Monday, 17 June 2013

Pollinator-friendly garden plants for spring and early summer

During our garden pollinator survey we came across a range of plants which seemed to be highly attractive to pollinators. Here we want to share some of the plants we think are good for pollinators so you can plant them in your garden.

Spring flowering perennial plants and shrubs:

Primrose and Cowslip (Primula vulgaris and P. veris): Both plants are good pollen and nectar plants for early pollinators. Especially Bee flies seem to like the flowers. Primrose likes sun or dappled shade and humus-rich soil and will naturalise easily. Cowslip should be planted in groups in a sunny spot and looks lovely if planted in grass.
Bee fly (Bombylius major) visiting a primrose flower

Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.): Pulmonaria is one of the classic spring flowers and is highly attractive to the Hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes). In fact, if you live in the South of England and have a patch of Pulmonaria in your garden, you will rarely be without this solitary bee. Plant Pulmonaria in humus-rich, moisture-retentive soil under deciduous shrubs or trees.

Female hairy-footed flower bee visiting a Pulmonaria flower

Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum):  Flowering currant is a beautiful shrub with brightly coloured scented flowers in early spring which attract lots of early pollinators, especially bees. The shrub can be planted in most ordinary garden soils and will perform well without a lot of maintenance.

Early bees like Flowering currant flowers
A tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)

Berberis (Berberis spp.): Berberis species are tough, often evergreen shrubs with spiny leaves and yellow or orange flowers in spring followed by red berries in autumn. Berberis will grow well in most soils in a sunny position. Bumblebees like the flowers and you will see bumblebee queens and the first workers visiting them for nectar and pollen.

Berberis is a good pollen and nectar plant for bumblebees

Spring and early summer flowering perennial plants and shrubs:

Single-flowering roses (Rosa spp.): Plant some single-flowered roses in your garden and you will not only be rewarded with a beautiful display of scented flowers but also with an array of visiting pollinators such as bumblebees, solitary bees and hoverflies.

Tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) in a rose flower

Bugle (Ajuga reptans): A pretty low-growing plant which quickly covers empty ground in sun or half-shade. The erect spikes of dark blue flowers appear in spring or early summer. Bumblebees and bigger solitary bees such as the Hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes) like to visit the flowers.

Bugle grows well in many different places
A Hairy-footed flower bee male drinking nectar
A Hairy-footed flower bee female
Sicilian honey garlic (Nectaroscodum siculum):  Sicilian honey garlic is a great plant for bees, especially bumblebees. Plant the bulbs in well-drained soil in sun or part shade in any ordinary garden soil. 

Sicilian honey garlic - a great plant for bees

Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica): Welsh poppies grow well in part-shade or shade in any well-drained ordinary garden soil. They self-seed freely and if they like your garden you will never be without this plant again. Bumblebees really like the yellow or orange poppy flowers and you can hear them buzzing inside the flowers to dislodge the pollen from the stamina.

Common carder-bee collecting pollen from a welsh poppy flower

Ornamental Alliums (Allium hollandicum, A.  christophhii, A. giganteum and others): Ornamental Alliums are very attrative plants which can be used as focal points in early summer borders. The flowers are highly attractive to pollinators and you can often see bumblebees busily collecting pollen and nectar. Plant the bulbs in fertile well-drained soil in full sun in autumn.

Alliums and Sicilian honey garlic are good plants for pollinators

Cranesbill (Geranium spp.): Cranesbills are very undemanding plants and grow well in most ordinary garden soils in sun or part-shade. They look particularly good in more natural gardens. Bees love the flowers as you can see in the pictures below.

Early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum)
Bombus pratorum approaching a Geranium flower
Bumblebees love Geranium flowers

Firethorn (Pyracantha spp.): Firethorn is a good shrub for pollinators. In early summer it will burst into millions of tiny white flowers which have a honey-like scent and will attract numerous pollinators. The shrub is very tough and will grow well in ordinary garden soil in sun or part-shade.

Honeybee visiting Firethorn flowers
This bumblebee likes the flowers as well

Another good shrub for pollinators is Snowberry (Symphoricarpus sp.). The flowers are quite small and unimpressive but  will attract lots of pollinators, particularly bumblebees. Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp.) also flowers in early summer and the hundreds of tiny flowers offer a lot of pollen and nectar for hungry bees.
Brook thistle (Cirsium rivulare): A highly attractive plant with purple thistle-like flowers on top of tall stems. It likes moist fertile soil in full sun and will attract many different bumblebees to your garden.

Common carder-bee on a Brook-thistle flower

Catmint (Nepeta spp.): Bumblebees love catmint so it is worth planting if you want to attract pollinators. Catmint needs a sunny place and well-drained soil to flower well. It will even grow in dry, nutrient- poor soil and is virtually maintenance-free.

Catmint is a great plant for bees


  1. The shrub the bees seem most interested in at this time of year for me seems to be the cotoneaster - they seem to be getting at the back of the flowers before they open as well

    1. Yes, Cotoneaster is also a good plant for pollinators.Often planted as low-maintenance shrub, but bees love it :-)

  2. lovely blog... loved reading it... can you help me know about a hairy thing a kind of floss like flower that flies throughout the summers in places like INdia... what do we call it?

  3. great reading has given me a lot to think about,
    my wife and i have just got a full plot on a very good allotment

    1. Good luck with your allotment. Hope you get your plot up and running soon :-).