Best spring bulbs for bees – get planting now

L-R: Common Snowdrops; Winter aconites; Crocus tommasinianus

Bees emerging in spring need nectar to give them the energy to fly and find a nest and pollen to take back to the nest for the developing brood (bumblebees and honeybees) or to provision the nest for when the eggs hatch (solitary bees).

Here I list the best 10 bulbs to provide nectar and pollen for bees in order of their flowering from January to late May. (Bulbs can be planted throughout autumn, and alliums even later). The most important ones to plant are those that provide food from January – April when there are few sources of food available. Many work best in shady conditions. If you have sunny areas, stick to Crocus, Muscari armeniacum and Alliums are you best bet.

The general rule for growing bulbs is to plant them at a depth 2-3 times the size of the bulb. If there is a pointed side, this should face upwards.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) – the common snowdrop is the first bulb to flower from January onwards. They can take a while to establish (and I’ve not had much luck with them in my snail/slug infested London garden), but once they have formed beautiful, natural white drifts in shady areas they will provide much needed early food for pollinators that are just waking up in spring.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) – another shade-loving spring flower, it’s golden yellow blooms provide an essential source of pollen for queen bumblebees emerging on mild, sunny days in February and March when there’s not much else around, and a cheery blanket of colour in the winter garden.

Crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) – there ae so many varieties of crocus, any with a bee-friendly label will provide much-needed nectar in spring, The reason I always plant this variety is that they are the early flowering Crocus that appear in February – March. They seem to do well in sunny conditions, but don’t seem to last long before they are crushed by wind or rain.

L-R: Grape hyacinth; Scilla siberica; Anemone blanda

Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) – not be confused with Hyacinths, a gaudy spring flower that comes in pinks and whites and blues. Bees will visit those Hyacinths, but if you want to feed Hairy-footed flower bees in March – April, one of the best ways is to plant the Mediterranean, sun-loving Grape hyacinth. To avoid confusion, just call in Muscari armeniacum. The 20cm high flowers are swathe of blue and a nectar feast for those zippy flower bees and other early flying long-tongued pollinators.

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) – these dainty bell-shaped blue flowers look like miniature bluebells but bloom much earlier in March – April. They will quickly seed and form large swaths of colour and food for bees in semi-shady, or sunny areas.

Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa) or Winter windflower (Anemone blanda) – the former provide a blanket of 15cm tall white, daisy-like flowers from March – May under trees in woodlands. The latter will fare better in sunnier conditions and comes in whites, blues and pinks. If you have slugs/snails it may be best to try growing the latter in pots and window boxes.

L-R: Woodland tulip (Tulip sylvestris); Snake’s Head Fritillary ; Camassia

Wild Tulip/Woodland Tulip (Tulip sylvestris) – these short (30cm), yellow tulips that appear in March and like woodland conditions, are about the only tulip that feeds bees. The stunning ornamental varieties, in all their hues and finery, have been bred without nectar and pollen.

Snake’s Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) – another shade-loving spring flower. These appear a bit later, in April, when their lantern-like maroon, or white, flowers swaying in the wind in grassy areas.

Camassia – happiest in cool damp areas, these tall stemmed perennials with clusters of pretty, starry pale blue flowers will attract bees in May. But by May there are many blossoming trees, shrubs and other garden flowers that will feed bees, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see so many bee visitors. food.

Alliums – there are a huge variety to choose from depending on the colour (usually purple or white) and the size you are looking for, but all of them are showstoppers. Although they also bloom in May when there are plenty of other nectar and pollen sources, the stunning globe-shaped heads of these ornamental onions are often covered in short-tongued bees, especially honeybees.

Sicilian Honey Garlic (Allium siculum syn. Nectaroscordum) – an unusual looking ornamental onion, it’s pastel-coloured, bell-shaped flowers hang down in an umbrella shape from a tall stem. As it’s name suggests, this flower provides copious amounts of nectar, but again there are plenty of other sources from trees and shrubs by May into June.

NOTE: If you don’t like spring bulbs, or forget to plant the bulbs, grow early flowering perennials instead, such as hellebores, native primroses and lungwort. I try to do both.

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