Good Bee Forage for Pacific NW

bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)December 14, 2013

This year I started a bee garden.

I have 2 acres in Battleground WA, about 40 miles north of Portland OR. Some plants that I read attract bees, did not work out, some did. I also went to local nurseries and big box stores, and lurked in the plant sections watching for which plants were covered with bees, then bought some of those.

This is my list so far. Hoping to try more in 2014.

Ceanothus - the neighbor's bush, so covered with honeybees & bumble bees you could hear the bushes humming. I bought 2 of these, & added 2 more little ones from the "TLC" section of the store.

Sterile buddleia varieties - 5 varieties. Bumblebees, not honeybees, liked them. "Cobbler" varieties grew faster, but tended to look untidy with long panicles dry/brown at the bases before the end flowers opened. "Miss" varieties bushes & flowers stayed more compact. Both often had bumblebees foraging, no honeybees. Blue Chip did have rare honeybees. That was in some weeds. I forgot to water it. It didn't do much until fall.

Oregano - the flowers were always covered with honeybees, bumblebees, and some wasps. Long bloom period, mid to late summer. I moved an oregano in bloom, in the fall. Honeybees continued foraging the flowers while the plant was in the wheelbarrow & in its new location.

Shallots - I left them blooming even if that means smaller shallots. Honeybees loved them. These were "Holland" shallot from the nursery. Grocery store shallots didn't grow.

Garlic Chives - honeybees liked them. They usually love the flowers. Honeybees were not active on regular chives. They also like some ornamental allium varieties.

Lavender - honeybees love them. Always lots of bee activity when in bloom. Late summer.

Anise hyssop - long blooming, honeybees on them everyday. Long bloom season, mid summer to fall.

Sedum - Big flowered types like Autum Joy. Honeybees love them. Late blooming, not extended period but bloom when other bee forage is scarce. Very dry tolerant. I moved mine to new location just before bloom. They had not been watered all summer, and were wilted. After moving & watering they bloomed like crazy.

I read rosemary attracts bees but didn't see that. Also lemon balm, I have lots of that but bees ignored it. That's surprising, even the name Melissa refers to bees. Bees are supposed to like mint, but ignored my spearmint and peppermint. Last year they did forage spearmint.

Blackberries - wild. Honeybees and bumblebees all over them, late Spring.

Dandelions - considered good forage but I didn't see a lot of bee activity on my plentiful dandelions. They also didn't do much on Queen Ann's Lace.

Vegetables - there were some in the Zucchinis and Butternut squash, not a lot.

Wild cherries - very attractive for honeybees. Short Spring bloom season. They also liked Amanogawa flowering cherry but were not wild about it.

Caryopteris - always covered with honeybees. Very long summer bloom duration.

Russian sage - perovskia - moderate bee activity. Near the hyssop and caryopteris, both of which bees preferred over perovskia.

Wild hawthorn - honeybees like these & there wasn't much else for them at the time. That was late spring.

Big leaf maple - some big neighborhood trees. Difficult to see up that high, but I think the bees were very active in these trees. Not much else for them at that time, early spring.

White dutch clover - moderately active. None on red clover. I read, bumblebees can forage red clover, but honeybees cannot, due to flower tubes longer than honeybee tongue can reach. I've been spreading clover seeds in the lawn grass especially in orchard.

Vernonica - I had only one plant, bought in bloom. There was foraging activity, honeybees, not a lot. We'll see this year if it blooms longer.

Penstemon - ditto, only one plant, didn't bloom long. Bought in bloom. Maybe longer bloom period once established.

Borage - started late. I grew from seeds. Once they started blooming, there were always honeybees foraging the borage. These started blooming when the oregano was winding down, so good timing. Hard to buy plants, but grows easily from seeds.

Asters - bought in bloom because honeybees were foraging them at the store. The flowers didn't last long and they seemed to die off quickly. Some, not a lot, of bee activity.

Of this list, the most visible, highly active bee foraging was on the ceanothus, caryopteris, oregano, shallots, anise hyssop, borage, hawthorn.

I have fruit trees, mostly young. I assume those will attract bees in the early Spring although with a short bloom duration. I have several young Linden Greenspire, did not bloom yet. Also a new sourwood planted this fall, said to be a good bee tree, and a new "Prairie Fire" crabapple.

For next year - all of the above if they survive the winter, should be larger and more florific. Plus ordered more seeds of borage, Phacelia tanacetifolia ("bee's friend"), much more oregano. Since 4 oclocks bloom in afternoon and are said to be fragrant, I'm trying those but who knows if they will be good bee forage or grow/bloom well here. There was another thread on those.

