The right annual flowers can be a powerhouse for your yard. They will give food, in the form of pollen and nectar, for bees, other pollinators, and beneficial insects all summer long. So instead of the common petunia (which will not feed the bees), try these annual flowers instead. The flowers listed with stars offer the most nectar and pollen (so bees adore them!).
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) Dense clusters of tiny flower that range in color from white, pink, lavender and purple. Sweet Alyssum will also attract all sorts of beneficial insects. Best direct-sown 3 to 4 weeks before the last frost date.
Bachelor’s Buttons (Centuarea cyanus) Also called cornflower. Is there a prettier blue? A thick bed of these are gorgeous. They also come in white, pink, blue, maroon, purple, and burgundy. Direct-sow seed as soon as the ground can be worked. Plant thickly. Bachelor’s buttons are edible.
*Borage An amazing plant for bees. See my post on borage. Found in both blue and white.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) Also called pot marigold. Calendula ranges in color from yellow to shades of orange. Look for single flowers or centers that are not obscured by petals. This flower is edible. Can be direct sown into the garden.
*Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus and sulphureus) Considered one of the best for bees, and they attract beneficial insects as well. For me, Cosmos has country charm and sophistication at the same time. There are many varieties, so choose the colors and sizes that you like best. Sow seeds directly after the danger of frost has passed. Deadhead to keep them flowering continuously through the summer.
*Gilia Lovely blue globes that sit a top the stem. They will also attract a lot of butterflies. For the earliest blooms, start the Gilia seed indoors 4 – 8 weeks before the last expected frost. For areas with a long growing season, the seeds can be started in a prepared seedbed. Globe Gilia plants prefer sunny, hot, and dry conditions.
Honeywort (Cerinthe major) A hardy annual. A really interesting flower with blue and purple flowers and bracts. For early blooms, sow in pots indoors in early spring. Alternatively sow outdoors.
Larkspur Closely related to Delphinium, Larkspur is an annual because it completes its whole life cycle within one year. Larkspur plants do not transplant well, so it’s best to sow the seeds where they are to grow in the garden. Choose a sunny place in any fertile, well-drained soil that is evenly moist. Larkspur is poisonous to animals.
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella) A beautiful, self-sowing annual. Blue, mauve, pink, purple, and white blooms framed by lacy greenery. Beautiful seed pods. Self-seeding.
Mallow (Lavatera) L. trimestris is an annual. Mallows remind me of small hollyhock plants in shades of white and pink. The leaves are heart-shaped. Will attract bees and hummingbird moths. Self-seeding and 4′ tall. Sow seeds directly in the garden 1 to 2 weeks before your last frost date.
Marigold (Tagetes) Choose open or single flower varieties, such as the Signet variety. Bees can’t get to the center of a double flower because the center is covered by petals.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) Nasturtiums come in a range of colors and are easy to grow from seed. Direct-sow in full to filtered sunlight after the last spring frost date, or start indoors as transplants 5 weeks prior. Nasturtiums are edible and I love their peppery flavor.
*Bee’s Friend or Phacelia (P. tanacetifol is an annual, other Phacelias may be a perennial) I was slow to come to know Phacelia. I’m not sure why; it is an awesome plant. Beekeepers would often grow Bee’s Friend because it provides lots of nectar for honey bees. It will also attract all kinds of beneficial insects. And it is often used in agriculture as a green manure since it improves soil. I make sure to always sow a lot of this flower. For more info on this flower, see my post Do You Know Bee’s Friend?
*Poppy, Breadseed (Papaver) and California (Eschscholzia californica) The poppy genus is a varied one with gorgeous flowers in a range of sizes and colors. Honey bees love poppy pollen and will seek it out. Poppy flowers usually only last a few weeks, but then you have those gorgeous seedpods. They will also self-seed freely.
*Salvia (Salvia farinacea and guaranitica are annuals under Zones 8), The scarlet salvias are not suitable for honey bees, since they can’t reach into the two-lipped flower tube. But other varieties in shades of violet-blue are a great choice.
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) Bumblebees love the snapdragon and it is fun to watch bees climb inside the flower. Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting outside.
*Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) Annual Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed. Many varieties are pollen-less for flower arranging, but this is bad for the bees. Choose a variety that has pollen and nectar. Planting containers and think you can’t plant sunflowers? Nonsense. Choose shorter varieties such as ‘Irish Eyes’.
Sunflower, Mexican (Tithonia rotundifolia) The Mexican sunflower is a bit smaller than our native Sunflower, but it is a cheerful red-orange addition to the garden. ‘Aztec Sun’ offers yellow color. Butterflies also love it.
Viper’s bugloss (Echium plantogineum ‘Blue Bedder’) Anything that begins with viper sounds a bit scary, don’t you think? But no, this is a lovely small plant with blue flowers. By the way, bees love Echiums in general. Both honey bees and native bees love this annual flower. And it will reseed.
*Zinnia (Zinnia elegans) Zinnias love the heat of summer and bloom when many other flowers have finished, from late July on. They come in a range of sizes and colors. And they will attract hummingbirds too! Zinnia is easy to grow from seed and can be directly sown in the ground after the last frost date.
If you choose to buy these flowers as plants, you will want to make sure your nursery does not treat or buy plants with neonicotinoids. Keep in mind a lot of these annual flowers can be grown easily from seed. Plant a variety of flowers, plant a lot, and have fun!