15 Plants that Help Bees through the Winter


Cold hardy flowers, trees and shrubs that benefit bees

      
by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
November 20, 2022

You can help bees through the winter by growing plants and flowering trees that bloom during the colder seasons. (Article and plant guide continue below slideshow.)

Calendula (Pot Marigold) reliably blooms until November in coastal areas. Cut back spent flowers for continued blooms. In mild years with no hard frost, calendula blooms all winter and provides early spring flowers for bees and flower flies.
Garlic Chives, also called Chinese Chives, produce clusters of lightly-scented star-shaped flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Blossoms span from early summer to November. Hardy perennial herb.
Cornflower, also called Bachelor’s Button, blooms in late spring and continues until November or longer if weather is mild. This self-seeding annual is a good source of nectar, and attracts bees and other pollinators with its bright blue flowers. NOTE: Although commonly found in wildflower mixes, cornflower is considered an invasive plant in BC, so take care to grow it in only  in pots or confined areas.
Snapdragons are usually grown as annuals, but can overwinter in mild winters. The lovely bright coloured flowers bloom in cool weather, spring or fall, and continue into November. Snapdragon is an attractive pollinator flower for bumblebees.
Hardy fuchsia blossoms provide a good source of nectar into the fall. The attractive hanging flowers supply food for bumblebees and hummingbirds. Hardy fuchsias bloom throughout the summer until November and the winter frost.
Borage is a hardy annual herb that flowers in June or July and continues into November. Borage does not survive a hard frost. Bees and other pollinators are attracted by the bright blue star-shaped flowers.
Verbena <i>bonariensis</i> (shown above) blooms from early summer to November. Its tall clustered blooms of tiny magenta flowers attract bees and butterflies. A perennial in zones 7–11, verbena can be grown as an annual in colder zones.
Chamomile is an annual that grows well into the cold season. The clustered daisy-like small white and yellow flowers, commonly used for tea,  are fragrant attractors for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Chamomile blooms from June to November. Self-seeding.
Yarrow's tiny close-packed flower clusters provide nectar for pollinators. Yarrow blooms from spring to November. Cut back the flowers after their first bloom for continued flowering. In mild years with no hard frost, yarrow will bloom in winter.
Rosemary has small blue flowers that attract bees. This hardy herb blooms at different times of the year, often in March, April or November. Prune this shrub after flowering, but not back to the bare wood. Flowers appear only on new wood.
Primrose, a hardy perennial, likes a cool, well-drained growing area. It is long regarded as a herald of spring. In south coast BC, primrose blooms from midwinter to spring, with a reprise in October or November.
Heather brings colour in winter with tiny flowers that attract honey bees and bumblebees. This hardy perennial typically buds in November. However, an established heather plant can bloom from September to May.
Oregon Grape <i>(Mahonia aquifolium),</i> a tall evergreen native shrub with prickly, holly-like leaves, is a good early attractor for bees and other pollinators. Sprays of small yellow flowers bloom anytime from November through March.
Crocus, Snowdrop and Hyacinth bulbs provide early nectar and pollen for honey bees. The flowers often open in late January and February, providing some of the earliest blooms of the season.
Early-blooming fruit trees such as cherry and apple trees flower in February. With each tree bearing hundreds of flowers, they provide a large concentrated food source for pollinators.
 
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Calendula (Pot Marigold) reliably blooms until November in coastal areas. Cut back spent flowers for continued blooms. In mild years with no hard frost, calendula blooms all winter and provides early spring flowers for bees and flower flies.

In temperate maritime south coast British Columbia, a surprising number of hardy annuals, perennials, bulbs and flowering trees bloom in the fall, winter, or early spring. This tendency has increased in certain years as climate change brings warmer temperatures that keep annuals like calendula and borage blooming all winter.

Successive Cold-Weather Flowers for Bees

Because bees are still active in colder months, they need winter-blooming flowers that provide pollen and nectar. Honey bees forage on dry days in winter when temperatures reach 13ºC (55ºF) or more. Native bees, most of which are solitary nesters, need warmer weather to begin pollinating, and typically do not emerge until spring. In cities, however, where many warm spaces and gardens with cold-weather flowering plants provide protection and food, sightings of bumblebees in winter and very early spring are becoming more common.

By cultivating a variety of plants that flower successively throughout the fall, winter and spring, you can help feed the bees during the coldest months when few blooms are available. Borders and clusters of flowers attract more pollinators than solitary flowers dispersed throughout the garden. For annuals and perennials, cut back the flowers after their first bloom for continued blossoms.

The guide below shows the approximate bloom dates for cold-hardy plants that help bees through the winter in southern maritime British Columbia.

Cold-Hardy Flowers that Attract Bees in Winter in South Coast BC

Plant Plant Type Approximate Bloom Dates
Calendula hardy annual Spring – November,
Year-round if no hard frost
Garlic Chives hardy perennial herb June – November
Cornflower hardy annual May – November
Snapdragon hardy annual Spring, Fall
Year-round if no hard frost
Hardy Fuchsia hardy perennial June – November,
Borage hardy annual herb June – November
Verbena perennial June – November
Chamomile hardy annual herb June – November,
Yarrow hardy perennial herb April – November,
Year-round if no hard frost
Rosemary evergreen perennial herb Varies,
often blooms March / April, November / December
Primrose hardy perennial Midwinter – Spring, October / November
Heather low-growing evergreen shrub Typically November,
once established may bloom September – May
Oregon Grape (Mahonia) evergreen native shrub November – March
Crocus, Snowdrop, Hyacinth perennial bulb January – March
Early Blooming Fruit Trees (Cherry, Apple, Plum, etc.) deciduous tree Starting in February

 

Bees pollinate nearly three-quarters of the fruits, vegetables nuts and herbs we eat. In fact, we depend on bees for our survival! So let’s help feed the bees by growing successive blooms that provide pollen and nectar throughout the winter.

 

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