Plants for pollinators
Wild bees need our support in a variety of ways. One way gardeners can help is by planting garden flowers that provide forage for a wide variety of pollinating insects.
This page gives you some good advise on what plants to pick for your outdoor space and you can download my plants for pollinators list below.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Chives are amazing in so many ways. They are reliably low maintenance, great to eat, fabulous as edging plants to create neat boarders around beds and come back every year. They flower in late spring, producing masses of nectar for a variety of pollinators especially bumble bees, but beetles love chives too; which is great!
Tip: Any flowering Allium is a hit with pollinators.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
What can I say about this amazing plant, so often overlooked or even pulled out of the garden. This herb stands head and shoulders above many others for value to wildlife, you will see the masses of sun loving blooms, visited by hordes of pollinators from the very small species of bee to big beautiful butterflies. Don’t be without this one! On many pollinator plant lists, this is rated as one of the most valuable for it’s nectar producing qualities.
Tip: Grow in sunny sites to see it flower in summer. Don’t forget
to harvest some for culinary use too!
Cotton Lavendar (Santolina rosmarinifolia)
I have spoken highly of this plant for many years, through observation of it’s huge value to pollinators, yet it still goes under the radar for most. This plant attracts huge numbers of smaller pollinators to its teeny nectar filled flowers and keeps on giving! You could sit by the plant for hours just to count the variety of visiting species. If diversity is what you are looking to improve, add this one to your plant list and you will not regret it!
Tip: This long lasting sun loving, shrubby plant can be
easily shared with friends and family as cuttings are easy to take.
Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Again, a gem of a plant, shrubby, spring flowering and incredibly
abundant with nectar for pollinators. Take cuttings to increase your stock of this versatile plant that can become part of a hedge or a stand alone shrub. Give this aromatic leaved plant a sunny spot!
Wall germander (Teuchrium)
When I first saw a wall germander ‘in action’ I had to stop and park my car, so I could go and take a closer look. Even as I drove past this little bushy herb, adorned with myriads of purple to pink blooms, I could see that it was bursting with bees! Need I say more? A must have for me now, a pollinator plant list is not complete without it.
Essential bulbs, corms and tubers
There are so many varieties to choose, but pick one with an open face and you cannot go wrong! A great addition to a pollinator friendly garden in the later Summer months. Plant into pots, so you can just put them outside after the risk of frosts are gone in your area. Bring them in again over winter. My favourite is ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ but honestly, there are so many species to choose from that will delight your eye.
Sowbread (Cyclamen hederifolium)
Oh how I love this unassuming and undemanding plant! If you have a really difficult rooty spot under a tree, try planting some cyclamen hederafolium (or Coum) and watch them colonise the hard to plant spot. When in flower, bees dangle upside down on the reflexed blooms to reach the juice inside!
Wood anemone (Anemonoides nemorosa)
Plant these by mixing with soil and throwing them around in handfuls, onto woody and shady areas of your garden. They will work their way into the ground and produce a gorgeously lit corner in the gloom of the Spring. Pollinators will use the open daisy like blooms as a landing platform, to stop for lunch.
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
These ruffled collared yellow beauties, shine out in the gloom of the winter. After the new year comes around, expect these to appear year after year, as if by magic! Any winter flying insects can find these bright yellow landing pads as they pierce the gloom of the winters day.
Grape hyacinth (Muscari species)
These are often offered to me by other gardeners as people get annoyed with how they multiply. But when I say they are fabulous for bees, people often change their minds and find a more suitable back seat spot in the garden for these little power houses to colonise. They are very jolly and so worth while having. Newer species will romp around a little less than the O.G! Bees love them.
Crocus (pick your variety!)
There are many species of crocus you can plant, but the corms I often grab in Autumn when it is time to put them in, are the widely available ‘Blue pearl’. I find these to be very good at self seeding too. If you love to see things pop up in a lawn in Spring, before grass cutting starts, try this one and you will increase the pollinators food source with no effort at all. For a visually appealing flower bed, I like to plant them around dark red Helleobores which tend to bloom earlier ready for the Crocus to join in with the colourful display!
For the traditional flower border
Christmas rose (Hellebores/Helleborus)
A must have for pollinators that fly around looking for food in the coldest months. Self seeding readily, these are well worth having for a winter garden.
Lambs ears (Stachys byzance)
Look for the Wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum) seeking out the fibrous leaves to help make it’s nest!The flowers attract all manner of pollinators.
