Well, its official, spring has sprung! If you are an allergy sufferer, it might be impossible to convince you that the entrance of spring is a breath of fresh air, but it’s hard to deny that it is fun to see the garden come to life after the stark winter months. To some, the entrance of spring is marked by tulip, or daffodil, or forsythia blooms, but to me, spring has officially sprung when I see bees buzzing around spring blooms – in search of nectar and pollen, achoo!, of course. That being said, I want to take the opportunity to touch on the importance of spring blooming plants for honey bees and some native bee populations, like bumblebees. It turns out that certain spring blooming plants are crucial to bee populations because they supply the first sources of nectar and pollen, achoo!, to very hungry bees. Here are a few tips for attracting early foraging bees to the garden.
- Plant early blooming plants that are attractive to bees. Unfortunately, these do not include some colorful favorites, like tulips, pansies, daffodils, and forsythia. Never fear, it is just fine to plant these plants too, but ‘bee’ sure to diversify with early spring blooming plants that are attractive to bees. Over the weekend I did a little scavenger hunt around my garden and found the following ‘bee-utiful’ plants in bloom.
- Creeping Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens) – one of the very best early blooming plants for bees! Do not confuse this plant with the Mahonia aquifolium, a 3 foot by 5 foot, generally unpopular shrub. Creeping oregon grape has a groundcover habit, very early yellow blooms, is waterwise, and grows well in both sun and shade – pretty much a must-have plant for any garden!
- Plum trees (Prunus sp.) – the wild plums (meaning they self-seeded themselves everywhere) in my yard are a little wild and woodsy in nature, however, they do have some redeeming attributes. For example, they are early to bloom and provide a great nectar and pollen (achoo!) source for early foraging bees. Another attribute (hear me out on this one) is they are a great host plant for aphids so soon to follow are ladybird beetles and songbirds that arrive on the scene to gobble up one of their favorite snacks. Hence, aphids, ladybird beetles, and songbirds are all welcome visitors to my garden!
- Strawberries (Fragaria sp.) – one of the very first fruits to bloom, I commonly see different types of bees on the flowers. This is one of my favorite sights because I can’t help but salivate over the plump, ripe, and delicious strawberry fruit to come!
- Crocus (Crocus sp.) – spring blooming crocus are not only a delight to see poking out the war-field left after winter, but are also a good plant for certain types of pollinators. Hence why, although crocus are not as flashy as other spring blooming competitors, they are hands-down, my favorite spring blooming bulb.
- Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) – are not usually considered a choice garden plant, but it is important to note that their flowers are a good, and consistent, source of pollen and nectar for several types of pollinators.
- ‘Bee’ on the look-out for foraging bees and their habitat. Notice ground-nesting bees hovering over sandy soil? – try not to disturb the area or lay-down mulch. Notice a possible bumblebee nest? – leave it ‘bee’ if possible. See bees foraging on blooms? – ‘bee’ careful not to spray pesticides that are toxic to them. ‘Bee-ing’ vigilant is not only fun, it can also help you make good garden decisions that protect habitat and other resources important for bee populations.
- It is important to plant a continuous supply or quality pollen and nectar sources for bees and other beneficial insects. As you do your spring garden shopping, keep this fact in mind and make sure to purchase pollinator plants that bloom in the spring, summer, and fall months. Check-out the USU fact sheet ‘Gardening for Native Bees in Utah and Beyond’ for a great listing of such plants.
Bee-kind to bees and other pollinators and happy (achoo!) spring gardening to you!