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GardenSMART :: Bee Ready - 6 Early Bloomers for Attracting Pollinators

Bee Ready - 6 Early Bloomers for Attracting Pollinators

By Kate Karam, Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

After a long, cold winter, pollinators are on the wing looking for food. Early spring* nectar is particularly important for early-emerging queen bumblebees and other solitary bees, as well as some butterflies, and pollinator flies and beetles. When daytime temperatures edge up into the 50 degree+ mark you might notice them buzzing about. Their options are limited in these very early months before the flowering fruit trees kick into bloom, but if you plant a few of the nectar sources below, you can help them start the season all fat and happy.

These are just a small selection of plants that are valuable sources of early season nectar. Please consult with your local garden center for even more great options.

*Note that "early spring" is a relative term, and depends on the weather in your region!

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Gold Heart Bleeding Heart

Zone: 3 – 9

Midas-gold foliage with heart-shaped pink flowers that dangle from long wands. The blooms are an excellent very early food source for ready-to-rock bees. While it's a natural for woodland gardens, it's also lovely in a shade garden or on the outer edges of the canopy of larger shade trees. It tends to bloom heavy and then recede but when it's doing its thing, bees go nuts for it (and it's lovely as a cut flower indoors too!). Full to partial shade.

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Kilmarnock Willow

Zone: 4 – 8

Well, it's just an awesome plant for so many reasons—the weeping shape, the winter architecture of the bare branches, and the delicate foliage. However, it's those catkins (the flowers of willows) smothered in pollen and laden with nectar that are the big draw for pollinators such as bees. Small tree, up to 8′ tall, 6′ wide. Full sun.

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Carolina Jessamine

Zone: 7 – 9

If you live in the Southeast you've probably seen this native vine blooming its branches off in late winter or very early spring. It's an important plant because in addition to being early flowering, fragrant, and well-mannered, this vining plant is a favorite of the native bees that have evolved with it. Give it a sturdy structure and it rocks! Fast growing to 20' tall. Partial to full sun.

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Charity Mahonia

Zone: 7 – 9

Winter-active bees and some hoverflies seek out this nectar-rich (their primary carbohydrate) very early bloomer. Dramatic, frond-like leaves grow in whorls along coarsely branched, upright stems. Great sprays of soft yellow flowers appear in winter, developing clusters of black ornamental berries by late summer and fall (which are a beloved snack for migrating birds in fall). Up to 10′ tall and wide. Full shade to partial sun.

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Claremont Western Redbud

Zone: 6 – 9

Redbuds are loved by bees first and later by hummingbirds, butterflies, and other native pollinators. This tree has a profusion of rich, dark pink flowers that explode in late winter to early spring, followed by distinctive thick blue-green leaves. Yellow fall foliage is accented by maroon seedpods that may linger through winter. An outstanding form as compared to the species. An ideal small tree for dry, minimal-care landscapes. Up to 20′ wide, 15′ tall. Full sun.

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Blue Elf Aloe 

Zone: 9 – 11

Aloes are typically pollinated by birds, but that doesn't mean bees, hummingbirds and insects will take a pass. Narrow, upright, blue-gray leaves contrast nicely with the pale orange flower spikes. This fuss-free succulent thrives in poor soil—perfect for rock gardens, waterwise borders or containers. Excellent for mass plantings. Foliage tips may have a reddish tinge in extreme temperatures. Partial to full sun.

Tips For Attracting Pollinators

By offering plants that flower from early spring until the first hard frost, your garden can help to provide nutrients for the entire life cycle of bumblebees and other pollinators. Remember, no garden is too small to help create habitat for pollinators. Combine your space with those other gardens around you and it all adds up!

Here are a few tips for attracting pollinators:

  • Determine which pollinator-friendly plants are appropriate for your region.
  • Plant lots of them. Make sure there is at least 3 x 3 feet of each plant species. These can be planted together, or in other areas of the garden.
  • Limit your use of chemicals (both synthetic and organic) and use plenty of compost and mulch to build healthy soil. Healthy soils create healthy plants.
  • Plan your garden so that there is something blooming for as many months as you can manage. Many pollinators, especially bees, forage during the entire growing season.
  • Provide shelter by letting your yard get a little wild. Allow a hedge to grow untrimmed, leave a section of lawn unmowed, pile up grass cuttings in a sunny spot, and create a nesting habitat by leaving some soil bare for ground nesting bees.

That's the buzz about early pollinator plants. If you found this useful, please consider subscribing to our monthly newsletter and visiting our blog!


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