Food for bees in the summer
Here's just a small sample of some of our plants that bees enjoy:
- Plants in spring
- Plants in summer (trees, vines, and shrubs) and herbaceous plants (this page)
- Plants in fall
Herbaceous nectar plants for native bees in the summer
Here's a bumble bee getting nectar from a penstemon (Penstemon digitalis). I also have the 'Husker's Red' cultivar, which generously reseeds, though not to be bothersome. (We got this plant before we understood the advantages of species rather than cultivars.)
Penstemon blooms very early in the summer, before most of the other plants below, and so it's a nice bridge between the early spring plants and the summer plants.
This sunflower is an American native (Helianthus annuus).
This particular cultivar 'Lemon Queen' is used for the Great Sunflower Project, a citizen science project I participate in. They use H. annuus for the project since it's such a good plant for bees.
(Of course, the sunflower cultivars—even if they're cultivars of natives—that have no pollen (to keep tablecloths clean, I guess) are pretty useless for bees, and therefore for me…)
Sunflowers are probably one of the most cheerful plants in my garden!
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is a bee favorite. They love it!
It's one of our favorites, too. We grab a leaf to crush every time we go by to enjoy the wonderful mint-licorice scent.
Apparently, it's also an edible herb that people use in food or to make a tea, but we haven't tried that.
They serve another purpose, too: Birds (especially the vegetarian goldfinches) love the seeds.
Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) must be full of nectar, like most members of the mint family, since bees are always around when it's blooming.
I think this bumble bee may be one of the newly hatched queens—very large and no signs of wear and tear.
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is a favorite nectar plant for bees and for solitary (non-aggressive) wasps, too. The individual plants may not have especially beautiful flowers, but a patch of them creates a very attractive whitish cloud of flowers (actually the top leaves).
This is one of the handful of plants in our yard with a really intense fragrance. This has the strongest, mintiest scent of any plant I've ever grown, and I just love it.
The purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is a favorite of bees and also of monarchs.
Birds —especially goldfinches— love the seeds, too, now that I no longer deadhead them as I used to do as an ornamental gardener.
Milkweeds, such as this swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), aren't just for monarchs.
This happens to be a carpenter bee, which is about the same size as bumble bees. You can distinguish between them by looking at their abdomen: the abdomen of carpenter bees is shiny. Some people kill carpenter bees, but they're also considered a beneficial insect. For what it's worth, we have a lot of carpenter bees and haven't had any damage.
Carpenter bees prefer bare, unpainted or weathered softwoods. Painted or pressure-treated wood is much less susceptible to attack.
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) does triple duty. It's a host plant for monarch butterflies, a nectar plant for other butterflies and insects, and its flowers have a glorious fragrance for me.
Unfortunately, this can be inconvenient to have in a small yard or garden since unlike swamp milkweed or butterfly weed, it spreads by rhizomes underground. I don't find it to be a problem, though, since I just cut off any stem that's too tall or pull up any stray stems (making sure I don't get the sap in my eyes).
Wild indigo (Baptisia australis) is another bee favorite. I've heard that it's the plant that the pioneers used for blue dye. It does look like blue jeans color.
This is a glade mallow (Napaea dioica) I got when we visited the New England Wildflower Society's Garden in the Woods plant store. A tall plant with large leaves, it needs a fairly large space, preferably moist.
For some reason, red admiral butterflies seem especially drawn to this plant.
Even though it spreads everywhere, I love jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) and so do the bees and hummingbirds. As the botanic name indicates, it's the native form of the familiar bedding plant impatiens. The hybrid bedding plant doesn't have much if any nectar (it's created only for people, after all), but this native version certainly does. Even though it spreads, it's incredibly easy to pull out and compost since it has an extremely shallow root system.
It's also called touch-me-not since the seed pods (seen at the top of the photo) pop open when they're ripe, a very effective strategy proven by the fact that jewelweeds spreads all over.
Most of my solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is the plain species, and I also have some of the giant solomon's seal (P. commutatum), too.
Unlike this bee, I used to think solomon's seal was kind of boring. As I've grown (or maybe just aged), I now appreciate its elegance, and it's become one of my favorites.
I love the way bees manage to get to the nectar. This bee is pushing its way into this native iris (Iris versicolor). Some bees are specialized to certain flowers and some are generalists, but every flower that relies on pollination has at least one type of pollinator.
Plants that rely on just one pollinator or bees that rely on just one plant are particularly vulnerable and co-extinctions can occur.
Bees getting nectar from culver's root.
Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum) has become one of my favorite plants.
Note the large number of bees around this plant. It's hard to see in the photo, but the foliage is also very attractive and neat-looking.
Coreopsis (Coreopsis) also reseeds some, though not enough to be bothersome. I'm not sure what type of coreopsis this is, but I imagine it's some type of cultivar since I've had it since back in my ornamental gardening days.
Bees love senna
Another bee favorite is wild senna (Senna hebecarpa) (also known as Cassia hebecarpa). These are tall plants with golden flowers and beautiful foliage.