Q&A: Which winter flowers are best for bees?
Question: Which flowering plants are good for feeding bees over winter? My garden is short on flowers when summer is over. Could you suggest some trees and shrubs that will cover the gap? Do I need to put out sugar water in the meantime?
Answer: It is a lot harder to find good flowering plants for bees over winter. But the bees are also out and about less. Mostly bees reduce in numbers and stay in their hives during the coldest months, so the requirement for bee food is much less too.
Good plants for bees that flower from autumn on include rosemary, borage, pineapple sage, sedums, rudbeckia, Japanese anenomes, helenium and native hebes.
And of course, that winter standby – camellias – are good for bees, especially if they are single, open forms. Some cultivars with multiple layers of petals either have no stamens and pollen or are so densely packed that bees have difficulty reaching it. Camellias have high quality, protein-rich pollen that is a particularly useful, nutritious food source to store over winter and also in spring when bee numbers are building up again in the hive.
Coming into spring there is still a scarcity of good bee food, and blossom fruit trees such as apples and pears are a good source.
Native trees that flower in winter make good bee food too. Examples include tree fuchsia, weeping mahoe, five-finger and matipo.
Check out treesforbeesnz.org for a year-round list of flowering plants that are attractive to bees.
But don't be tempted to feed sugar water to bees. There are strict rules around sugar in honey and you may inadvertently be interfering with a beekeeper's livelihood. Beekeepers will feed their bees sugar at the right times if it is necessary.
Karen Knight, businessofbees.com
- NZ Gardener