Planting a garden or landscape that is bee-friendly is the single most useful action we can take personally to support our pollinators.
Honeybees need plant pollen as the protein source to raise their young, and bees need sweet nectar as the source of calories to power their busy activity.
Honeybees are among the easiest pollinators to encourage, unlike many pollinators that are highly specific and restricted to only certain plants. Honeybees are generalists, and will adapt to many sources of pollen and nectar.
In our region, spring super abundance yields to dearth and famine for honeybees during the dry summer. Planting gardens that provide summer pollen and nectar help the bees bridge the hungry period.
Below are our local recommendations for garden and landscape planting that supports honeybees. Some of these (Weeds !) may be unexpected.
Home Gardens and Agriculture Crops
Oregano — an absolute summer favorite
Sunflower — fantastic source of summer pollen
Squash, Cucumber — Squash family is pollinated by a class of native, solitary and specialized ground bees, but honeybee adapt to the clumpy pollen
Alfalfa — alfalfa must be allowed to bloom (to seed), most hay pasture is cut too early to provide forage.
Tomatoes, tomatillos — bees “buzz” pollinate tomato family crops
Avocado — source of a May honey crop
Garden fruit trees, especially almond, apricot and plum
Blackberries — Bees relish blackberry nectar, and the yield of summer berries increases.
Bees do not use Grapes, Olives or Figs.
Many garden flowers are useful, but hybrid flowers often have little nectar and no pollen Some of the best, abundant and easiest to grow are:
Iceland poppy — worked ravenously for pollen
Lavender — yields a delicious scented honey
Stonecrops and succulents (including native Dudleya)
Weeds (Yes, Weeds!)
Wild mustards — the green strip in vinyards is an important forage resource. Mustards of all types (including Broccoli seed crops) have abundant nectar
Melilotus (Yellow and Indian Clover) — common on wasteground along sandy streambeds
Rancher’s Fireweed (Amsinkia) – native weed of waste, fallow pasture — great spring nectar
Vinegar weed — Trichostemna — native summer nectar forage, grows miraculously from dry and baked pastures
Blue Chicory –classic weed of horse pastures, produces fall nectar
Star Thistle — please don’t encourage this noxious weed, but it produces a major honey crop in northern Sacramento Valley.
California Poppy — a nearly perfect addition, inexpensive seed can be naturalized virtually anywhere in San Luis Obispo.
Phacelia sp. — seeds are available to plant these native annual.
Baby blue eyes — Nemophila sp. — seeds are available inexpensively
Horkelia — tough strawberry relative has abundant nectar in June
Croton — summer perennial has bright white pollen in the midst of the drought season
Landscape Shrubs and Trees
Eucalyptus –Blue Gum is a major spring honey crop, from January to June. The backbone of much commercial production. Decorative red eucalyptus blooms in the summer
Buckwheat — August nectar and pollen, essential for bridging the summer dearth
Toyon — blooms in July
Willow — Arroyo willow blooms in January, and starts the season of growth with abundant pollen and rich nectar.
Island Lavatera — sensitive to hard frost, but blooms in November and December when little else is available
Salvia — Black sage will be worked, but the more showy Purple sage, S. leucophylla and its ornamental hybrids are a better choice.
Black locust and Catalpa — old ranches often have planting of these eastern trees that are abundant nectar producers.
Plants that are poisonous to humans are generally poisonous to bees, including especially Oleander, Buckeye and Azalea. Poison Oak yields pollen and nectar in June, and can be consumed (apparently) safely.
Equally important is supporting the conservation of open space supporting a broad diversity of plants and habitats. Honeybees forage over an enormous radius from their hive, they commonly travel 2 miles on their nectar collecting trips. Within this radius, open space and bee-friendly agriculture is critical.