Best Native Plants for Honey Bees
By Mackenzie Younger. 4/3/17
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Native NY Gardens has composed a list of super-plants capable of sustaining large populations of honey bees that produce loads of high quality honey. All the plants selected originate from the Eastern United States and not only benefit honey bees but also hundreds of other species of native pollinators vital to a healthy ecosystem.
Trees produce more pollen and nectar then perennials.
Honey bees stick to one plant or species until the bloom period ends.
The yield and characteristics of the honey in terms of flavor, color and texture is determined by the individual species of tree or groups of plants.
Honey bees can be active from late winer into the fall as long as it is warm enough to fly.
If allot of pollen and nectar can be found near the hive, your bees will save energy and avoid traveling long distances to forage.
The plant we have selected bloom over six periods:
- Late Winter
- Early Spring
- Late Spring
- Early Summer
- And Fall
1. Late Winter
Some of the earliest blooming trees are red maple and species in the willow family (black willow, pussy willow, etc.) On warm days in March and early April your honey bees will begin to forage and these trees can be extremely important for them.
Despite the unlikelihood of consecutive warm days in late winter for your honey bees to reap the full potential of red maple and willow blooms, the nutrition they acquire from these species is enough to boosts the hive - allowing them to maximize on the next progression of flowering plants.
Its important to have your hives fully exposed to the sun during this period. The extra warmth will allow your bees to 'start their days earlier' and stay active longer to utilize both the red maple and willow.
2. Early Spring
Come mid-April through early May, many of your small flowering and fruiting trees will begin to bloom. The first will be serviceberry followed quickly by eastern redbud, flowering dogwood, American plum, chokecherry, native crab apples, native hawthorne's, Carolina silverbell and blackhaw viburnum. Larger flowering trees include Ohio buckeye and Yellow buckeye. Anyone of these would work well in a mass planting. Depending on the size of your property, we’d suggest planting groups or rows of individual species. For example: 5 service berries, 5 eastern redbuds, 5 plums… (the more the merrier). What trees you choose will largely depend on aesthetics; unfortunately there isn’t much information regarding honey yield and quality from many of these small flowering native trees. We need people like you to let us know!
3. Late Spring
Late Spring (May through early June) is a very productive time because many large flowering trees begin to bloom. These powerhouses include black locust, tulip tree, black cherry, northern catalpa and the American chestnut. Again, planting in groups is best but remember these species get really large - so provide enough space for each one to grow.
The American chestnut once on the edge of extinction from the chestnut blight is coming back thanks to the efforts of the American Chestnut Fountain and other organizations to breed resistant trees.
4. Early Summer
Late Spring/early summer (June) is the bumper crop time thanks to two of the most productive and iconic honey trees in America: the American basswood tree and the sourwood tree. The basswood can produce 800-1,100 pounds of honey per acre. Honey from these two trees is world-renowned as the best you can get!
By this time in the season, viable perennials will be producing for your bees, one of them being common milkweed. Common milkweed can often be found in old fields and roadsides – despite its ‘common’ nature they have been in decline and so has the monarch butterfly along with many other insects that rely solely on this plant. We’d suggest planting large patches of milkweed for your honey bees and to benefit the larger ecosystem which milkweed plays such an important role in.
Mid-Summer (July-August) the blooming trees will stop flowering and herbaceous plants will take over. Many of your milkweeds should still be in bloom and we highly advice incorporating loads of other wildflowers like: fireweed, early goldenrod, native mints (anise hyssop, mountain mint, horsemint, beebalm), native alliums (such as nodding onion), Liatrises (prairie blazing star), purple coneflower, joe pye weed and native sunflowers.
Late summer and into fall (September-October-November) is the time for native goldenrods, asters and sunflowers. This is another bummer crop season and your bees will produce loads of honey if you create well-designed meadows or large perennial beds. You should use many verities within these species to prolong bloom periods and once again the more plants the better!
What plants your choose and how their curated is up to you but for sake of providing an example heres a sketch illustrating a native plant, honey bee garden.
Use these species in mass plantings, make sure there’s always something in bloom from early spring to late fall and your bees will love you more than anyone else. Beyond their love, they’ll also produce more honey than you’ll know what to do with! And of course, your contribution to the environment by using native plants, will enrich your life and lives of the organism’s that live around you.