Food plants for wild bees

Adult bees feed mainly on nectar, and also collect nectar and pollen as food for their young. Some collect only from a narrow range of native wild plants but others are less choosy. Because wild flowers are much scarcer in the countryside than they used to be, many species are in decline and some are seriously threatened.

Most bees forage over a wide area and will readily come into gardens if they can find the right plants there. As the list below shows, these need not be native plants, but avoid highly cultivated forms such as those with double flowers, which may provide no or little nectar.

Height (cm) Spread (cm) Sun or shade Soil Flower colour Management/notes
Flowers for the border
Sea hollies Eryngium 30–180 90 sun light bluish Short-lived perennial
Bugle Ajuga reptans 15–30 creeps semishade shade moist blue  
Bellflowers Campanula various   semishade moist, well-drained blue  
Lamb's tongue Stachys byzantina 30–40 60 sun mauve Leaf hairs used by carder bees
Scabious Knautia arvensis 120 45 sun light lilac  
Sweet peas Lathyrus to 300 120 sun well-drained many  
Sages Salvia various   sun well-drained many Aromatic folage
Globe thistle Echinops ritro 120 70 sun well-drained purple  
Snapdragon Antirrhinum 20–100 30–45 sun well-drained many Usually grown as annuals
Trees and shrubs
Apples Malus to 800 to 800 sun semishade any pink to white  
Cherries, plums Prunus to 500 to 500 sun semishade any pink to red Avoid japanese forms
Buddleia globosa to 500 to 500 sun semishade any orange-yellow Prune in summer after flowering
Currant bushes (inc. flowering currant Ribes sanguineum) 90-200 90–200 sun any white/pink/red Remove flowered shoots in winter
Rock roses Cistus 30 30 sun light white/pink/red  
Heathers Erica 30–600 30–150 sun acid (most) white/pink/red Trim after flowering
Germanders Teucrium 100 to 400 sun light, well-drained blue-purple  
Veronicas Hebe 15– 200 15–200 sun well-drained many  
In the wild garden
Deadnettles Lamium 15–90 to 100 semishade shade any white/pink/purple  
Black horehound Ballota nigra 60–90 60–90 sun well-drained reddish-purple  
Purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria to 180 60 sun semishade wet mauve  
Woundworts & betony Stachys 45–60 30–45 sun semishade any pink/purple  
Dandelions, hawkweeds & hawksbeards 15–150 15-45 sun any yellow/orange  
Figworts & toadflaxes 90–120 25–60 sun semishade well-drained yellow/red/purple  
Sun or shade: sun = sun; semishade = semi-shade; shade = shade