Which are the best trees for bees in the UK… and why is it important to save the bees anyway! Did you know, you have a bee to thank for approximately one in every three mouthfuls of food you eat? Without pollinating insects, much of our food would not grow – honeybees are responsible for around 80% of the pollination.
Sadly, the number of bees (and other pollinators) in the UK has declined dramatically in recent years – parasites, a lack of forage (flowers), a shortage of nesting sites, as well as other factors are threatening bee health and survival.
Whilst flowers provide valuable pollen and nectar for bees, tree flowers are a critical source of forage and, because trees tend to be much bigger than other plants, trees for bees are hugely important!
Trees for Bees throughout the year
Unlike other bees, honeybees live all year round. They don’t normally fly when the temperature is below 10C and so are rarely seen over the winter, but they will emerge to look for nectar (their carbohydrate) and pollen (their protein) as soon as the weather warms in the Spring.
Our ecosystems rely on healthy insect populations, Sadly, insects are struggling at the moment and the statistics don’t look great. However, planting bee-friendly flowers and trees in your garden, allotment or local park is a great way to support bees for years to come. (If you’d like to plant your own mini wildflower meadow, we’re including packs of bee-friendly wildflower seeds with all orders over £12 on our website😊)
We’re often asked which trees bees like, so we thought we’d create a list of the best trees for bees throughout the year – see if you can spot any of these and enjoy that lovely busy ‘buzzing’ sound as the bees go about their business.
Best Bee-Friendly Trees in the Spring Time
A honeybee colony over winter contains approximately 10,000 bees. During the Spring and early Summer, this grows to around 80,000 bees – so spring trees provide important food to help the bees grow fast. Here are some of the trees for bees you might see in the UK in springtime.
Willows (Salix species)
Willow trees flower early in spring with their display of beautiful catkins. As well as honeybees, over 500 native insect species of insects and moths benefit from willow. An important member of the willow family, the common willow (Salix caprea), blooms as early as March and April and is a vital food source for bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies and honeybees. Willow trees are mainly wind pollinated but the male willow catkins offer important pollen (protein to feed hatching new bees) and the female catkins are rich in nectar (carbohydrate providing vital energy).
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn, with its strongly scented white or pink flowers, is a potential source of wonderful nectar and cream-coloured pollen at the height of the season for rearing young bees. However, weirdly hawthorn only produces valuable nectar for bees every 5 or 6 years! Studies have indicated that good years occur when the weather is warm, still and humid; in dry windy years, the flowers are probably wind pollinated and do not produce nectar.
Fruit trees (Plum, Cherry, Almond, Blackthorn and Apricot (Prunus); Apple, Crabapple (Malus); and Pear (Pyrus))
Fruit trees are a beautiful addition to any garden and are sure to attract bees. Our hives are situated in a small apple and cherry tree orchard (pic below); the bees love these blossoms in May-time and the blackthorn hedge is covered in Bees in late April.
Best UK Trees for Bees in the Summer Time
By the height of summer, a colony of honeybees contains up to 80,000 bees – one queen bee, around 4,000 drones (males) and 76,000 (female) worker bees, gathering the nectar and pollen, raising the young bees and keeping the queen healthy and the hive clean. There is a lot of mouths to feed and summer-flowering trees provide a valuable source of pollen and nectar for all these hungry bees.
Smoke Tree (or Chittam-wood)
The name smoke tree comes from the trees panicles (flower clusters) that are a “smokey” pink and can cover the entire tree at their peak. The actual flowers bloom in June and are small and yellow-green. Bees absolutely love these flowers! We have a smoke tree near our hives and it’s buzzing throughout the flowering season.
Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
The horse chestnut, normally known for conkers, has beautiful flowers in May and June time. Bees pollinating these flowers ensures a good crop of conkers in the autumn. Horse chestnuts bloom over a long time and supply both an abundance of pollen and tree resin, which the bees turn into propolis, to use like an antiseptic ‘putty’ to seal their hives.
Lime tree or linden trees (Tilia platyphyllos, cordata and x euripoaea)
Linden trees are one of the best trees for bees in the UK. Their heady scent can often be smelled just before the buzz of bees feasting on the tiny cream-coloured flowers in late summer, between July and August. Bees are particularly fond of them in the evening – which is interesting because linden flowers are often used in traditional medicine to aid relaxation and sleep.
Best Bee-Friendly Tree in the Autumn
A tree-like shrub, hebes often display rather unassuming flowers but the bees enjoy plentiful food from their tiny flowers! There are many different species of hebe, and many provide beautiful leaves all year round – the RHS has a lovely guide for choosing hebes.
Ivy (Hedera helix)
Whilst not strictly a tree or a shrub, Ivy is often seen living (somewhat semi-parasitically) with native trees. Love it or hate it, ivy flowers provide important forage for bees in late autumn, helping them create stores of honey and pollen for the winter to come.
If a honey plant is to produce good nectar and pollen, it is important that the growing circumstances are right and that there is sufficient water in the weeks before and during flowering. This is particularly important for the flow of nectar, which will dry up if there is a limited amount of moisture.
Neve’s bees live in our apple orchard, on the edge of our wildflower meadow, hedged with hawthorn and blackthorn, dog-rose and willow providing a plentiful supply of forage for our bees throughout the year.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of using beeswax in skincare, do check out our website. Here are a few of our favourite Neve’s Bees products at the moment:
Lavender and Petitgrain Hand Salve – super soft, rich hand balm that absorbs quickly leaving your skin feel soft, supple and nourished