Blooms for Bees: How to Provide Pollen and Nectar Sources

Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS1222

  • Jenny Carleo, Agricultural Agent, Cape May County
  • Jolie Goldenetz Dollar, Pollinator Habitat Restoration Consultant
  • Jack Rabin, Director of Farm Programs

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) need your help. This fact sheet suggests plant species you can plant or maintain which provide supplemental forage for honey bees during their critical periods.

Honey bees directly or indirectly pollinate one-third of our food crops and contribute about $15 billion in increased crop value each year (USDA–ARS). Honey bees pollinate a diverse range of familiar crops including cranberry, blueberry, melon, squash, and apple. They provide a vital link in nature by moving pollen between flowers and ensuring the production of seeds and fruits. In addition to pollination services, honey bees produce honey and wax, creating an array of valuable consumer products.

While honey bees pollinate flowers like cranberry or cucumber, these food crops, however, offer insufficient nectar and pollen to maintain the health of honey bee colonies. Honey bee colonies transported between agricultural regions further stress colony food supplies and health. Recent losses from honey bee diseases and colony declines has left beekeepers, farmers, landowners and the public concerned about how they can help provide a healthier environment for honey bees.

The health of honey bee colonies depends on access to food, in the form of pollen and nectar, from a varied and plentiful sequence of flowers throughout the growing season, as well as clean water and nest sites. Whether you are a backyard gardener, maintain a home landscape, commercial beekeeper, farmer, or commercial grounds maintenance landscape manager, you can help honey bees by planting and protecting wildflowers, shrubs, and trees that provide pollen and nectar.

Food availability gaps during honey bee active periods from February through November can weaken colonies. Particularly difficult periods for honey bees occur during warm, early-spring days when bees emerge from hives searching for food but few plants are flowering. The natural environment often does not provide sufficient flowering plants for honey bees during active periods, so your plantings can help.

The chart below lists herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees that provide food for honey bees during the springtime. These flowering plants also feed beneficial insects such as wild bees, butterflies, and natural enemies of agricultural crop pests. By making plantings from the recommended listing below, you not only enhance honey bee services, but also augment landscape beauty, wildlife shelter habitat of birds and mammals, and overall biodiversity in your area.

The recommended plants listed on pages 2–3 are predominantly natives to the Mid-Atlantic, typically well adapted to regional climate and soils. The table on pages 4–6 advises on the growth habit, longevity, moisture requirement, mature height, bloom color and timing, and commercial availability of these plants. To provide food resources throughout the entire period of bee activity, you may want to add several recommended plants to your landscape. Learn more about these plants' usefulness to honey bees, other beneficial insects, and wildlife from the list of resources. A few weed or wetland species that can serve as a good spring food source for honey bees are listed (dandelion, skunk cabbage). You may already have some of these plants growing. They are not likely to be planted, but rather passively maintained and protected when their habitat is on properties under your management.

Listing of Food Sources for Honey Bees in Order of Bloom Time (earliest to latest)

  • Photo: Figure 1.

    Hamamelis species

    Witchhazels
    February to March
    Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Photo: Figure 2.

    Symplocarpus foetidus

    Skunk Cabbage
    February to April
    Photo Credit: Illinois Wildflowers
  • Photo: Figure 3.

    Salix species

    Weeping Willow, White Willow
    February to May
    Photo Credit: Virginia Tech University
  • Photo: Figure 4.

    Claytonia virginica

    Virginia Springbeauty
    February to May
    Photo Credit: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
  • Photo: Figure 5.

    Cercis canadensis

    Redbud
    March to May
    Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Photo: Figure 6.

    Acer negundo

    Boxelder
    March to June
    Photo Credit: Oregon State University
  • Photo: Figure 7.

    Geranium maculatum

    Spotted Geranium
    March to August
    Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Photo: Figure 8.

    Lindera benzoin

    Northern Spicebush
    March to April
    Photo Credit: University of Connecticut
  • Photo: Figure 9.

    Salix discolor

    Pussy Willow
    March to April
    Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Photo: Figure 10.

    Acer rubrum

    Red Maple
    March to May
    Photo Credit: University of Connecticut
  • Photo: Figure 11.

    Mertensia virginica

    Virginia Bluebells
    March to July
    Photo Credit: Morguefile.com
  • Photo: Figure 12.

    Acer saccharum

    Sugar Maple
    March to June
    Photo Credit: Iowa State University
  • Photo: Figure 13.

    Scilla siberica

    Siberian Squill
    March to June
    Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Photo: Figure 14.

    Taraxacum officinale

    Common Dandelion
    April to June
    Photo Credit: Virginia Tech University
  • Photo: Figure 15.

    Ranunculus fascicularis

    Early Buttercup
    April to June
    Photo Credit: Morguefile.com
  • Photo: Figure 16.

    Itea virginica

    Virginia Sweatspire
    April to July
    Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Photo: Figure 17.

