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If you’re looking to attract bees and other beneficial insects into your garden, most people go straight to perennials and although there are many excellent perennials that are beneficial, planting the right shrubs that provide a good source of nectar and pollen but also provide year-round colour too.
Bees play a vital role in pollinating crops and helping our gardens thrive but their numbers are falling. This is why it’s important that we provide them with the plants they need. In this post, I’ll be sharing 12 of the best shrubs for bees, including information on their flowering times, growing conditions to get the most out of them, and general care.
Whether you’re an experienced gardener or just starting out, these shrubs are sure to add beauty to your garden while also helping to support your local bee population. So, let’s dive in and discover some of the best shrubs for bees!
1. Cotoneaster ‘franchetti’
If you’re looking for an evergreen shrub that will add colour year-round to your garden and, more importantly, attract bees and other pollinators, then Cotoneaster franchetti is well worth considering. This shrub is a valuable source of nectar for bees, making it an excellent addition to any garden that is trying to do its part in protecting our much-needed bees. Cotoneaster franchetti is an evergreen shrub that can reach a height of 6-8 feet and a spread of 8-10 feet so ensure it is planted in a position with plenty of space. It grows best in full sun to partial shade and prefers well-drained soil. It’s smothered by pretty pink-tinged white flowers in spring, followed by attractive red berries in the autumn that also benefit birds.
2. Buddleia – Butterfly Bush
The Butterfly Bush, named because of its ability to attract butterflies in large quantities, is also quite effective at bringing bees to your garden. You can pick flowers that are white, pink and lavender, or dark purple and all will effectively bring local bees to your garden. New flower spikes should be removed to encourage additional shoots and flower buds, perfect for bringing about additional bees and prolonging the flowering period. Maintenance is quite simple, you need only apply a thin amount of compost to help retain moisture and prevent weeds in the spring, deadhead, and prune on an annual basis in spring.
3. Lavender Angustifolia ‘Munstead’
Lavender Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ is one of my favourite picks for creating a bee-friendly garden. While it’s often sold as a perennial or found in the herb section of garden centres, it’s an evergreen shrub that can provide year-round interest in the garden. This beautiful shrub/herb is an excellent source of nectar for bees, with its fragrant, purple flowers that bloom throughout the summer. Lavender Angustifolia ‘Munstead’ is only one of many varieties attractive to bees. However, this variety typically grows to a height of 1-2 feet (30-60cm) and a spread of 2-3 feet (60-90cm), making it an excellent choice for a smaller garden or for planting in containers. It’s also relatively low maintenance, requiring only occasional pruning to keep its shape and prevent it from becoming leggy and woody. It thrives in full sun on well-drained but fertile soil, so be sure to plant it in a sunny spot in your garden to get the best from it. It’s also a great choice for window boxes on a balcony.
Rhododendrons are a fabulous flowering shrub to grow in your garden, not just because they help to cultivate local bees, but because of the showy clusters of flowers and the oversized green leaves that remain present all year round. In addition to the large, leathery leaves that you get throughout the winter, the flowers take on a bell-shaped, sometimes funnel-shaped and are very fragrant. Rhododendrons grow very effectively throughout England thanks to their preference for environments that are neither too hot nor too cold.
5. Mahonia x media – Oregon Grape
This broadleaf evergreen will reach a height between two and three metres and a spread of one metre. It earns its nickname Oregon Grape because in the autumn and winter it produces yellow flowers. Come spring and winter you can enjoy purple fruit. Very flexible, it is a low-maintenance plant that grows quite slowly so you don’t have to worry about pruning heavily or the plant overtaking your garden. It needs partial sun and actually prefers having morning sun with filtered shade in the afternoon. It needs well-drained, moist soil but beyond that is not very picky.
6. Ceanothus – California Lilac
The California Lilac is fast-growing, produces stunning flowers and equally stunning foliage, is drought-tolerant and salt tolerant. It’s a wonderful coastal plant. It can be found in evergreen or deciduous varieties as well as mounding or prostrate varieties.
All of the above are very easy to grow and very tolerant of not only heat but sea and coastal conditions. From the middle of spring onwards, you can find an enormous collection of sweetly fragrant flowers. These are truly some of the most charming flowers to enjoy throughout the summer, sometimes even in autumn. The flowers tend to contrast the dark green leaves quite well with the rich lilac shades. Bees absolutely love this shrub.
