10 Honeybee-Friendly Plants

Honeybee approaching a sunflower
Alessandro Giorgi Art Photography / Getty Images

It's never too late to help the rapidly disappearing honeybee population by adding nectar- and pollen-producing plants to your garden. Environmental stress stemming from pesticides and parasites has caused widespread colony collapse, which affects not just the bees themselves but also our entire food supply.

According to Miriam Goldberger, author of "Taming Wildflowers: Bringing the Beauty and Splendor of Nature's Blooms into Your Own Backyard," more than 75% of the foods we consume require pollination. Honeybees, she says, are some of the most important pollinators.

Here are 10 plants that will help fuel honeybees with healthy fats and proteins.

Warning

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

1
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Asters (Symphyotrichum)

A honey bee investigates an aster

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Asters are especially beneficial for the honeybee because they're late-blooming, producing blue, pink, and purple daisylike flowers late in the summer and sometimes well into November. This gives honeybees a chance to get a late-season energy boost to sustain them through the harsh, pollenless winter season.

There are more than 600 species of this perennial, but the two most common in North America are the New York and New England varieties. They are very similar and both honeybee-friendly, but the former grows slightly taller.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, loamy, well-draining.
2
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Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)

Field of black-eyed Susans with bee on one
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Honeybees love to slurp nectar from this native North American perennial—a common wildflower—and black-eyed Susans do their part to attract them. To the human eye, these classic blooms look cheery and yellow with a contrasting brown center, but to the bee, which sees on the ultraviolet spectrum, the subtle darkening of its inner pedals creates a vivid bullseye that leads the insect straight to the nectar.

Black-eyed Susans' stalks can grow three feet tall and beyond. They are long-lived and will fill your garden with bright color without ever needing to be replanted.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining clay to loam.
3
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Dandelions (Taraxacum)

Close-up of a honeybee on a dandelion

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Technically a weed, this short-lived perennial yellow sprout is also a common food source for bees—albeit a mediocre one. Dandelions lack the amino acids and nutrients that bees really need to thrive and raise brood, but the insects will still flock to them when little else is in bloom. That they also have deep roots that can channel nutrients from the ground up into your grass means dandelions are also great for your garden.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, slightly alkaline.
4
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Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Fresh lemon balm in an herb garden
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This perennial herb, part of the mint family, is a perfect bee-attracting addition to any partly shady garden. Aaron von Frank, an expert organic gardener and co-founder of GrowJourney, a USDA-certified organic Seeds of the Month Club, says that in ancient Greek times, lemon balm was planted near domestic hives to help keep the honeybees well-fed and to help prevent their bees from swarming. He notes that the citrusy herb "makes a delicious tea, too."

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, sandy, loamy.
5
of 10

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)

Honeybee pollinating an Eastern purple coneflower
Evgeny Ivanov / EyeEm / Getty Images

Otherwise known as echinacea, this resplendent daisylike flower is a honeybee magnet that provides both pollen and nectar to foraging bees. Whereas many flowers close during the day, the perennial purple coneflower remains open and continuously produces nectar through the afternoon, keeping the bees well-fed even during the hottest part of the day. Butterflies, moths, and other bee species love this herbaceous flowering plant, too.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, rocky, sandy, or clay.
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Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus)

Field of colorful snapdragons
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Snapdragons' most abundant scent compound, and the thing that best draws honeybees to them, is methyl benzoate. During the day, when bees are active, they produce four times the amount of this scent per flower as they would at night. Adding to the allure, the bees then carry the aroma of the snapdragon back to the hive, which attracts even more bees.

Snapdragons can be annual or perennial, though perennial varieties are often grown as annuals. Their spiky, colorful flowers are said to resemble a dragon's opening and closing jaws, hence the name.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, well-draining.
7
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Sunflowers (Helianthus)

Close-up of a bee pollinating a sunflower

Steve Stringer Photography / Getty Images

A hardy annual that's tall and grows into strong stalks, sunflowers are a honeybee must-plant. The insects and sunflowers have a mutual relationship—the delightful plants' extra-large heads provide ample nectar and pollen for bees and bees are essential for pollinating sunflower crops grown for oil and seeds. Opt for yellow or orange sunflowers instead of red ones, since bees can't detect the color red when they seek out places to feed.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, loose, partially alkaline.
8
of 10

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Honeybee on a yarrow plant

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This perennial's bitter taste deters unwelcome garden pests, but honeybees love the yarrow's abundance of pollen and nectar. Its bright, flattened buds—which may be white, red, yellow, or purple—perched on those fernlike leaves are one of bees' favorite spots.

Yarrow is mercifully low-maintenance, and its tiny blooms are ideal for cutting and drying once the season is over.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, light, sandy.
9
of 10

Zinnias (Zinnia elegans)

Assortment of pink-shaded zinnias in a flower patch
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Plants with plenty of small flowers are great for bees as more flowers means more pollen on which to feed. Zinnias are the perfect beginner's flower because they're easy to care for and fast-growing, advancing from seed to bloom within just two months. These annuals may produce single- or double-petaled flowers in almost any color of the rainbow. They're also late to bloom, providing pollinators a last little bit of nutrition before winter.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, fertile.
10
of 10

Lavender (Lavandula)

Close-up of field of blooming lavender flowers
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Bees love this fragrant, decorative herb—not least because it flowers during the peak of summer when bees are hungriest, and the pollen and nectar pickings are slimmest. Gardeners adore the perennial, too, for its fresh, aromatherapeutic scent and because it's naturally deer- and drought-tolerant. A garden full of purple lavender is decidedly welcoming and calming.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining, sandy, loamy.

To check if a plant is considered invasive in your area, go to the National Invasive Species Information Center or speak with your regional extension office or local gardening center.