You don’t have to be a beekeeper to help the bees! In fact, recent research suggests that planting flowers that bees like may be more important to bee livelihood than acquiring a hive. On top of that, many of the native, drought tolerant plants are bee friendly; an important consideration here in Santa Barbara.
Below we have featured our Top Ten bee favorite plants. And, a more comprehensive “Bee Friendly” list is included as well. Finally, we’ve attached some excellent websites, books, and videos for further information. In particular, the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab “Gardening for Bees” website list is superb.
There are a few general tips to keep in mind when planting bee friendly plants:
1. Bees have their favorite plants. Many plants are “bee friendly” but not all are “bee favorites”.
2. Bees need floral resources all year long and some plants have bloom periods as short as two weeks while others bloom for months.
3. Bees have favorite colors too. Blue/Purple followed by yellow and then white.
4. Clusters of plants are markedly more attractive to bees than single specimens planted throughout your garden (e.g., plant of row of sunflowers)
BEEKEEPERS GUILD TOP 10 BEE FAVORITES
Sunflowers are laden with pollen (and some nectar). The UK Royal Horticultural Society selected the Lemon Queen variety as the sunflower of choice for honeybees. Unique pointed petals in lemon-yellow with chocolate brown centers. Grows to about 6 ft tall. Full sun and grows in most soils. Average water needs. Easily grown from seeds.
Borage was selected as the #1 honeybee plant by researchers at the U. of Sussex. Average soils needs. Best in full sun but will tolerate some shade. Water miser once established. Violet-blue flowers with thick leaves; which have a cucumber scent. Can be grown from seeds but one must be patient. Known to be invasive; consider planting in a large pot or pulling it out in the Fall.
Pride of Madiera is a rapidly growing tropical shrub from the borage family. A perennial in Santa Barbara, it can grow up to 6 ft tall with small white or purple flowers in 20″ cone shaped clusters. Loves high heat and does well in poor soils. Drought tolerant. Can be grown in containers.
Ceanothus or Lilac, is a fast growing ground cover and especially effective where ocean spray is a factor. Blooms from Spring to early Summer and comes in many sizes, from low ground cover to large bushes and from deep purple flowers to white. Drought tolerant once established. Judicious pruning needed to maintain dense form and promote vigor.
Germander Sage (Salvia) is a small mounding and spreading dense shrub, generally about 18-24 inches in height and 2-3 ft wide. Its dark blue flowers appear from mid-spring through late Fall. Drought tolerant. Likes well-drained soil in full sun though can tolerate some shade
The Chaste Tree grows quickly into a multi-trunked tree and can reach heights of 15 feet or higher. Great as a small patio tree, large bush, or single specimen in a lawn. Easy to grow. Needs full sun, well-drained soil. Drought tolerant once established. Bees love this tree! Hard to find locally but not because it doesn’t grow well here.
Though an herb, Rosemary is primarily used as shrub. This woody-stemmed plant with needle-like flowers reaches about 3′ in height. Prefers sun but can tolerate some shade. Native to the Mediterrenan, it’s no wonder this plant can be found all over Santa Barbara. Varieties have blue, purple, white or pink flowers. Long bloom period. Extremely drought tolerant.
Though African Blue Basil is considered an annual, Santa Barbara’s moderate climate makes this a perennial. While Borage is #1 due to its high nectar loads, African Blue Basil may be even better because of its long bloom period. Drought tolerant once established. Two to three foot high and just as wide when mature. More ornamental than culinary, this plant has a great scent and is easy to grow.
Although Lavender is usually associated with shades of blue, plants are available in varying colors and varieties. Full sun and drought tolerant. Most form mounds of foliage up to 2 feet tall. Starting in the second year, mature lavenders should be cut back by about a third to keep the plant from getting overly woody.
Given Coyote (or Monardella) Mint’s drought-tolerant nature, it makes an excellent addition to a dry or rock garden. Likes part shade to sun and is drought tolerant. Produces dense heads of showy lavender-pink flowers from late spring through mid-summer. On the coast, plants will often continue blooming all summer long.
Links to Bee/Gardening Information:
- UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab
- Buzz About Bees
- The Honey Bee Conservancy
- Selecting Plants for Pollinators
- Bee Source Forum
- Spikenard Farm – Honeybee Sanctuary
- Gardening with Natives – Santa Barbara Botanic Garden