This plant grows in compact mounds of shiny green leaves with tiny clusters of flowers that truly stand out. The flowers are typically a crimson or pink shade with a trumpet shape. This evergreen shrub requires partial to full sun with regular watering on a weekly basis, but more so if the weather is particularly warm. Not only will the stunning flowers attract bees to your garden but this flowering shrub can be used as a container specimen to attract bees to a particular part of your patio, used effectively as low maintenance hedges, as a groundcover, or as a general border shrub garden.
8. Hydrangea paniculata
This Hydrangea is similar to the other options on this list, as far as the flowers are really what draws your attention. The panicles of flowers you can enjoy are very stunning and bring to your garden all manner of flying friends. Of course, the Hydrangeas range in available colours too, so you can select the one you want for your garden. They are incredibly easy to maintain and work very effectively when grown as specimen plants or used as border plants. There is very little maintenance required for the Hydrangea and limited pruning.
9. Hypericum – St. John’s Wort
St John’s Wort can be grown quite easily in well-draining soil. It will grow in full sun or partial shade. The amount of sun to which it is exposed is indicative of the floriferousness. During the winter it might die back but rest assured that it will come back in spring with stunning yellow flowers.
It is very effective as a groundcover, and once it gets established quite a drought-tolerant plant too. It will span approximately 1/2 metre in height and spread, and if left to its own devices it will grow quite quickly, but it does respond well to pruning. It can grow quite rapidly because it spreads aggressively by way of underground stems, which is why it can be so effective as a groundcover if left to spread as it chooses. You can grow it in containers to reap the benefits of the bees and butterflies it attracts without it overtaking your garden.
10. Pyracantha – Firethorn
Commonly referred to as the Firethorn, this evergreen shrub is very useful when grown directly in the ground or in containers. You can even train it up a trellis or along a wall if you have a younger plant. There are certainly thorns to contend with, which is why this particular plant is so effective as a hedge.
The bright clusters of berries are sure to guarantee that birds, bees and butterflies flock to your garden. Late in the season, this plant will display rich and vibrant clusters of red, orange and yellow berries (depending on the variety) that are maintained throughout winter. Requiring full sun, it can reach heights of 3 metres and spreads of 2 metres without pruning. This makes it very effective as a windbreak or a hedge.
11. Spirea japonica
This deciduous shrub is native to Japan and China and can be effectively grown throughout most of the UK and is very good at attracting bees. This low-maintenance shrub produces pink flowers between June and July and you can deadhead them to encourage additional blooms. It will span upwards of 2 metres with a spread just over 2 metres at full maturity.
In fact, thanks to suckering it is an aggressive self-seeder that can effectively fill an area in your garden as a groundcover if you allow it. It requires full sun but can tolerate light shade. It has medium moisture requirements but is otherwise tolerant of a wide range of soil types. It is tolerant of deer so wherever you grow it rest assured that deer will not eat it but butterflies and bees will come to it.
An old-fashioned beauty, the leaves produced on this plant are a stunning representation of green lined with creamy yellow edging. These are made all the more beautiful by the profuse spring blooms that take on tones of pink and white. This shrub is very strong and equally low-maintenance. It can spread up to three metres in height and spread so be sure to provide it with enough room to grow or prune effectively to keep its size minimal. It will require full sun and so long as you give it these conditions rest assured it will bring to the garden the bees you want.
13. Pieris japonica ‘Forest flame’
Pieris japonica ‘Forest Flame’ is another excellent evergreen shrub and I have a large Pieris in my garden that literally gets smothered in bees every year. This shrub not only produces stunning cream flowers in summer but it’s the stunning foliage, which emerges bright red in spring before maturing to glossy, dark green which really makes it a show stopper. It produces clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers in late winter to early spring, which are a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees.
Pieris japonica ‘Forest Flame’ is a great option for those shadier spots in your garden, as it thrives in partial shade to full shade. It can reach a height of 6-10 feet and a spread of 4-6 feet at maturity, making it a substantial presence in the garden. However, it can easily be controlled with a little pruning after flowering and even grows well in pots but ensure you use ericaceous compost as they are acid-loving plants and needs to be planted in acidic soil. Overall, if you’re looking to add some colour and interest to your shady garden while also supporting the bee population, Pieris japonica ‘Forest Flame’ is an excellent choice.
No matter which of these shrubs you choose, you are sure to enjoy a litany of buzzing companions.
Last update on 2023-10-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API