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Blue flowers are best for bees

By: Garden Gate staff
These 8 blue flowers are the best at bringing in bees!

Bees, those crucial, busy little pollinators, actually see color in the blue spectrum better than other hues so growing blue flowers is the best way to attract them. Why would you want bees in your garden? We owe almost all of our fruits and vegetables and many of our favorite old-fashioned flowers, such as the bachelor's button above, to these insects and their pollen moving power.

Tips for designing a pollinator-friendly garden

Three seasons of blue blooms

While it’s easy to plant a garden that attracts bees in early summer when everything is bursting into flower, bees need food sources from early spring through fall. Early-emerging bees, such as the young queens of the bumble bee (Bombus spp.) group, will appreciate spring blooms as they get ready to rear their first brood. And if you pay attention in the fall, you can hear late-blooming plants “buzzing” with the different types of bees that are racing to get their last food supplies gathered.

Check out 6 more plants bees love

So planting a garden that helps support these hard-working little creatures benefits all of us in the long run! Check out this gallery of blue flowers, from earliest spring to last blooms before frost, that’ll attract and feed hosts of bees in your garden.

‘Blue Giant’ glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa forbesii)

One of the earliest bloomers, this pretty little bulb’s common name comes from the fact that you may find it blooming while there’s still snow on the ground.

It’s a great rock garden plant, or, like many bulbs, it thrives under the branches of deciduous trees. There, plenty of light reaches the plant before the tree leafs out, and it doesn’t mind the dry soil under the tree while it’s dormant. Plant bulbs 2 to 4 in. deep and apart. These plants will spread slowly and naturalize to form drifts of color. Bumble bees, some of the earliest bees to emerge in spring, will appreciate this food source.

Growing tip

If you have deer trouble grow glory-of-the-snow — they usually leave it alone.

Type Bulb Blooms Blue with white centers from late winter to early spring Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 4 to 8 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Blue globe allium (Allium caeruleum)

What could be more charming than these little sky-blue balls of flowers? Mix blue globe allium in with low-growing perennials and enjoy the effect of the airy blooms seeming to float over lower plants. Blue globe allium will spread quickly. You can divide large clumps in fall, and you may also find that the plant has seeded from the “bulbils” that form after the flower has faded. The strappy, low-growing foliage emerges early and is often gone by the time the flowers bloom. The blooms aren’t fragrant, but you’ll notice an oniony scent to your hands if you touch the foliage and bulbs.

Growing tip

In addition to being deer- and rabbit-resistant, blue globe onion is also unaffected by juglone, the chemical given off by walnut trees.

Type Bulb Blooms Sky-blue in mid- to late spring Light Full to part sun Soil Well-drained Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 4 to 8 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

‘Blue Glow’ globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus)

Here’s the right plant to add a cool note to that hot strip along the south side of a house or next to the driveway. 'Blue Glow' globe thistle grows happily in even poor soil, as long as it has good drainage. The hefty 1½- to 2-in.-wide blooms offer a great landing and feeding area for bees and other pollinators. Although globe thistle is an easy plant to grow, be sure to put new plants right where you want them — they form tap roots that make them hard to divide or transplant.

Growing tip

Be sure to wear gloves when you handle globe thistle, the stems and leaves have spiny bristles.

Type Perennial Blooms Blue mid- to late summer Light Full sun Soil Very well-drained Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 4 to 8

‘Black and Blue’ salvia (Salvia guaranitica)

Although this salvia is technically a tender perennial, many gardeners grow it as an annual. And what an annual it is! True-blue flowers are held by a black calyx. It holds on even after the petals have dropped giving this plant long-lasting color. Growing 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, 'Black and Blue' salvia can be used as a screen, to fill a container, or take center stage in a mixed perennial border. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it as much as bees do, so expect a lot of activity wherever you grow this gorgeous plant.

Growing tip

Overwinter this salvia indoors by cutting it back to about 12 inches and setting it in a sunny window. It may grow a bit leggy, but will have a head start the following spring.

Type Tender perennial (often grown as an annual) Blooms Blue from midsummer to frost Light Full sun Soil Average Size 3 to 5 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10

‘Blue Pearl’ crocus (Crocus chrysanthus)

Plant this little crocus in clusters for a charming early spring effect. It’s one of the first crocuses to bloom, so mix it in with other cultivars to prolong the color.

