We’re all tempted to hide inside during the cold winter and early spring months but honeybees need to remain in their hives in order to survive. If the weather is milder (up to 10C) then you may see bees venturing out, looking for nectar, so what winter and spring plants can you have in your garden to help them during this tough time of year? Here are some plants to attract bees (and which look fab too)
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
These bright buttercup-like flowers are great ground cover at the beginning of the year when they flower from January to February and sometimes into March.
Winter flowering varieties of evergreen clematis often produce flowers from December through to March. Look for Clematis paniculata, Clematis cirrhosa ‘Wisley Cream’, Clematis cirrhosa ‘Jingle Bells’ and Clematis cirrhosa balearica which all have open flowers, making it easier for the bees to collect pollen.
Mahonia Oregon Grape
Bees adore the Mahonia’s winter and early spring flowers (which smell amazing) and are usually followed by dark purple berries which birds will love.
Erica carnea heather
Evergreen heathers are easy to grow and long-flowering making them a great low maintenance plant that provide a lifeline to bees. Look for varieties of Erica Carnea that flower right through to late Spring including ‘Bell’s extra special’, ‘Isabelle’, ‘Nathalie’, ‘Eva’, ‘Winter Rubin’ and ‘Saskia’.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima)
This winter-flowering variety of honeysuckle is a highly fragrant bushy shrub with cream flowers.
Viburnum x bodnantense
With densely packed clusters of rose, pink or blush white flowers, this is a fantastic winter-flowering plant to attract bees.
You can also provide a shelter to solitary bees by leaving fallen leaves and twigs and sweeping them into a pile. They’ll appreciate it until the warmer Spring days arrive.
What if I see a bee struggling this winter?
If you see a bee lying on the ground appearing tired, it’s probably because it’s used up a lot of its energy flying. If you have any flowering plants nearby, move the bee onto one. If you don’t have any flowers then fear not, you can still help! Mix together a sugar solution of half white refined sugar and half warm water then place near the bee’s head. It should soon be replenishing its energy levels ready to fly off again (please note: brown sugar is bad for bees so make sure it’s white sugar or local natural honey).
In the UK alone, honeybee colonies have fallen by 50% over the past 20 years. With farmers relying on bees to pollinate their crops – the food we eat – it’s great if we can try to do our little bit to keep them thriving.
If you live in Oxfordshire, why not pop into Rosy Bees or Yarnton Home and Garden to look for some of these bee-friendly plants to attract bees? You could check out our display of lip balms and hand salves while you’re there…