I know that everyone has had a pretty rough winter and I know that everyone is "itching" to get outside and dig in the dirt. I know that I am!! I thought this would be an excellent time to talk about plants and trees to plant for the bees and pollinators. When you are aimlessly wondering through the nursery, thinking about what to plant, make a list of the plants that are good food for our bees. Here are a few that you might want to consider. Do your research on a plant before you take it home and plant it and always remember, Right Plant, Right Place.
The “honey flow” is when there is an abundance of nectar from the flower and trees that are blooming. Honey flow can happen at different times of the year in different parts of the country. The most common time is spring when everything is starting to bloom. It is almost certain that once the Red Maples start to bloom in my area, about a month later, the honey flow will be starting. Red Maples are one of the first food sources that become available for the bees after a long cold winter. They provide both nectar and pollen for the bees to raise their young. Do you have any Red Maples, Acer rubrum, in your yard?
This can vary from year to year. The honey flow can be set back by colder temperatures or it can be sped up by warmer temperatures. The amount of rain that is received can also determine how long the honey flow lasts. Conditions with no rain will dry up the flowers and shorten the honey flow and good amounts of rain each week can extend the flowering time and extend the honey flow.
My yard is a myriad of different green plants. Many people may say that I have a yard of weeds, but many of those “weeds” are food sources for my honeybees. Dead Nettle is one of those plants. It is a very important source of both pollen and nectar in the early spring when there may be a shortage of other food sources. I let it grow and bloom so that my bees can feast on the blooms. These plants are available in your nursery centers, (maybe not the big box store ones, but real local landscape nurseries). Do you have any Dead Nettle, Lamium maculatum, in your landscape? It makes a wonderful ground cover.
A couple of other early spring sources of food for the bees are dandelion and clover. Chuck the herbicide and keep the bees!
One of the best sources of nectar in the spring in my area is the Tulip Poplar flower. The tree produces huge yellow, white and orange bloom that opens about 2-3 weeks after the tree has leafed out. The flower is the perfect size for the honeybee to get into and draw out the nectar. When this tree is blooming, it is very unlikely that the honeybee will go to any other flower until this tree has stopped blooming. In the South, this flower is the source of most of the spring nectar during the honey flow. Do you have any Tulip Poplar trees, liriodendron tulipifera, in your yard?
You can grow flowers for the bees all summer long. Some other sources of nectar and pollen for the bees are Red Bud, Bee Balm, Cat Mint, Hyssop, Sunflowers and lavendar…just to name a few.
The bees take the nectar and pollen back to the hive to feed the young and the Queen, but during the honey flow there is an over abundance of nectar that the bees make into honey. The bees will fill up the hive body first, because having their food close to the brood is very essential, but when the hive body is full, the bees need somewhere else to put the honey. That is where me, the Beekeeper, will provide the bees with a “super”. A “super” is half the height of the hive body and fits directly on top of the hive body. The reason that the super is half the size of the hive body is because a full super of honey can weigh 50 pounds. The Beekeeper keeps a watchful eye on the super. When it is full, he adds another, and another, and another, until honey flow is over. The beekeeper knows when the honey flow is over when that last super just doesn’t fill up.
There are many other plants, annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs that you can plant for the bees and pollinators. Do your research. Determine where you want to plant. What's the soil like? What kind of sun does it get? How big does the plant get that I want to put there? Right Plant, Right Place!!
So, if you want to dig in the dirt and plant something, PLANT FOR THE BEES!!!! They will thank you with that wonderful sweet thing call HONEY!!