Although crocuses are great in beds and borders, you can also plant them in the lawn. The grasslike crocus foliage fades into the background, allowing the blooms to stand out like little stars. Just hold off on the first mowing until the crocus foliage has died down.

Mason bees (Osmia spp.), solitary bees that nest in holes in trees or other small cavities, are emerging about the same time as crocus, so you can help them off to a good start with these small, bright bulbs.

Growing tip

Dig a shallow trench that’s a foot or more wide to plant a dozen or more of these small bulbs at one time. A group of blooms is easier for the bees to find.

Type Bulb Blooms Light blue with yellow centers in early spring Light Full sun to part shade Soil Average, well-drained Size 3 to 6 in. tall, 1 to 2 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Borage (Borago officinalis)

If you want a classic cottage garden, this is the plant for you! Often planted near vegetable crops, it helps attract pollinators to your garden, which will boost your yield of tomatoes, squash and more. And the bees aren’t the only ones who will enjoy this plant — the leaves and flowers are edible.

The easiest and least expensive way to start borage is from seed. You can sow it indoors before the first frost or direct sow it outdoors after the last frost. Once it’s established in your garden, you won’t need to replant, as it reseeds vigorously.

Growing tip

Freeze individual borage blooms into ice cubes to add sparkle to a summertime glass of lemonade!

Type Annual Blooms Downward-facing blue in early to late summer Light Full to part sun Soil Average, well-drained Size 1 to 3 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide

Bachelor’s button (Centaurea cyanus)

Bachelor’s button is very easy to grow from seed and reseeds prolifically. In cool climates, plant the seeds after the last frost. In warm zones, where temperatures don’t drop below freezing, you can sow them in late fall for spring flowers. Plants will grow in most any soil type as long as it's well-drained — clay soil causes roots to rot.

Growing tip

Deadheading isn't required but encourages a quicker rebloom. Cut spent blooms just about the closest set of leaves.

Type Annual Blooms Blue from early summer to fall Light Full sun Soil Average, well-drained Size 12 to 36 in. tall, 9 to 24 in. wide

‘First Choice’ bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis)

A little smaller and later blooming than some other bluebeards, ‘First Choice’ will keep feeding the bees until a hard frost. In fact, if you stand near a plant on a sunny fall day, the entire plant will buzz and vibrate gently because of all the bees swarming over it. (Don’t worry — they’re a lot more interested in flowers than they are in you!)

Growing tip

Bluebeard often suffers winter damage on the stems so cut them back to 5 or 6 inches tall in early spring.

Type Shrub Blooms Blue from midsummer to frost Light Full sun Soil Average, well-drained Size 2 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 5 to 9

‘Blue Giant’ glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa forbesii)

One of the earliest bloomers, this pretty little bulb’s common name comes from the fact that you may find it blooming while there’s still snow on the ground.

It’s a great rock garden plant, or, like many bulbs, it thrives under the branches of deciduous trees. There, plenty of light reaches the plant before the tree leafs out, and it doesn’t mind the dry soil under the tree while it’s dormant. Plant bulbs 2 to 4 in. deep and apart. These plants will spread slowly and naturalize to form drifts of color. Bumble bees, some of the earliest bees to emerge in spring, will appreciate this food source.

Growing tip

If you have deer trouble grow glory-of-the-snow — they usually leave it alone.

Type Bulb Blooms Blue with white centers from late winter to early spring Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 4 to 8 in. tall, 3 to 5 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

‘Blue Pearl’ crocus (Crocus chrysanthus)

Plant this little crocus in clusters for a charming early spring effect. It’s one of the first crocuses to bloom, so mix it in with other cultivars to prolong the color.

Although crocuses are great in beds and borders, you can also plant them in the lawn. The grasslike crocus foliage fades into the background, allowing the blooms to stand out like little stars. Just hold off on the first mowing until the crocus foliage has died down.

Mason bees (Osmia spp.), solitary bees that nest in holes in trees or other small cavities, are emerging about the same time as crocus, so you can help them off to a good start with these small, bright bulbs.

Growing tip

Dig a shallow trench that’s a foot or more wide to plant a dozen or more of these small bulbs at one time. A group of blooms is easier for the bees to find.

