As spring comes, so bees, and other pollinators, wake up from hibernation and emerge looking for food. At this time of year, food can be scarce for them, particularly if an unseasonably warm snap wakes them up. With the climate changing, warm periods in late winter are now much more common, then followed by cold weather or even frosts, which is contributing to the decline of the bee population. As these insects have been hibernating since the fall, they emerge seeking food so they can survive through to summer.
Bees typically emerge anytime from February through to April, depending on the weather. However, honey bees do not hibernate, but reduce their activity over winter. When spring comes, they become more active and start searching for nectar.
However, you can help the bees out by planting flowers or trees that bloom early in the season to provide these bees with some food.
There are plenty of flowers that can be planted to help the bees, and here are some of the best flowers to plant as winter/early season food sources:
- Apple Trees – early flowering and ideal for bees. It is worth planting other flowers near apple trees to encourage pollination so you get a good crop of fruit.
- Bluebell – very popular with bees, they prefer dappled shade and a slightly moist soil.
- Currant Bushes – currants such as the black, red and white currant flower in spring to produce fruit in summer. Plant in a sunny location and let the bees enjoy the flowers while you enjoy the fruit.
- Crocus – one of the earliest flowers to come up, you know they are loved by bees. The purple varieties are particularly popular with bees.
- Dandelion – flowers profusely from March through the summer, making it an important food source for bees. All parts of the plant can be used by humans too, so it is a very useful weed! If you see these growing in your garden, do not cut them back. Allow them to flower so the bees can use the nectar and then dead head them once they have finished flowering to prevent them spreading too far.
- Grape Hyacinth – a fragrant, early flower happy in sun or dappled shade.
- Heather – flowers over the winter months, but prefers an acidic soil. Does not grow well, if at all, in alkaline soils.
- Hellebore – a winter/spring flower plant that is happy in partial shade.
- Japonica (Mahonia) – a great winter flowering plant with lots of yellow flowers.
- Primrose – very pretty flowers that appear early in the year. They prefer a sheltered, sunny position, but will cope in partial shade.
- Snowdrops – happy to be planted in shady spots, these often appear through the snow very early in the year.
Plant a combination of these in your garden and they will produce flowers to feed bees from late winter and into spring. As many of these are bulbs, they will die down over the summer and make room for other flowering plants, allowing you to provide a long season of flowers for bees.