Updated: 16th February 2021
There are many wonderful flowering shrubs for bees, and shrubs provide efficient foraging opportunities for bees (lots of flowers in one place), they are great for doing a spot of bee-goggling.
Here are 20 of my favourites – no doubt there will be a few you’d happily add to the list!
This website receives many visitors from around the world – please check a shrub is suitable in your country (and not considered to be an invasive species) before including it in your garden.
Now for those shrubs!......
Berberis darwinii is evergreen, and is one of my favourite flowering shrubs for bees, due to the mass of lovely orange flowers appreciated by bees and hoverflies alike, especially in early spring. Early spring is when bumble bee queens are feeding frantically to build up their own energy, and provide food stores to raise the first workers. Thus early sources of nectar and pollen help bumble bee queens establish their colonies.
This shrub is also useful for creating a prickly barrier plant if you are concerned about security.
The flowers are followed by decorative blue berries. I was not sure whether the berries were attractive to birds, until I watched a blackbird snaffling a few – whether the berries are appealing to birds in all countries, I do not know.
The leaves are small, and remind me of miniature holly (ilex) leaves, although they are not so rigid. Sometimes, this shrub will flower again later in the year, although from personal observation, the flowers are not so abundant for the second flush.
It may be known as the 'butterfly bush' but the butterflies will often have to share it with bees, not to mention various pollinating flies and a few beetles! You can read more bees, butterflies and Buddleia here.
Ceanothus is a superb evergreen flowering shrub for bees. Honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees appreciate the lovely blue or blue and pinkish flowers. I like the earlier flowering varieties as again, they provide food for bees when foraging opportunities may be limited. However, if you have space, you can add a selection of different specimens to ensure extended flowering through spring to late summer. I have a page with more detail about ceanothus and bees here.
Cotoneasters can be trees or shrubs, and some are evergreen. For a flowering shrub. I especially like Cotoneaster conspicuous ‘Decorus’ for attracting bees. Cotoneaster flowers are followed by berries in autumn and winter, when hungry birds are especially grateful for them.
If you are seeking a striking shrub to create impact in your flower border, this might be suitable. It has large green leaves, with clusters of deep pink flowers that have long stamens.
Butterflies rather like the flower heads too. It's fairly trouble free, being pretty resistant to diseases, and provides flowers from August to October.
Bees and butterflies love Daphne - to write that it has an absolutely divine fragrance may be an understatement! The scent is quite strong too. No wonder it can entice bees and even butterflies to forage on the pretty pink flowers...…...in January and February. I kid you not! Read more about Daphne. I have watched honey bees, bumble bees and butterflies feeding on it in very cool temperatures. The honey bees and butterflies arrived first!
My article on honey bees foraging in cool temperatures may also be of interest.
Escallonia is available with white flowers as well as deep crimson red. I only have experience of the red varieties, which have lovely flowers from spring through to summer (quite long flowering), and evergreen, glossy leaves.
I have a further page about Escallonia. Our neighbour has a good sized shrub, and Escallonia features in a number of public planting schemes around the area in which I live. It's quite tolerant of a variety of soils as long as they are well drained. It likes sunshine, but I note my neighbour's shrub is in shade for part of the day. Great as a hedgerow plant.
Many flowering hebes are fantastic for bees and other pollinators, including hoverflies and butterflies. This particular shrub pictured above, gets covered in bees and hoverflies, and the variety may be 'Charming White'.
Many varieties are available however, offering purple, blue and white flowers – but not all hebes are flowering, so be careful in your selection. Otherwise, a 'must have' flowering shrub for pollinators!
Some hydrangea offer apparently nothing of value to pollinators in terms of nectar and pollen – they are decorative only. However, there are a few which are loved by pollinators, and Hydrangea paniculata 'Confetti' (above) is one of those. I have watched honey bees and bumble bees foraging on ours, and I love the soft clumps of white blooms. A wonderful flowering shrub for bees! Choose your hydrangea shrub carefully to ensure you select one that offers value to pollinators.
Just look at all that pollen the bumble bee has gathered on its hind legs! Yes, this cheery flowering shrub provides absolutely loads of pollen for a variety of species of bees!
Bees love Hypericum, and so do bees. Wonderful varieties are available, such as Hypericum perforatum. I especially adore the
varieties with lots
and lots of long anthers loaded with pollen, and find it especially amusing
when a large bumble bee bounces on to a flower head, as if it’s their equivalent of jumping onto a springy bed!