Type Bulb Blooms Light blue with yellow centers in early spring Light Full sun to part shade Soil Average, well-drained Size 3 to 6 in. tall, 1 to 2 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Blue globe allium (Allium caeruleum)

What could be more charming than these little sky-blue balls of flowers? Mix blue globe allium in with low-growing perennials and enjoy the effect of the airy blooms seeming to float over lower plants. Blue globe allium will spread quickly. You can divide large clumps in fall, and you may also find that the plant has seeded from the “bulbils” that form after the flower has faded. The strappy, low-growing foliage emerges early and is often gone by the time the flowers bloom. The blooms aren’t fragrant, but you’ll notice an oniony scent to your hands if you touch the foliage and bulbs.

Growing tip

In addition to being deer- and rabbit-resistant, blue globe onion is also unaffected by juglone, the chemical given off by walnut trees.

Type Bulb Blooms Sky-blue in mid- to late spring Light Full to part sun Soil Well-drained Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 4 to 8 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Borage (Borago officinalis)

If you want a classic cottage garden, this is the plant for you! Often planted near vegetable crops, it helps attract pollinators to your garden, which will boost your yield of tomatoes, squash and more. And the bees aren’t the only ones who will enjoy this plant — the leaves and flowers are edible.

The easiest and least expensive way to start borage is from seed. You can sow it indoors before the first frost or direct sow it outdoors after the last frost. Once it’s established in your garden, you won’t need to replant, as it reseeds vigorously.

Growing tip

Freeze individual borage blooms into ice cubes to add sparkle to a summertime glass of lemonade!

Type Annual Blooms Downward-facing blue in early to late summer Light Full to part sun Soil Average, well-drained Size 1 to 3 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide

‘Blue Glow’ globe thistle (Echinops bannaticus)

Here’s the right plant to add a cool note to that hot strip along the south side of a house or next to the driveway. 'Blue Glow' globe thistle grows happily in even poor soil, as long as it has good drainage. The hefty 1½- to 2-in.-wide blooms offer a great landing and feeding area for bees and other pollinators. Although globe thistle is an easy plant to grow, be sure to put new plants right where you want them — they form tap roots that make them hard to divide or transplant.

Growing tip

Be sure to wear gloves when you handle globe thistle, the stems and leaves have spiny bristles.

Type Perennial Blooms Blue mid- to late summer Light Full sun Soil Very well-drained Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 4 to 8

Bachelor’s button (Centaurea cyanus)

Bachelor’s button is very easy to grow from seed and reseeds prolifically. In cool climates, plant the seeds after the last frost. In warm zones, where temperatures don’t drop below freezing, you can sow them in late fall for spring flowers. Plants will grow in most any soil type as long as it's well-drained — clay soil causes roots to rot.

Growing tip

Deadheading isn't required but encourages a quicker rebloom. Cut spent blooms just about the closest set of leaves.

Type Annual Blooms Blue from early summer to fall Light Full sun Soil Average, well-drained Size 12 to 36 in. tall, 9 to 24 in. wide

‘Black and Blue’ salvia (Salvia guaranitica)

Although this salvia is technically a tender perennial, many gardeners grow it as an annual. And what an annual it is! True-blue flowers are held by a black calyx. It holds on even after the petals have dropped giving this plant long-lasting color. Growing 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, 'Black and Blue' salvia can be used as a screen, to fill a container, or take center stage in a mixed perennial border. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it as much as bees do, so expect a lot of activity wherever you grow this gorgeous plant.

Growing tip

Overwinter this salvia indoors by cutting it back to about 12 inches and setting it in a sunny window. It may grow a bit leggy, but will have a head start the following spring.

Type Tender perennial (often grown as an annual) Blooms Blue from midsummer to frost Light Full sun Soil Average Size 3 to 5 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 10

‘First Choice’ bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis)

A little smaller and later blooming than some other bluebeards, ‘First Choice’ will keep feeding the bees until a hard frost. In fact, if you stand near a plant on a sunny fall day, the entire plant will buzz and vibrate gently because of all the bees swarming over it. (Don’t worry — they’re a lot more interested in flowers than they are in you!)

Growing tip

Bluebeard often suffers winter damage on the stems so cut them back to 5 or 6 inches tall in early spring.

Type Shrub Blooms Blue from midsummer to frost Light Full sun Soil Average, well-drained Size 2 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy USDA zones 5 to 9

Published: June 18, 2019
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