Bees, including honey bees and bumblebees, are now getting out and about in search of suitable forage for nectar and pollen to feed their growing young.
They need flowers with easy access to the pollen and nectar, so the rule of thumb for us is to plant flowers that provide such routes, which, in horticultural terms, means only using “species” of the plant and not “cultivars.” When buying a plant, look at the way the flowers are arranged and if you can clearly see the pollen, then a bee can get to it! Flowers with double petals are rarely any good for bees.
Some of my top tips for good plants for bees at this time of year include: native primrose, hellebores (except for the Helleborus niger – a small white flowered type), Lungwort/Pulmonaria, snowdrops (but probably a little late for these now), and japonica/Chaenomeles japonica. Later in Spring, Foxgloves/Digitalis purpurea are much loved by Bumblebees, as is the pretty scented annual Phacelia (also used as a green manure).
When planting for bees remember to plan for plants that flower at different times of the year so that there will always be something for these pollinating insects. Also remember that different bees have different lengths of tongue! Honest. So again, by planting different flowers/shrubs/trees you can provide flowers for bumblebees which have longer tongues and for honeybees which have shorter tongues.
There are some great websites for getting planting ideas, such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, British Beekeepers Association, Beehappy Plants (a nursery in Somerset) and even CJ Wildbird Foods – which have expanded to include plants for wildlife. There is also the British Wildflower Plants site, which specialise in native plants and gives detailed information on which pollinating insects visit which plant.
Wimbledon Beekeepers Association – Apiary Warden, Martin Way Apiary