Culver’s root (Veronicastrum)
When I say the pollinators flock to this tall stately plant, I am not joking! For a fabulous backdrop to your sunny aspect flower beds this is a must have. It is always sticky with sweet sugary, energy giving nectar.
Canterbury bells (Campanula)
All the Campanula varieties are superb for nectar value, rating highly for small to large pollinators. A perennial often in the blue spectrum that bees seem to favour.
Flowers to let grow in a semi short lawn
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
The legume family, highly rated for the quality of nectar they produce. Let these grow for species rich lawns.
Common daisy (Bellis perennis)
These tiny unassuming flowers provide a good service to pollinators of the small but important variety.
Black medic (Medicago lupulina)
More in the little but mighty category for your species rich lawn.
Self heal (Prunella vulgaris)
This little gem is bomb proof and a good ‘pit stop’ plant for bees flying from one place to another.
Creeping thyme (Thymus species)
Again, if you are looking to create a wonderful species rich lawn, let low growing thyme creep into it, when in flower, this not only serves your pollinators but looks stunning too
Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Everything from butterflies to bees will visit you for this nectar rich beauty!
Speedwell (Veronica species)
I am fond of this often overlooked or hated plant, in a garden setting it is delicate and hardy and will do well in arid spaces or in rock gardens. There are many species of speedwell.
Flowers for a perennial wildflower meadow
Ox eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
Taller plants for more of a meadow feel within your lawn, are always
stunning to see, use this one to attract beetles, butterflies and bees.
Common knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
Another tall and beautiful meadow worthy plant. I have seen these nectar filled blooms favoured by many species, but I have noticed that leaf cutter bees seem to really like them!
Betony (Betonica officinalis)
Upright fairly rigid stems create pink soldier like flowers within your long grass areas, an absolutely loves plant by pollinators!
Scabious Small and large (Scabiosa species)
The dreamy purple colours of this plant, both small and large scabious, are to die for! Not to mention the constant coming and going you will see, from pollinators, moths, butterflies and everything else!
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
The most delicate clusters of teeny flowers in one big dish like bloom, will attract all manner of species and don’t forget to pick a leaf or two for a cleansing yarrow tea.
Rock rose (Helianthemum nummularium)
This hardy little beauty grows happily in the wild, so I give it similar conditions in a garden setting and have it grow on lumps and bumps, rockeries and sunny slopes.
Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)
One of the first wildflowers I ever remember! This has a special place in my long lawn areas. Delicately yellow flowers and ferny foliage do well year on year.
The plant that keeps on giving and not just to us! A raspberry cane in flower comes with a side helping of a low hum and buzz of bees. Even if these flowers are not quite open, you will see pollinators attempting to get in -they are that good!
Black, red or white, the currant bushes provide incredible food sources and of course you will be rewarded with fruit after the pollinators have done their bit! I love taking easy cuttings of these and dishing them out to friends.
Once you see the value of a blueberry bush in the garden, you are unlikely to go back! Apart from producing their weight in gold of juicy fruits, you will have this free abundance of berries year after year. Pollinators flock to these cute little upside down urn shaped flowers. Grow in a pot of ericaceous soil and you can add interest to a dappled shade area, with this wonderful plant. Look out for the amazing Autumn leaf colour!
Japanese wine berry (Rubus phoenicolasius)
One of the most glorious jewel like berries I have ever grown, just visually you will love to cast your eyes upon the ruby berries and I find the birds do not go too crazy over them; which is a bonus (I always plant some fruiting bushes especially for the birds, one for me, one for them. This is my
favourite tip for being wildlife friendly).
Beans and peas varieties
The flowers in the legumes family are first class. They produce really power packed pollen and nectar and your pollinators can really dine in style here, with a real power packed drink of high quality and high value.
We have all heard of ‘buzz pollination’ and if you haven’t, just get some outdoor tumbling tomatoes growing easily in pots and watch and wait!
I love ‘Sun-gold’ as they produce well and are usually trouble free in pots outdoors, where bees can freely fly in and hang upside down onto a bloom. Bzzzzzzzz...
Woody & herby shrubs
Potentilla (any variety)
Such a beauty, for a warm spot in your garden. Adorned with lovely open flowers, what better offering for pollinators doing a fly-by.
I believe some research exist on which varieties, do better for bees. A well-known plant for a sunny spot! You know the rest.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Wonderful, woody, aromatic, with deep flowers that will attract bees with longer tongues that can reach inside the blooms.
White flowering species are my favourite. Another shrubby open flowered plant, to delight pollinators far and wide. Sometimes I walk past this plant and can hear the contented buzz from it’s visitors.
