Honey bee visiting a crocus

A lot of people have become concerned for bees, both native species and the honey bee, and want to help them survive. In addition to the basics of pollinator-friendly gardening, one of the things you can do is plant species that bees use. Keep in mind that bees need both nectar and pollen, and that it’s best to plant a variety of different plants that will bloom at different times in the year.

Fortunately, it just so happens that a lot of bee plants are also gorgeous to human eyes! Here’s a list of ornamental plants that can be started from seed, and which pollinators they help (this list is by no means complete, but it may help you get a start):

Plant Native to the Puget Sound Region? Native Bees? Honey Bees? Butterflies? Hummingbirds? Sowing?
Yarrow yes y y y Outdoors
Common California Aster yes y y y Outdoors
Fireweed yes y y Outdoors
Large Leaved Lupine yes y y y Outdoors
Red Columbine (A. formosa) yes y y Outdoors
Bleeding heart yes y Outdoors
Borage no y y y Outdoors
Calendula no y y Outdoors
Bee Balm no y y y Outdoors
Black eyed Susan no y y Outdoors
Coreopsis no y Indoors, 6-8 weeks before last frost
Cosmos no y y Indoors or outdoors
Echinacea no y Outdoors
Pumpkins/squash no y y Outdoors
Aster Some y y y Outdoors
Sunflower no y y Indoors, 4-6 weeks before last frost
Clover, red no y y Outdoors
clover, in general no y y Outdoors
Zinnia no y y
Indoors, 4 weeks before last frost

Now, if you’re primarily interested in native bees you should know that some are generalists, meaning they’ll take pollen and nectar from a number of different species, but others are specialists, meaning they have co-evolved with particular plants and will/can only take nectar and pollen from those specific plants. Honey bees, bumble bees, and mason bees are all generalists.

In general, if you want to help pollinators which are generalists, plant lots of flowering plants that bloom at different parts of the year, and avoid those that are doubled or otherwise make it hard to access the nectar and pollen- and don’t forget to be open minded about plants. Kale, for example, will over winter and then burst into a huge number of flowers loaded with pollen- at a time when many other flowers haven’t gotten started yet.

For specialists, plant native plants. It’s harder to find information on which native bee uses which native plant, mostly because there hasn’t been much research done in this area. So, my recommendation would be to figure out which plants are native to your area, especially those which are endemic to your area, and plant them and encourage others to plant them.

Now, if you expand beyond what you can start from seed, there are so many options! Here’s a few links to get you going:

Guide to selecting plants for pollinators in the Pacific lowlands I.E., the Puget Sound area extending south through much of the Willamette Valley. This has loads of information about our pollinators. Very informative and useful!

Pollinator Plants for the Maritime Northwest. This is a really awesome guide lists only plants that are native to this area (if you’re not in the Maritime Northwest, you’re in luck because they make a number of different guides for different regions of the U.S.), and list bloom time, height, color, and whether it’s an annual, biennial, or perennial.

Native Plants for Pacific Northwest Gardens. This one is cool because it tells you which types of pollinators will use each plant.

Bonus: If you particularly love bumble bees, as I do, you should read Bumble Bees of the Western United States. This document shows the range and the plants visited by each of the native bumble bees of the western half of the nation.

If you want more information about about our native bees, read this.

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