wonderful, but also offer enough nectar and pollen for bees to replenish their stores. Even after flowering, blackthorn is still beautiful. Its thorny, black shoots, which give the plant its name, make for an attractive combination with its dark, matt green leaves. In autumn, blackthorn bushes produce tart, aromatic fruits that are a treat for both birds and humans.
Ivy (Hedera helix) for bees? Although ivy’s umbel shaped flowers are so inconspicuous that we hardly ever notice them, the climbing plant is one of the most important food sources for bees and native butterflies. In fact, ivy is one of the few true autumn-flowering plants offering insects easily accessible pollen and nectar from September to October. This source of food is essential at a time of the year when many other plants have already faded. Ivy is also a real asset for people. It is easy to care for, robust, ideal as a screen or wall planting, and is also one of the best air-purifying plants.
15. Berry bushes
Currants (Ribes), raspberries (Rubus idaeus) or gooseberries (Ribes uva-crispa). For many gardeners, berry bushes and their sweet fruits are the highlight of summer gardening. However, it is not just people who enjoy the delicious delicacies, bees can’t get enough of them either. In fact, almost all berry bushes produce rich quantities of nectar and pollen, making them an important source of food for small insects. Raspberries in particular are considered extremely bee-friendly. They have the highest pollen and nectar value of all berry bushes, and enjoy a very long flowering period, which can extend from May through to August.
Still haven’t found the right plant for attracting bees to your garden yet? Then take a look at our article on bee-friendly perennials.