Perennials for bees: bee friendly perennials for the garden


I studied horticultural sciences at university and in my free time you can find me in my own patch of land, growing anything with roots. I am particularly passionate about self-sufficiency and seasonal food.

Favourite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberries
Favourite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

Bee friendly perennials not only leave the garden blooming year after year but are bound to keep it buzzing too! Below is a list of our top 10 best perennials for bees.

bee pollinating purple aster flower
Some perennials are particularly good for bee-friendly gardens [Photo: Dirk Daniel Mann/]

From spring to late autumn, bees (Apidae) need thousands of flowers to supply them with enough pollen and nectar. Long-flowering perennials help with this by offering a valuable food source to the bees, while being low-maintenance for the gardener too.

Perennials, once planted, will regrow every year. Unlike shrubs, however, they tend to wither above ground in the winter before sprouting again in the spring. In this article we have put together a list of some of the best flowering perennials to make your garden beautiful and insect-friendly.

1. Great masterwort

Great masterwort (Astrantia major) is a beautiful member of the umbelliferae family (Apiaceae). This perennial woodland and meadow flower is native to Central Europe and can be found mainly at higher altitudes of up to 2000 meters. It has been in Britain since the 16th century, but any plants found in the wild will have simply escaped from gardens and become naturalised. Great masterwort grows up to 70 centimeters tall and blooms with tiny flowers in a star-shaped ring of coloured bracts. Masterwort plants grow best in chalky, moist and loamy soils with a good supply of nutrients. The plant does not need much sun but can survive in full sun, provided it has plenty of water. The masterwort is a real magnet for bumblebees, bees, and other insects.

great masterwort plant
The great masterwort’s flowers have a fascinating shape [Photo: Tom Meaker/]

2. Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea sp.), which belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae), comes in a wide variety of heights and colours. Depending on the species of yarrow, it can grow anywhere from 10 to 150 centimeters tall. The yarrow’s many small yet fragrant flowers are sure to attract lots of pollinators as they flower from June well into autumn. Yarrow’s outer petals form an umbel-shape in colours ranging from vibrant pink through crimson to a fiery orange, yellow and white. Yarrow prefers to be in light, well-drained soil in full sun. To enjoy the splendour of the yarrow flowers every year, divide the plant every few years as this will give them a new lease of life.

Bright red yarrow flowers
Yarrow variety ‘Paprika’ stuns in deep red [Photo: Jennifer Yakey-Ault/]

3. Blanket flower

Commonly known as blanketflower (Gaillardia x grandiflora), this plant is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and was produced by crossing the perennial Gaillardia grandiflora and the annual Gaillardia pulchella. Blanketflower produces large flowers that are either yellow or dark orange in the center with an outer ring of petals that are either plain yellow to dark red or beautifully bicoloured. Its flowering period lasts from July to October, providing a long period of food for busy pollinators. Blanketflowers are sensitive to waterlogging, so make sure to plant them in well-drained, light soil.

field of galliardia flowers
The blanketflower variety ‘Kobold’ produces a gorgeous display of red and yellow [Photo: Peter Turner Photography/]

4. Verbena

Verbena (Verbena officinalis), also known as common vervain, simpler’s joy and holy herb, produces delicate purple flowers year after year, which bees find irresistible. Verbena is closely related to the wonderfully fragrant lemon verbena (Lippia citriodora). As a medicinal plant, it can be used to treat headaches and depression. Nowadays verbena can be found in many gardens as a flowering perennial, where it reaches up to 80 centimetres in height in favourable locations. From June to October, verbena produce long-stalked flowers, making it one of the long-blooming perennials. Verbenas prefer to grow in nutrient-poor, rather dry and sunny to semi-shady locations.

purple verbena flowers
Verbena plants do especially well in sunny spots [Photo: Lyu Hu/]

