What summer plants attract bees?

Summer is the peak time for foraging for not just honeybees building their winter stores, but also for other pollinators raising their young and provisioning for their offspring.

This sea holly is alive with bees! Image: Jean Vernon
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Weirdly in very hot weather the vital fuel for life, the nectar these creatures sup from our flowers, can dry up a little and become scarce. Even more weirdly it is more often our gardens that provide a better variety of nectar rich plants than the countryside itself. We have a role to play by planting flowering plants that offer a food source for the whole year, but summer forage is just as important when these colonies are at their peaks, as early spring nectar sources as they start out.

Here are five plants that are good for attracting the bees.  Do note that they all have open, accessible flowers that allow these delicate insects to get to their food quickly and easily.

Eryngiums

Top of the summer bee plant list has to be the fabulous blue eryngium. There are dozens of honeybees on every flower collecting precious nectar for their winter food. It’s a great garden border plant, a perennial that will get bigger and better every year and attracts a range of pollinators including butterflies and bumblebees too. Eryngium ‘Big Blue’ is just that.

This sea holly is alive with bees! Image: Jean Vernon

Sunflowers

Sunflowers are fantastic bee plants offering a rich supply of nectar and pollen to our pollinators. The huge yellow petals act as flags to passing insects, shouting hey over here, free food and sustenance, it’s no wonder the flowers are often a landing pad for pollinator parties. Grow the yellow ones; experts think they are more attractive to bees. The flower’s centre is packed full of smaller tubular flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen and as the bees move around the flower collecting these vital foods they deposit pollen grains onto the flower stigmas, facilitating pollination. Leave the seed heads to ripen in the sun, they attract a range of seed eating birds including gold finches.

Sunflowers are a rich source of pollen for bees. Image: Jean Vernon

Dahlias

Only dahlias with the central, pollen and nectar rich flower disk exposed will attract bees. Only a few types of dahlias have this sort of flower structure, where the flower disk, packed tightly with tiny florets each filled with nectar and bearing pollen, these include the single flowered dahlias, the collerette dahlias and the peony flowered dahlias. The others have dense double flowers where all the florets are ray florets that are bigger and actually sterile without normal stamens and pistils (ie. the reproductive parts of the flower). So these double, flouncy flowers are pretty useless to our pollinators and devoid of pollen and nectar.

A dahlia provides a welcome snack over summer. Image: Jean Vernon

Veronicastrum

Veronicastrum ‘Fascination’ is a fantastic summer bee plant, flowering right into autumn with dancing mauve spires of multiple flowers. Planted with the soft and see through Deschampsia grass it adds a really romantic feel the border and would also work well in a large patio planter.

Veronicastrum. Image: Jean Vernon

Herbs

Herbs are often great bee plants and African blue basil or camphor basil (Ocimum kilimandscharium) is no exception. It’s a very strongly scented form of basil that is more often used as an insect repellent rather than for edible purposes. Ironically the flowers attract bees that visit for its nectar. But weirdly the plants are a hybrid perennial and the flowers are actually sterile and never set seed and yet the purple flower spikes are popular with pollinators seeking a fast food fix.

African blue basil. Image: Jean Vernon
Michelle Board

About Michelle Board

Michelle is a freelance writer and blogger and loves auriculas, delphiniums and tomatoes. Former web editor of the Royal Horticultural Society website, when she's not working, she is chasing after her 4-year-old daughter, Little Miss, and blogging about their days out at littlemissadventures.net. Michelle is the web editor for Richard Jackson's Garden.
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