Best Perennial Flowers for Bees, Beetles and Butterflies

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Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

As a vegetable gardener who wants to make good use of limited growing space, it can be hard to justify making room for flowers. But some blooms offer so many benefits that they earn their place, particularly perennials that come back year after year. Indeed, permanence is part of a perennial’s allure, for the gardener and the garden. Perennials are ready to start growing as soon as the ground warms in spring, and their constancy makes them good habitat for ground beetles – perhaps the most important beneficial insects that roam the garden each night in search of slugs and other tasty tidbits.

I also require perennials to be bee-friendly plants, but choosing favourites among local bees requires close observation. Honeybees and countless native species know what time of day each flower releases fresh pollen and nectar, so the same blossoms that are abuzz with bees in the morning may be of little interest by late afternoon. Watching to see what type of insects are visiting the flowers, and when, is the fun part.

With worldwide populations of monarch butterflies in distress, the one perennial flower I would not do without is butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), shown in the photo above, a common roadside wildflower in North America that can be grown in roomy pots in the UK, which are stored semi-dry through the winter as a safeguard against sogginess. Monarch butterflies lay eggs on butterfly weed foliage, which the larvae then eat. This wonderful drama does not seem to shortcut the plants’ production of orange blossom clusters much visited by bees and butterflies in all shapes and sizes.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia)

Bee Friendly Plants

One of the most recent perennials I have welcomed to my garden is rugged blanket flower (Gaillardia), which comes in several species and inter-species hybrids, such as the popular ‘Arizona Sun’ variety, which won both an All America Selections award and a Fleuroselect Gold Medal in 2005. I started with a nameless blanket flower strain that hangs on as a perennial, but also reseeds and grows as a hardy annual. At the right time of day, the blanket flowers are mobbed by honeybees. No wonder blanket flower is on the Royal Horticultural Society’s Perfect for Pollinators list, and was one of the first perennials planted at the University of California’s new bee-friendly garden last year.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Unlike many flowers for bees, purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) pumps out as much nectar during the midday and afternoon hours as it does during the morning, so it is perhaps more useful to pollinators than many other flowers on a hot summer day. Butterflies and moths love the flowers, along with a dozen species of native bees.

But enough about my best perennial flowers for bees. What are yours? Bees’ preferred plants vary with climate, so your list may be similar or different from mine. Several years ago, Dr. Whitney Cranshaw of the University of Colorado led a team that tracked the number of times different flowers growing in gardens were visited by honeybees. Plants were rated from 0 (no interest) to 3 (often visited), and even though Colorado’s climate is far different from mine, it has been my experience that any plants rated with a 2 or 3 are likely to please not only honeybees, but random native bees as well.

Which perennials are the top bee-pleasers in your garden?

Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


"The buzz of the mob of bees in my rosemary hedge is audible from across the yard. It flowers almost year-round in my northern California garden. --Heather"
Heather on Friday 5 February 2016
"You didn't mention marigolds - they are a remarkable bee magnet! Plus, they deter rabbits, gophers, mosquitos and other pesky insects from your vegetable patch. "
Anjali Gupta on Friday 5 February 2016
"Borage and Calendula are my main attractants for bees here in Southwestern Ontario Canada. Both self seed and I spend some time thinning them each year or they can get out of control. Which is actually nice if you need to rest a piece of the garden from vegetable production, let those flowers bloom! It becomes an all-sorts bee resort. "
SARAH REID on Wednesday 10 February 2016
"response to Anjali Gupta on Friday 5 February 2016 regarding Marigolds. The article was on perennial plants and Marigolds are annual plants but yes I wouldn't bother planting a garden without the help of Marigolds in it. Nasturtiums are also excellent pest defenders."
carlene cochran on Friday 1 April 2016
"Is grow a lot of tegetees and marigolds around my veg plants and also basil. I know, they are annuals, but it has kept many baddies away and invited many good ones in my garden.Esp in my polytunnel and I love the fragrance of these very beneficial plants."
M O on Sunday 23 October 2016
"I know technically marigolds are annuals, but they self-seed so easily, that they almost work like perennials! :-)"
Anjali Gupta on Monday 24 October 2016

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