Pick a good flowering variety to suit your size garden. It is thought that a whopping 70% or more of the winter flying bee species, visit this life line plant for much needed and often thin on the ground; winter food. If you get no other winter food plant for pollinators, do consider getting this. While all other gardens offer nothing, you will be the Ritz!
Rosemary (any variety)
Something about this plant makes me deeply happy, when I smell it or look at the gnarly woody stems, I can close my eyes and imagine I am on a rocky landscape in the Mediterranean. (Oh and pollinators love it too!)
Choose simpler bloomed varieties, doubles won’t do. I used to think this plant had little to offer until I observed a bee‘ nectar robbing’ on a bloom one day. Look it up, it’s a fascinating way that bees get around the problem, of difficult to reach blooms.
Trees and hedgerow
Goat Willow (Salix caprea)
There are other Willows to choose from, but I love this one with fat catkins and abundant bees!
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Beautiful May blossoms, with a delicate scent. One not to be overlooked.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
As with the Hawthorn, the Blackthorn also blooms beautifully, but this one blooms before it produces leaves; a little earlier in the year.
Wild cherry (Prunus avium)
Flowering Cherry is getting full of buds in late March, ready for an April awakening, in time for hungry bees!
Crab apple (Malus sylvestris)
Very attractive to pollinators indeed with sweetly scented blooms.
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
This is not a tree, but it is a fantastic plant to underplant your trees with. A woodland aspect suits these gentle upright purple flowers that bees and other pollinators feast on.
Elder (Sambucus nigra)
Tiny flowers for oh so important tiny pollinators and of course we may be in the habit of taking a few of the blooms home to make Elderflower drinks with. The fruit are a bonus later in the year, again for us and for wildlife. So many myths exist around this plant, as with many other native hedgerow species. Well worth a look. Tip: If you can replace a fence in your garden, with a mixed native hedgerow, you have done a huge service to wildlife of all species. It is one of the biggest and best actions you can possibly take in your garden or green space, to increase diversity.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
I always think of Calendula as little landing platforms, hoverflies love them and as we know; they are some of the unsung heroes of the pollinating story!
Cosmos daisy (Cosmos bipinnatus)
As with the Calendula, these always look so easy to land on, pollinators of all species seem to drift on and off with ease. Collect the seeds for next years elegant yet sturdy plants.
These are endlessly fascinating for children, when they see how a bumble bee tips and twists its body into the closed mouth of the snapdragon blooms!When you see the fluffy bee bottom, hanging from the flower, legs wiggling you think ‘it must be worth it’. Nature knows best.
Poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii)
If you love to serve your hoverfly populations, look no further than this marvellous self seeding plant.
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
We all love this plant, I am sure along with the Poppy; it is a real national favourite. Watch bees create a wonderful colour compliment to these bluer than blue blooms.
Corncockle (Agrostemma githago)
A plant that we do not talk about so much, but no less worthy. Revive it in your garden and watch the pollinators plant themselves on the attractive pink upward looking flowers.
Nasturtium (Take your pick of varieties!)
I am never without Nasturtiums! I like to grow them up trellis so I can pick and eat the flowers, leaving plenty for large bees to visit.
This plant gets 100 gold stars in my book, known to fill up with nectar very quickly after the last pollinators visited.
Really wild but blooming marvellous
Bramble (Rubus fruticosus)
I cannot speak highly enough of the value this plant brings to wildlife. It will beat any other plant in flower at the same time, for sheer numbers of visitors. It will be absolutely crammed with hungry pollinators. The list of visitors is very, very long indeed. Don’t bash the bramble, before you take a second look.
Ivy (Hedera helix)
The sticky, other worldly green flower buds are rich in life giving energy drinks for pollinators. It saddens me to see people destroy vast stands of it, where it could happily have been left, just because it has a bad rep. I say keep it where ever you can, dedicate a sturdy fence to it, what ever you can do to accommodate a bit ot it in or indeed around your green space. There is also the small matter of a little bee called the Ivy bee (Colleates hederae) that feeds almost exclusively on it in late summer, too.
This is another plant I see people ripping out of the ground as if it has deeply offended them. If only we could speak more loudly of how the hairy-footed flower bee finds it in Spring, for one of its very first drinks of the year!
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Here we are with another wild plant that I see people fume about, as if they were wronged by it. It gets called invasive, but just keep it divided and in check each year and you’ll avoid it romping around. The pollinators that visit this with its cheerful button like flowers, are of the small variety, this is an army of pollinators that we must start to value and this is a good start!