The flowers are followed by decorative yellow ‘hip’ type capsules for some species, or green or reddish/brownish berries for others. We also have the wild variety in our garden. It pops up here and there, and produces fewer, smaller flowers than the cultivated forms, but the bees visit it nevertheless.
Privet: Ligustrum vulgare (Common privet) - and also Ligustrum ovalifolium 'Aureum' provide food for a variety of pollinators.
It's an understated shrub in my view, but the white flowers are visited by bees, hoverflies
and butterflies. This bushy flowering shrub is often used
as a barrier hedge. It has small dark
berries after flowering.
Please note: Ligustrum vulgare is considered an invasive species in
some parts of the world, so please check before planting.
Leptospermum scoparium is evergreen, and is the shrub from which honey bees make Manuka honey. The manuka shrub is an absolutely wonderful flowering shrub for bees, and I recommend it heartily.
Bumble bees and various solitary bees love it
too, and I have noticed that a little later, when the bumble bees and honey bees stop
visiting so frequently, the hoverflies arrive.
Quite long flowering from late Spring.
However, it needs a sheltered spot and plenty of sunshine. We originally had 2 of these – one was in a more exposed position and didn’t survive. The other is against a sunny, warm wall of our house. The pink flowers are lovely, and are surely dripping with nectar as it gets covered in bees!
Various Mahonias provide food for bees in winter. Mahonia japonica is especially popular, but I also like Mahonia aquifolium, as do bumble bees and honey bees.
Firethorn - Pyracantha - gets covered in bees, and the gorgeous berries are adored by birds. Thorny, so it’s a good barrier shrub if you are concerned about security. Can tolerate some shade.
Try Pyracantha rogersiana, Pyracantha atalantioides, Pyracantha 'Golden Charmer' or Pyracantha 'Orange Glow' - but there are other bee-friendly varieties are available.
Often seen in wild hedgerows, Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) - sloes, provides a good source of nectar and pollen for bumble bees, honey bees, solitary bees, butterflies and moths. Can be a shrub or tree, and is ideal for wildlife garden.
White flowers in spring, and very valuable source of food when foraging opportunities are otherwise limited. A good, thorny hedge.
I especially find ‘Brocklebankii’ appealing. It has lovely pink
flowers and soft green leaves. If you are wanting to add 'softeness' to your border, this would be a very good choice, along with Spirea japonica (mentioned below).
A wonderful shrub for a cottage garden. The flowers of 'brocklebankii' provide food for bees in spring.
Other varieties to consider are Koja, King Edward VII, Pulborough Scarlet or 'Tydeman's White', which has paler pink flowers, or 'White Icicle - Ubric' which is creamy white, and is also attractive for bees.
Not all roses are beneficial for bees, but they certainly like wild roses, and Rosa rugosa and a number of others. Rosa rugosa is simply one of my favourite of all flowering shrubs for bees.
The roses are deliciously fragrant, and are visite by honey bees, bumble bees and a wide range of solitary bees of various species, like the painted mining bee pictured above. Having a fabulous rose shrub like this provides the opportunity to see species you may not be so familiar with. The beautiful open blooms are perfect for bee-goggling and the nectar and pollen laden flowers are irresistible for our buzzing friends.
I especially love to hear the loud buzz from
bumble bees as they ‘buzz pollinate’ to release the ample pollen – i.e. vibrate
their flight muscles rapidly against the anthers. The lovely fragrant pink or white flowers are
followed by gorgeous fat, decorative rose hips.
If you are concerned about intruders, this is a great flowering shrub to choose, because it’s prickly, but it will need plenty of sunshine.
Various pink flowered varieties are widely available and attractive to bees. We have this shrub (variety – ‘Magic Carpet’ in our front garden border, and it gets covered in bees and hoverflies of all types for about a couple of weeks or so in mid-summer.
I love the soft appearance of the flowers. I give it a clip in autumn to keep the shrub a moderate size, but do follow the instructions for pruning for the specimen you select.
This wonderful fragrant shrub provides pollen for bees from January to February, when you may see hungry honey bees topping up with food for the colony on dry days. The flowers of Sweet Box may be small and relatively inconspicuous, but if you plant it close to a path, you will benefit from the lovely, delicious scent as you walk by.
A superb flowering shrub for bees, Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), is perfect for a wildlife garden, as the gorgeous white flowers are enjoyed by bees and hoverflies, and the lovely red berries are an important food source for a variety of finches and thrushes. It quite likes damp but well drained soil. It will tolerate some shade.
Further information: see my page notes on flowers loved by bees.
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