To help the bees, we need to grow more of the right flowers. Yet one flowering plant will typically offer just a few flowers for the bees and pollinators. (A good reason to plant many.) But consider this. If you plant a tree that offers nectar and pollen for the bees, this tree will offer hundreds to thousands of flowers. Lots of food and a great solution for our stressed and malnourished bees. So consider planting a “bee” tree. Here are some bee trees that offer the most nectar and pollen.
Great Bee Trees
Black Locust or Honey Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) Zones 3-8. I am lucky enough to have several black locusts at the back of our property. When we moved to our home 15 years ago, I didn’t recognize the tree and wondered what kind of tree would have such pretty white flowers, resembling wisteria. Little did I know that it is considered an excellent honey plant. Black locust will also attract all kinds of bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and moths.
Black locust needs full sun, and will grow in almost any soil–good for tough sites. The tree has sharp thorns, and can tolerate drought, salt, air pollution and infertile soils. Grows up to 80 feet. Many consider it a weed tree since it self-sows and suckers easily.
Catalpa Tree (Catalpa speciosa or bignonioides) Zones 4-9. Honey bees like this tree and bumblebees apparently love it. Both species of Catalpa are found from Maine to Florida and extend out west to California. The flowers are large, the leaves are gigantic, and the tree reaches a height of about 50′. Blooms from April to June in full sun locations. Later in the year the tree produces 12″ long bean pods. Tolerates dryness.
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) Zone 6-9. It’s exciting when you come across a plant that many pollinators love (bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in this case) and is beautiful. The fragrant Chaste tree is known for its large violet-blue flowers, but it also comes in pink, purple or white.
Considered a small tree or shrub (8-10′ tall), the multi-stemmed Chaste tree may need some pruning to keep a pleasing shape. It would look great in a shrub border. In zones 5-6, the Chaste tree will often die back during the winter, but the roots will survive and will bloom on new growth (about 3′-5′ high). I may have to try this one in my zone 5 garden.
Copyright: paylessimages / 123RF Stock Photo
Citrus Zones 9-11 Oh, to have a backyard full of citrus trees! Bees love citrus of all kinds and citrus nectar can give a distinct flavor to its honey. Grow trees in fertile, well-drained soil, with water available.
Crabapple (Malus sp.) Zones 4-8 Can I sing the praises of this tree? It is easy to grow, has beautiful blooms in the spring, provides good amounts of nectar and pollen for the bees, and its fruit in the fall can feed birds and wildlife. There are many varieties to choose from. Colors range from white, to shades of pink, to deep red. If you would like to feed the birds with its small apples, choose a variety with the smallest apples (about 1/4″). Crabapples prefer a well-drained acid soil in full sun, but they will adapt to a variety of conditions. A good ornamental tree with yellow fall color for your yard.
Fruit trees- Bees generally like a range of fruit trees, including plum, cherry, pear, and apple. In my opinion, apple is their favorite. I have heard that a honey bee can smell an apple tree in bloom from about 1/4 mile away. Because there is such a large variety of trees, I would encourage you to research their suitability for your yard. Keep two things in mind: 1) Avoid double-blooms because the bees cannot access the nectar and pollen. 2) Some trees may bloom too early (some plums for example) for honey bees to enjoy because it is too cold for them to fly, though native bees often step up and become the main pollinators of these early bloomers.
Hawthorn (Crataegus) Zones 4-8. There are many Hawthorn varieties available and most of them are native to North America. ‘Washington Hawthorn’ is the most well-known. Trees will grow to 20′-30′ high. The white flowers are small and the red berries persist into the first part of the winter. Birds love the berries. Thorns grow on the branches. Hawthorns will tolerate a range of soils, with full sun. Hawthorns have nice golden fall color.
