Plant a Bee Attracting Garden

Urban Gardeners Can Help Provide Habitat for Bees

by BC Farms & Food  -  Permalink
July 16, 2013
A mason bee on a pear blossom in a bee garden

An orchard mason bee on a pear blossom.

By planting native flowers, plants and herbs, you can create habitat in your garden and help rebuild threatened bee populations. Most of us are familiar with honey bees. In addition, Canada has 800 species of native bees, ranging from tiny black foragers to blue orchard bees and yellow-striped bumblebees. The survival of these important pollinators is essential to the reproduction of approximately three-quarters of the fruit, nuts, vegetables and herbs we eat.

What Bees Need

As natural bee habitats become less abundant, gardeners can provide sanctuaries for bees. Studies have shown that urban gardeners can have a great effect on bee diversity by planting a variety of flowers that attract and nurture different species of native bees.

Bees will thrive and reproduce in places that provide for three basic needs:

• Food – Flowering plants provide the nectar (sugar) and pollen (proteins and fats) bees need for energy and to feed their young.

• Fresh Water – Puddles, muddy areas, or shallow water in between rocks provide accessible water sources for bees.

bee nest hole.

Nest hole of a solitary bee.

• Shelter – Bees need areas protected from cold, wind and flooding. Sunny, bare areas of earth in out-of-the way places in the garden are attractive to native bees for nesting. Some native bees also nest in rotting logs or hollow stems. About 90 percent of native bees are solitary nesters, digging a single nest hole in which to care for their own offspring. Because they do not have a large colony to defend, solitary bees are generally not aggressive.

What Bees Don’t Need

Certain components of modern gardens are not helpful to bees:

• Hybrid plants with large, showy flowers often have less (or no) pollen than native plants. Flowers bred for size, colour, and disease resistance, are sometimes sterile and therefore of no use to pollinators. Avoid double hollyhocks and double sunflowers. Tulips and pansies are also of limited value to bees.

• Pesticides – Avoid pesticides, especially broad spectrum insecticides which kill beneficial insects such as bees along with pests. Read labels and avoid plant care products with active ingredients such as imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid. Neonicotinoids are implicated in the decline of bee populations and have now been banned in Europe.

What to Plant in Your Bee Garden

Most flowers and vegetables need pollination to reproduce. The more bees you attract, the more your garden can thrive.

• Native plants (wildflowers) and heirloom plants (not hybrids) are best for attracting and helping bees. On average, native flowers attract four times as many pollinators as non-natives. Use as many native plants as possible.

• Many flowers that we regard as weeds, such as dandelions and buttercups, are early and important sources of food for bees.

crocuses for a bee garden

Crocuses in early spring

• Plant several colours of flowers. Blue, violet, white and yellow flowers are most attractive to bees.

• Plant many varieties of flowers to attract a diverse range of bees.

• Provide a range of plants that bloom in succession throughout the season. Bee season is from March to October. Look for plants that bloom successively, starting with crocus and heather in early spring, and ending with lavender and calendula in late fall.

• Cluster flowers together in patches, so that bees can feed in one area rather than flying between scattered individual flowers.

• Plant flowers of various shapes. Different species of bees have different tongue lengths suited for deep or shallow shapes. Small, shallow flowers such as daisies, marigolds, buttercups and yarrow will often attract small bees. Blooms such as delphinium, columbine, lavender, sage, and mint attract larger bees.

• Plant in sunny areas with some protection from wind. Bees favour these areas over shade or windy open spots.

Plants for a Bee Garden

Below is a list of bee-attracting flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables. When selecting flowers, choose natives and non-hybrid varieties. The bees will thank you, and you’ll reap the benefits of a colourful, well-pollinated, vibrant garden!

bumblebee on clover

A bumblebee works on a clover flower.

bee on sunflower in a bee garden

A honey bee on a sunflower.


Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Bleeding Heart
Cornflower (weedy)
Hollyhock (not doubled)
Lupine (wild)
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
Salvia (blue or violet)
Scented Geranium
Sunflower (Helianthus – not doubled)
Verbena (not red)
Wild Rose (and Rugosa Rose)

Bee balm in a bee garden

Bee balm


Bee Balm (Bergamot)

apple blossoms in a bee garden

Apple blossoms


Apple tree
Cherry tree
Hazelnut tree
Pear tree
Plum tree
Quince tree

zucchini flowers in a bee garden

Zucchini flowers about to bloom



Also, when left to flower:


Here are some informative websites about bees.

Hutchings Bee Service
Feed the Bees
Urban Bee Network
Hives for Humanity


More about gardening:
Plants That Attract Beneficial Insects

Deer Resistant Plants that Attract PollinatorsDeer Resistant Plants That Attract Pollinators

Grow a Climate Change Resilient GardenGrow a Climate Change Resilient Garden

10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens10 Tips for Year-Round Vegetable Gardens

8 Responses leave one →
  1. 2019 August 11
    Tarie permalink

    Awesome article!! Really appreciate the availability of this resource. When walking by my neighbours acreage this morning, their massive Birches were vibrating with the hum of bees..They were all over the Birch tree flowers. Something else to think about: Trees that also support/attract Bees.
    Again, grateful for this.

  2. 2019 June 12
    Susan permalink

    Hi. Thanks, great article. How about dogwood, daffodils, almond tree, maple, birch, weeping willow, saskatoons, hosta, peonies, hydrangea, iris, cabbage, cauliflower, Belgian endive, marjoram, epizote, dill, celery, cucumber, lily of the valley, gladioli, hyacinth, carnations, dahlias, lilies, apricots, peaches, nectarines, grapes, rhubarb, azaleas, forget me nots ? Sorry about the long list.

  3. 2018 June 21
    RITA permalink

    Thank you!

  4. 2017 June 9
    Lorraine storvold permalink

    We have a Hawthorne tree that flowers from late May to early June. We call it our bumblebee tree. For the duration of its flowering, it is covered in beautiful big bumblebees. It’s so amazing, the tree just hums from early morning to evening. Can hear it from our deck 25 ft away. Thanks for your articles, I plant flowers with my vegetables.

  5. 2017 May 25
    Alanah Nasadyk permalink

    This is such a helpful article.

  6. 2016 July 23
    Lorelei Diamond permalink

    Thank you for this information. I want to plant Proven Winner Lo and Behold butterfly bushes which are sterile.
    Will they provide nutrients for pollinators?

    • 2016 July 23
      BC Farms & Food permalink

      Sterile plants do not produce pollen and are not good choices for feeding bees and other pollinators. Although you’re referring to a miniature variety of Butterfly Bush, be aware that Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii, is considered an invasive weed by the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia.

  7. 2014 January 25
    Robin round permalink

    This is a great article.

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