    Prunus species

    Peach, Plum, Cherry, Beach Plum, Etc.
    April to June
    Photo Credit: Viringia Tech University
  • Photo: Figure 18.

    Amelanchier arborea

    Common Serviceberry
    April to July
    Photo Credit: Missouri Botanical Garden
  • Photo: Figure 19.

    Ribes missouriense

    Missouri Gooseberry
    April to May
    Photo Credit: Missouri State University
  • Photo: Figure 20.

    Malus species

    Crab apples, Quince
    April to June
    Photo Credit: LBJ Wildflower Center
  • Photo: Figure 21.

    Trifolium species

    Clovers
    April to November
    Photo Credit: Missouri Plants
  • Photo: Figure 22.

    Vaccinium corymbosum

    Highbush Blueberry
    May to June
    Photo Credit: Michigan State University
  • Photo: Figure 23.

    Cornus racemosa

    Gray Dogwood
    May to June
    Photo Credit: Virginia Tech University
  • Photo: Figure 24.

    Aronia melanocarpa

    Black Chokeberry
    May to July
    Photo Credit: Jenny Carleo
  • Photo: Figure 25.

    Hydrophyllum spp.

    Waterleaf
    May to June
    Photo Credit: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
  • Photo: Figure 26.

    Blephilia spp.

    Pagoda-plant
    May to June
    Photo Credit: Missouri State University
Table of Plant Characteristics
Plant Name Native to NJ Growth Form Type Moisture Need Height at
Maturity (feet)
Bloom Color Attractive
to Honeybees
Attractive to Wild Bees Commercially Available Bloom Period
Witchhazels
(Hamamelis species)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 10

No Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Skunk Cabbage
(Symplocarpus foetidus)
Yes Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires High Soil Moisture 2

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Weeping Willow, White Willow
(Salix species)
No Tree P Requires Moderate-to-High Soil Moisture 70

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Virginia Springbeauty
(Claytonia virginica)
Yes Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires Low Soil Moisture 0.5

No Yes No J F M A M J J A S O N D
Redbud
(Cercis canadensis)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Low Soil Moisture 30

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Boxelder
(Acer negundo)
Yes Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 65

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Spotted Geranium
(Geranium maculatum)
Yes Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires Low Soil Moisture 0.5

No Yes No J F M A M J J A S O N D
Northern Spicebush
(Lindera benzoin)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 12

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Pussy Willow
(Salix discolor)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate-to-High Soil Moisture 40

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Red Maple
(Acer rubrum)
Yes Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 68

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Virginia Bluebells
(Mertensia virginica)
Yes Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires Moderate-to-High Soil Moisture 2.3

No Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Sugar Maple
(Acer saccharum)
Yes Tree P Requires Low Soil Moisture 90

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Siberian Squill
(Scilla siberica)
No Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires Low Soil Moisture 1

No Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Common Dandelion
(Taraxacum officinale)
No Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 0.5

Yes Yes No J F M A M J J A S O N D
Early Buttercup
(Ranunculus fascicularis)
Yes Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires Moderate-to-High Soil Moisture 1

Yes Yes No J F M A M J J A S O N D
Virginia Sweatspire
(Itea virginica)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires High Soil Moisture 10

No Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Peach, Plum, Cherry, Beach Plum, Etc.
(Prunus species)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 12

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Common Serviceberry
(Amelanchier arborea)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 36

Yes Yes No J F M A M J J A S O N D
Missouri Gooseberry
(Ribes missouriense)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 4

Yes Yes No J F M A M J J A S O N D
Crab apples, Quince
(Malus species)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 20

Yes No No J F M A M J J A S O N D
Clovers
(Trifolium species)
No Herbaceous Flowering Plant A Requires Moderate-to-High Soil Moisture 1.5

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Highbush Blueberry
(Vaccinium corymbosum)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires High Soil Moisture 12

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Gray Dogwood
(Cornus racemosa)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 10

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Black Chokeberry
(Aronia melanocarpa)
Yes Shrub or Small Tree P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 6

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Waterleaf
(Hydrophyllum spp.)
Yes Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires Moderate-to-High Soil Moisture 1–2

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Pagoda-plant
(Blephilia spp.)
No Herbaceous Flowering Plant P Requires Moderate Soil Moisture 1–2

Yes Yes Yes J F M A M J J A S O N D
Key
Yes Yes
No No
Herbaceous Flowering Plant Herbaceous Flowering Plant
Shrub or Small Tree Shrub or Small Tree
Tree Tree
P Perennial
A Annual
Requires Low Soil Moisture Requires low soil moisture
Requires Moderate Soil Moisture Requires moderate soil moisture
Requires Moderate-to-High Soil Moisture Requires moderate-to-high soil moisture
Requires High Soil Moisture Requires high soil moisture

September 2015


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station