Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica): This small evergreen tree adds an exotic look to our Northwestern gardens with it's large glossy leaves. This plant is a native to south-central China and while it does need slightly warmer weather than our area can provide to produce mature fruit, it will still flourish as an ornamental. New leaves will be fuzzy red to yellowish in color and slowly mature to a dark green. Stems of the tree are light brown and also slightly fuzzy and while it looks delicate is actually pretty tough in our climate. In December it will produce clusters of whitish flowers that give off a sweet scent that can smelled for a distance. Once established trees will show a degree of drought tolerance, however they have a shallow root system and care should be taken to not disturb the soil under the canopy.
Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus): An evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean with a long winter blooming period that starts in November and can last until late spring. They produce slightly fragrant clusters of white and light pink flowers that stand out against their dark glossy green leaves. These shrubs are fairly versatile and bloom best when given a sunny or partially sunny location with regular watering. When plants become established they can even show drought tolerance qualities during our long dry summers. They need minimal pruning to maintain shape over time and can be a good pick for low maintenance hedges. Their shiny dark blue berries are a food source that attracts birds and other wildlife.
Hellebore: While there aren't many pollen sources available in January there are a few non natives planted in abundance around the city to provide food for the girls on those occasional nice days. Hellebore is one of these plants that will provide long lasting blooms full of pollen. This European native is hardy here in the Northwest and some varieties keep their foliage year round. They also grow well in shady locations with little to no care which makes them appealing to gardeners.
Western Hazelnut: A common pacific northwest native that blooms in February is the Western Hazelnut (or Filbert). This is one of the earliest bloomers in the area and produces a good amount of pollen from "male" blooms called catkins. Being a native plant these trees do well in full sun or part shade and grow very long roots that enables them to handle our dry summers extremely well. Due to their long roots these trees are very difficult to transplant and do best when planted from seed. You can find these trees all over the city thanks to the tasty nuts they produce that the squirrels will devour or hide before letting you get even one.
Sarcococca ruscifolia: While it may not be a native to the area this small shrub fits right into our woodland gardens here in the Northwest. This slow growing evergreen needs a shady spot and has low water requirements once established. The late winter blooms of this plant are fairly insignificant, however the sweet fragrance those tiny flowers make leaves a lasting impression that will make you want to run out and buy one for your yard. If there is winter sun the bees will find this one wherever you put it, however to get the most enjoyment from their scent you will ideally want to plant several near a walkway. They also produce non-editable berries that are red or black that are often still on the plant the following season.
Winter Heather: This plant can add color and versatility to your winter gardens as well as supply food for pollinators on those occasional nice winter days. Heather comes in several colors and depending on the variety can grow as a ground-cover or upright in mounds. They do particularly well in rock gardens with acidic soils and like full sun but can tolerate some shade. A common problem with Heather is they can get lanky and for winter varieties they need early summer pruning to keep their shape.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis): There are several different species that are native to Eastern North America, China, and Japan ranging in colors from yellow to red that bloom during winter on bare branches after the leaves have fallen. Looking around our northwest gardens the species we typically find are from Japan (H. japonica) and China (H. mollis) or crosses between the two. The American species start blooming in late fall between October and December, and the Asian species typically bloom between January and March. They start blooming while the previous years seeds are still on the branches and thus get the Latin name hamamelis which means "together with fruit". The seed pods contain two black seeds and will pop when mature throwing the seeds a short distance away. When not showing off their impressive winter blooms, they have attractive soft green leaves in summer. They need to be planted in a sunny or mostly sunny spot that has fertile soil, and will also need regular watering during dry summer months.
- Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica)
- Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox)
Spring (March - May)
Catmint (Nepeta): Nepeta produces long lasting flower spikes that are highly appealing to honey bees. They are members of the mint family and do best in sunny locations with moderate water requirements and also show good drought tolerance once established. Unlike many other perennials Nepeta is tough and can flourish even if neglected for many years. Both the foliage scent and flowers will benefit from short dry periods between watering. Trimming back spent flower spikes mid-summer will help keep new flowers forming all summer long. Many of the newer varieties of Nepeta you will find are sterile hybrid crosses that need to be propagated from division or cuttings. They are great plants for use in rock gardens, along pathway edges, or as companion plants in rose gardens.
Summer (June - Aug)
Rockrose (Cistus): This evergreen shrub puts on an impressive bloom in early summer that is loved by bees. There are a variety of species and crosses with various flower sizes and colors from white, pink and purple. These Mediterranean natives like full sun and form dense mounds over time that are wider than they are tall. Thanks to a mycorrhizal relationship with their roots they are drought tolerant and can grow in poor soils. This makes them good picks for planting on slopes and around rock gardens, however also be aware that this can inhibit other plants from growing nearby. They grow quickly and do not like to be heavily pruned. Seeds generally germinate after wild fires and my need to be heat treated to break dormancy.
Privet: This a popular shrub produces clusters of small white flowers that are highly desirable to honey bees. Most varieties of privet are evergreen, drought tolerant once established, and grow quickly making them an ideal shrub to use in hedges as a fence alternative. Privet responds well to shaping but flowering may be compromised if hedged too aggressively. Under ideal conditions they can grow into a small tree, and do well in full sun or partial shade. The Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) produces a clear colored honey with a light sweet taste. However some varieties of privet have been known to add an undesirable flavor to honey crops.
Oregano: When thinking about July and plants that do well here, one of my bee favorites is Oregano and not just because I'm Greek. Derived from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy) the name translates to "joy of the mountain" and is reflective of the carpet of purplish-white flowers it creates over hilly Mediterranean landscapes. Even before the flowers open it gets attention from the girls in anticipation. Oregano is a hardy plant in the lowlands can even grown as a perennial around the city and reproduces easily from seed, by root spreading or even cuttings. In Europe Oregano might also go by the name Wild Marjoram and it has been used for centuries in cooking for it's spicy, sweet or astringent flavors. Oregano doesn't need much water and once established can grow just about anywhere with well drained soil and also does great in pots. It usually starts blooming early July and can continue for the entire month.
Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin): Many gardeners are surprised when they hear that we don't have many late summer flowers blooming in this area. Blooming bushes and trees make up a large portion of forage for city hives which many gardeners forget about when they think of flowers. To counter this I encourage people to plant trees and shrubs with late summer blooms to help provide abundant food sources. The Silk Tree is a good example of a late summer nectar source and can also be very appealing in the garden. These trees can range from 15 to 30 feet tall and have wide arching branches with wide flat crowns. The leaves are fern like that droop downwards at night and the wispy flowers have long silky treads that are white with pink or red colored tips. Like many good honey bee food sources the trees can be invasive in some areas. These trees can also be messy in fall and are also susceptible to several disease which can make them short lived, but fortunately they grow quickly. They prefer full sun and produce nectar in the morning hours which is often why you won't see many pollinators on them in the afternoons.
Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus): The Rose of Sharon comes to life in late summer with a long lasting display of tropical looking flowers that last until fall. This late summer blooming shrub provides both pollen and nectar for hungry bees trying to find food at the end of the summer dearth. Mature plants can get to 10-12 feet tall and are hardy in the northwest if planted in a sunny location that gets regular water during dry stretches. There are many varieties and colors available to pick from, but try to avoid the double petaled varieties that make it harder for bees to access the pollen and nectar. Another plus is that blooms are produced on new growth so winter pruning isn't going to set them back for the season. The only negative is that they are deciduous and often stay in a long dormancy period coming out of winter and may look dead until early summer.
Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro): This mid-summer flower will have bees falling over themselves to work, and it is not uncommon to see multiple types of bees, and butterflies working a single flower head in harmony. Globe Thistle has spiked looking spherical blue/indigo flowers that are "hedgehog like" or Echinos in Greek. While the common name says thistle this plant is actually in the aster family, and it's leaves do not have any spines that you would expect from a thistle. However because the leaves are rough looking with deep cuts, and green on top with undersides that are slightly hairy and sliver green they can appear to resemble thistles. This perennial is low maintenance, drought tolerant, and likes well drained soil which makes it well suited for local gardens. Plant in full sun and water regularly to initially to establish plants. New plants can be started from seed or root cuttings, while mature plants can be fussy when moved and do best when foliage is only cut back in spring.
Echinacea: They are a type of coneflower native to eastern and central North American forests and grasslands. It has a distinctive spiked center with drooping petals and gets it's common name from Greek word "ekhinos" for sea urchin. This perennial doesn't need much water and prefers airy dry soil and can take partial shade making it a good candidate for our northwest gardens. They are often covered in bees when in bloom and produce ample nectar. Where Echinacea is grown commercially a flavorful medium colored honey can be produced.
- Bee Bee Tree (Tetradium daniellii, Evodia daniellii, or Euodia daniellii)
- Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
- Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
- Chestnut (Castanea dentata)
- Golden Rain (Koelreuteria paniculata)
- Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
- Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
- Agapanthus (Has blue pollen)
Borage: This is one of those plants every beekeeper should be familiar with. It is a great producer of nectar and pollen and ranks pretty high on the list of favorite plants for honey bees. Oh and don't forget that it is also their favorite color. Borage is a self seeding annual and if you stagger the seeds you can produce crops in spring and fall at times when the bees are in need of good nectar and pollen sources.
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia): These fast growing trees add a tropical look to our northwest gardens with their sweet smelling blooms at the end of summer. The flowers of these trees range in colors from red to white, and have also evolved to attract pollinators by producing two types of pollen. One is a false bee friendly pollen that is well suited for bee digestion, and that other pollen is used for fertilization. These trees have also been known to produce honeydew if aphid infestations get out of control, which would also attract bees when nectar is scarce. Originating from southeast Asia, they have moderate water requirements and some newer hybrid varieties are able to perform well here in the northwest if given a full sun location. Crape myrtles produce flowers on new growth and will need light pruning to keep them in shape. In addition to their late summer flowers they also have striking fall color when their leaves change as well as attractive multicolored pealing bark.
Seven Sons Tree (Heptacodium miconioides): This late summer bloomer that is desirable to both bees and gardeners. Flowers are fragrant and typically found in small clusters of 7, which gives us the common name. After the white flowers fade a berry forms surround by deep red calyces that last late into the fall. This tree also has attractive tender looking curled green leaves and exfoliating grayish bark. Typically multiple trunks will sprout, but they can be pruned back to a single trunk allowing the tree to reach 15-20 feet tall. These delicate looking trees are actually fairly hardy and can survive in a variety of garden conditions, however they do best in full sun with moderate soil moisture. New plants can sometimes found in nurseries, or propagated by seeds or cuttings.
English Ivy: I have heard that there are parts of the world that love ivy and patiently nurture it to grow on gardens walls and trellises. Here in the Pacific Northwest it is like a creature from a bad Halloween movie slowly killing off native plants and consuming forests despite all efforts at eradication. However ignoring the chaos it creates in our gardens and wild areas for a moment it does have a few benefits for wildlife and bees. Ivy blooms provide both nectar and pollen from October to November in abundance for the bees to collect and backfill the broodnest. Ivy doesn't get phased by rain or the chilly nights that will kill off that last of the late summer flowers. Honey made form ivy nectar is known to crystallize quickly and while we may not like the taste the bees are happy to have something eat in those cooler fall and winter months and the pollen collected will be some of the last until spring. The berries ivy produce are also eaten by birds which unfortunately just helps to further spread this plant.
- Chaste (Vitex agnus-castus)
- Japanese Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)
- Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
- Fall-Blooming Anemones
- Hardy Fuchsia (pollen)