Plants for bumblebees: the best bumblebee-friendly plants
It is well worth the effort to attract bumblebees into your garden. Here you will find 10 of the best flowering plants for bumblebees.
Bumblebees (genus: Bombus) belong to the bee family (Apidae) and are a close relative of the honey bee (Apis mellifera). In the UK alone, there are 24 different species of bumblebee. However, many of these species are now endangered. After years of industrial agriculture, the widespread use of chemical sprays that are hazardous to bees and wild plants has profoundly affected UK pollinators.
Even in gardens and balconies, bumblebees can struggle to find food. They require large quantities of protein-rich pollen for their larvae, and plenty of sugary nectar for themselves. What is more, bumblebees need large, stable flowers to support their weight. Scarily, just three to five days of starvation can mean death for the bumblebee colony.
This is why planting bumblebee friendly plants is essential. By growing plants that attract bumblebees to our gardens and balconies, we can all contribute to the preservation of the furry pollinators. Here are the best flowering plants for bumblebees.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), which belongs to the Lamiaceae family, is also known as throw-wort, lion’s tail or lion’s ear. Originally from Siberia, it arrived in our country gardens as a medicinal plant for several ailments. Motherwort prefers well-drained, sandy and light soil and full sun. In a plant pot, Motherwort will thrive in nutrient-deficient, airy potting soil.
This rather plain looking plant displays clusters of pale pink flowers from June to September that are very attractive to many insects, including bumblebees; not least because Motherwort offers plenty of nectar!
Snapdragon or dragon flower (Anthirrhinum majus) is a popular flowering plant. Usually an annual, it comes in white, yellow, orange, wine-red and deep purple. Bumblebees are the main pollinator of snapdragon because only heavy insects can open the plant’s flowers.
Dwarf snapdragon varieties grow to 25cm and are ideal for balconies. Meanwhile, large, woody varieties grow best in a garden. These beautiful plants will survive mild winters and sprout fresh the next year. They grow well from seed and provide plenty of food for bumblebees from June to September.
Bellflowers (Campanula) produce star-shaped, white to blue-violet flowers from June to September. There are several varieties, each suitable to different garden types. Bushy varieties grow only 10 to 20cm tall, while the giant bellflower (Campanula lactiflora) grows to 1.5m.
Bellflower likes full sun or partial shade, but is otherwise easy-going. Most importantly, your local bumblebees will help themselves to Bellflower’s abundant pollen and nectar.
Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) produces large, colourful flowers that are similar to wild rose. In fact, Hollyhock belongs to the mallow family (Malvaceae) and is related to marshmallow (genus Althaea) and hibiscus (genus Hibiscus).
It grows up to 2m tall and tends to spread its branches. No home garden should be without a hollyhock, as many wild honey bees and bumblebees visit its flowers from July to September. Hollyhocks are hardy and grow in almost any location, including chalky soil.
6. Globe thistle
The perennial globe thistle (Echinops) belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae) and grows between 50 and 200cm tall. Globe thistle develop sturdy, angular stems at the end of which many white-violet globular flowers form between July and September. Bees and butterflies tend to swarm around these beautiful blossoms.
Globe thistles can be grown from seed or propagated by dividing roots. They prefer well-drained, sandy and even stony soils under full sun.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is a must-have. The fragrant, white to deep purple flowers stretch out on long, thin stems towards the sun and provide nectar and pollen for busy pollinators from June to September.
Lavender is very popular with bees and comes in many varieties. Some of these varieties are more suited to a plant pot, others to a flower bed, and other still work best growing under taller perennials.
Lavender tends to grow 20 to 80cm tall and feels particularly at home under the sun, in chalky, clay-humus soil. Notably, it survives with very little water and hardly any nutrients.
The Knapweed (Centaurea) genus includes cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) and mountain cornflower (Centaurea montana). Its florets come in white, yellow, pale pink and deep blue, as well as wine-red. Knapweed produces delicate flowers that attract bumblebees from May to August.
A perennial, knapweed grows 30 to 60cm tall and thrives in almost all soils. However, it prefers sandy-clayey soil and a sunny location. By regularly removing any faded flowers from the plant, it will continue to produce new buds throughout its flowering season.
Poppy (Papaver) comes in a variety of shapes and colours. From brilliant white to deep red and purple, with single or double flowers, there is a poppy for every garden. Depending on the species, poppies can grow up to 150 centimetres tall, but are usually shorter.
From May to June, poppy produces little nectar, but a lot of pollen, which bumblebees absolutely love! Importantly, you can harvest your own poppy seeds, and sow them again next season. Or, in the case of ‘Grey Poppy’, ‘Blue Poppy’ and ‘White Poppy’, you can eat them!
2. Viper’s bugloss
Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare), also known as blueweed, is a biennial or perennial plant that grows 25 to 100cm tall. Its unusual name is derived from the shape of its flowers, which bear an uncanny resemblance to a snake with an outstretched, forked tongue.
Viper’s bugloss grows well in full sun and in sandy, stony and dry soil. Rock gardens make an ideal location for viper’s bugloss, where the plant’s high-quality nectar will attract bumblebees and many butterflies from May through to October.
Helenium, commonly known as sneezeweed, comes in a variety of vibrant colours – from blood red to lemon yellow, this perennial is related to the sunflower, and can reach a height of 170cm.
Named after the sun god Helios, Helenium never fails to flower (in early varieties, from mid-June to late autumn), and is loved by bumblebees. As the name suggests, Helenium likes full sun and grows well in the garden and in a plant pot. It has shallow roots, so will need a good supply of water and fertiliser in spring.
If you want to help honey bees, as well as create habitat for bumblebees, take a look at our article dedicated to the top 10 bee-friendly plants.