Japanese Pagoda Tree (Sophora japonica) Zones 4 to 8. This tree provides blooms for the bees from mid to late summer, at a time when there is less food available for bees. The Japanese Pagoda tree has small white flowers and can be stunning when in bloom. Grows to 50-100 ft. high. The tree produces 8″ bean-like pods. Does best in rich, well-drained soil, with full sun. Once established, it is tolerant of heat and drought.
Linden or Basswood (Tilia americana) Zones 3-8. This native tree is popular among bees and beekeepers, because it supplies so much nectar. The nectar makes a delicious honey, called Lime honey. The tree has lovely, fragrant small pale yellow flowers that bloom in June. (You can see its flowers in our featured image.) The flowers are very fragrant and will attract bees, butterflies, and other insects.
Linden is a beautiful and underutilized landscape tree. Potentially it is a large shade tree, with an oval canopy. Mature size is 50-80 feet, potentially reaching 100 ft. The Linden likes fertile soil in full sun or partial shade. It won’t do as well as some other trees in drought conditions.
There are European varieties (T. cordata, T. tomentosa, T. x europaia) of the Linden, and are very similar in appearance. The European Linden does better in urban situations. So unless you are in an urban setting, I would recommend the American Linden (Tilia americana), because it is a native tree.
Maple (Acer) Maple trees provide bees with pollen and nectar at a time when they need it most–early spring. It might surprise you that Maple trees have flowers, but the green or red flowers are small and appear before or just as the leaves are starting to emerge. Norway maples, Red maples, Silver maples, and Mountain maples are all good for the bees. The decorative Japanese maple rarely flowers.
Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) Zones 5 to 9. A decorative, deciduous small tree that grows to 20-40 ft. high, making it a good choice for a yard. Elegant white flower clusters bloom in early summer. Striking red foliage in the fall. Native to the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. Sourwood thrives in moist peaty, acidic soil. A great choice for naturalizing in acid soils in sun or partial shade. Sourwood honey is well-known and sought after by foodies.
Stewartia, Japanese (Stewartia pseudocamellia) Zones (4)5 to 7 The blossoms that come in June and July on a Stewartia are lovely, 3″ white blooms with yellow centers. Bees of all varieties seem to love my Stewartia and gather a deep orange pollen with a bit of nectar from this tree. The exfoliating bark on a Stewartia is an added bonus, giving it winter interest. Beautiful fall color. This is a great small tree to consider for your yard.
Tulip Poplar or Chinese Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) Zones 5-9. This is a big, fast-growing beauty. May grow to 80′-120′ tall and 40′ wide. The pale yellow flowers are large and showy, and, not surprising, resemble a tulip in shape. They bloom from May-June and offer huge amounts of nectar, with good amounts of pollen. This tree is also a host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Choose plants with brighter yellow flowers as these may be more attractive to pollinators.
Tupelo (Nyssa spp.) Zones 4-9. Black gum or Black tupelo (N. sylvatica) is the more common tupelo. Tupelo honey is very popular. Its flowers are insignificant for us humans, but its red fall color is the great show.
Tupelo is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Prefers moist, acidic soils. Tolerates poorly-drained soils and can grow in standing water. On the other end of the spectrum, Tupelo also tolerates some drought and adapts to dryish soils.
Willow (Salix alba and babylonica) Willows come in shrub and tree versions and all are great for the bees. For this post, I will stick to the trees. White willow and Weeping willow are a good source of pollen and nectar early in the season–at a time when the bees have low reserves from overwintering. The trees can get large at 60-70 feet tall and are often seen near lakes and rivers. Given their desire for water, avoid planting this tree near a septic field or pipes.
If you have room for more than one tree, consider planting different varieties that bloom at different times. This will give the bees and pollinators more food over an extended period.
If you can’t find these trees at your local nursery, seek them out online. They will probably be smaller (and cheaper) but they will grow quickly.
Trees are such an important part of improving our lives. They offer comfort and shade, absorb carbon dioxide, while also adding beauty to our yards. For a bee, the right tree can be the difference between starving or thriving.
What is your favorite bee tree?