5. Eupatorium

Eupatorium is a species of flowering perennials, commonly known as bonesets, snakeroots or thoroughworts, which belong to the aster family (Asteraceae) family. These plants have long been used for medicinal purposes in healing wounds and as a stimulating herb. Eupatorium feels most at home near ponds and other bodies of water. Depending on the variety, it reaches a height from about 80 centimetres to over two metres. From June to September, the pretty white, purple, or wine-red blooms provide plenty of food for bees. Unlike many other bee friendly perennials, eupatorium prefer a semi-shady, moist location. In early spring, the nutrient-hungry eupatorium appreciates a top-up of compost or other fertiliser.

pink purple eupatorium flower
Hemp agrimony has lots of tiny flower clusters [Photo: Andrey_Nikitin/]

6. Catmint

The fragrant catmint (Nepeta cataria), also known as catnip, catswort and catwort, is popular with feline friends, but also offers bees nectar and pollen in spring from April onwards. Like thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), the delicately blue, purple, or white flowering perennial belongs to the Lamiaceae family. This tall perennial, which can grow up to 1.40 metres high, is usually buzzing with insects. Catmint is very undemanding and grows best in poor, well-drained soil in sunny locations. After the first flowering, you can cut it back to encourage a second summer flowering.

bumblebee pollinating catmint
Catmint attracts wild bees as well as bumblebees [Photo: Anna Phillips/]

7. Stonecrop

Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile) has rough, fleshy leaves and develops large flower heads with lots of individual blossoms. As it blooms from June to September, this hardy perennial makes a popular bee meadow. Stonecrops come in every colour from white to sunny yellow to deep red, and depending on the species, the stonecrop grows up to 80 centimetres tall. Well-drained and nutrient-rich soil is ideal for stonecrop perennials and since it stores water in its thick leaves, drought does not pose a problem.

pink stonecrop flowers
Stonecrop flowers until well into September [Photo: T.W. van Urk/]

8. Aster

Aster is the eponymous plant in the plant family Asteraceae. The name means “star”, which alludes to its beautifully star-shaped petals. The aster family includes smooth-leaved New York aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii) and the rough-leaved New England aster (Symphyotrichum novi-angliae) as well as the white heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) and the bushy aster (Symphyotrichum dumosus), all of which are popular with butterflies and bees. From July until late autumn, asters, which can grow up to three metres high, are sure to attract loads of insects. Asters wonderfully complement any border and come in almost every colour: from dark violet to pink, but also red and orange to white.

red aster flowers
The bushy aster is perfect for underplanting [Photo: Keikona/]

9. Goldenrod

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is a medicinal herb in homeopathy that can be used to help with kidney problems. During their flowering period from June to September, Goldenrods are real insect magnets; during their flowering period from June to September there is an audible buzz around these tall perennials. This golden-yellow North American prairie perennial forms long canes that are decorated with lots of small yellow flowers. In the wild, it spreads widely by self-seeding and has already conquered all of Europe and large parts of Asia. Withered seed heads should be cut off directly and composted. Goldenrod is rather undemanding when it comes to nutrients and water, but prefers medium to heavy, chalky soils and full sun.

tall, yellow flowering goldenrods
Goldenrods can reach heights up to 2 metres [Photo: Ruud Morijn Photographer/]

10. Bergamot

Monarda didyma is commonly known as bergamot and crimson or scarlet beebalm because of its deep red flowers that are loved by bees, and butterflies too. This tall perennial which grows up to 150 centimetres tall flowers from June to August. Although not to be confused with the bergamot orange famously used in earl grey tea, bergamot has a fruity-fresh lemon scent that can also be prepared as tea. Originally from North America, it loves bright and warm locations with plenty of moisture. In spring it shoots up rapidly, so it appreciates an annual boost of fertiliser.

deep red flowers of scarlet beebalm
Scarlet beebalm produces bright red blossoms [Photo: Chris Hill/]

Want to discover more perennial plants for bees and butterflies? Take a look at our articles on the best butterfly-friendly plants or the most beautiful bee shrubs.

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