I pulled out an oleander because I read they are toxic to bees. Ditto for pieris, although the neighbors have them too.

Any suggestions? Appreciate comments - wanting my garden to be a little bit of a bee sanctuary.

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Ilex crenata.

Facciola, Cornucopia II (Kampong Publications, Vista) says bigleaf maple provides a superior honey.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2013 at 2:57PM
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bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)

bboy, thank you for that reference. Good to know.

Forgot to add, the photo is oregano flowers.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2013 at 7:06PM
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Do you know where your bees are coming from?

In my yard I find the bees concentrate on the biggest, best source of nectar (Eucryphia) and "ignore" other concurrently-blooming plants.

I think the large majority of bees here in SE PDX are from hobbyist/small business hives.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2013 at 11:04PM
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Larry_gene, I have a hive with Italian honeybees. I plan to add a second hive in the Spring.

I noticed, not everything works the same as I read. For example, I read honeybees don't forage near their hive. My hive is about 10 feet from hawthorns and blackberries, and they forage there actively. The sedum is about 5 feet from the hive, and they forage that too.

There is also a tiny bee, I don't know what type. They were especially active on oregano and ceanothus.

This pic is from the sedum Autumn Joy in my yard.

I read that large groupings of pollen and nectar bearinng plants are preferred over scattered plants. So I am working on more groupings, especially borage, oregano, shallots.

Trees are so big I think they constitute a "grouping" of flowers, by themselves.

I forgot to add, I have an old buckeye. Quite beautiful. Honeybees did not forage that, but bumblebees were quite active. That is another one that buzzed so you could hear them before seeing the bees. This is not a California buckeye, which I read is toxic. It's a european type. I think.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 1:36PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

California buckeye makes a striking specimen here but is seldom seen in local plantings. You are much more likely to have Aesculus hippocastanum or its hybrid A. x carnea, these are the most prevalent - in fact, common horsechestnut reseeds weedily in this area.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2013 at 2:27PM
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bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)

Here is the flower of that Buckeye, from mid may this year.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2013 at 6:55PM
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Noni Morrison

On my orchid type single dahlias this summer I must have had thousands of bees! One in particular that was so popular it was hard to see the flowers for the bees was RaeAnn's Canis Majoris. IT grows about 4' tall and boy do the bees love the open centers on them! Other open centered ones were almost as popular. I would suggest that Lobaugh's Dahlias has many many wonderful kinds of these single dahlias and they are beautiful mixed into the garden. You could plant them among your shrubs, about 6" deep, and as long as you have good drainage there they don't usually need lifting over the winter, which makes a pretty carefree garden item. Just protect the emerging shoots in early summer,from the slug until they are too tall for the slugs to take them down. All of the singles seem real popular with the bees...anemone, orchid, etc. dahlias. I am going to plant some among my squash plants next year to improve pollination

    Bookmark   December 23, 2013 at 8:36PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Your Aesculus is A. x carnea, red-flower horse chestnut, red horse chestnut, pink horse chestnut. When an Aesculus species is from the Old World (or in the case of this hybrid, one of the parents is from the Old World) people call them horse chestnuts rather than buckeyes.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 5:55PM
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I tend a patch of knotweed that when in bloom in September is full of honeybees, bumble bees, and other little native bees. It flowers when very little else is blooming, which gives these bees that extra energy to get through the winter. This plant also gives that exotic, jungle look which I want in my garden.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 9:40AM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Japanese Knotweed is the worst weed that I have ever had to deal with, second to Lamia galeobdolon, Yellow Archangel. It came in on a contractor's bulldozer tracks. I fought it for years before finally conquering it on my property. I have seen it pop up through freshly paved asphalt. Isn't it on the invasive weed list?

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 9:56AM
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So, are you trying to attract just honey bees and bumbles, or lots of bees (and presumably other pollinators) as well? If the latter, its important to note that the vast majority of bees are solitary, like Orchard Masons and the various "sweat" bees. In their cases, often the biggest limiting factor, both in the wild and in the garden, is suitable nesting sites. Orchard Masons and their close kin need holes of a particular size, usually in wood (naturally occurring from wood boring beetles, or drilled by people hoping to attract them.) Sweat bees mostly dig holes in hard-packed sand and silt in open areas- I used to have a small colon in our driveway, though they seem to fluctuate quite a bit.

The flowers that many of the smaller ones will be most attracted to may or may not be the same as the bigger bees. Small flowers are more typically going to attract smaller pollinators, so if you want to attract lots of variety, a variety of sizes in flowers is also important.

Ok, so here are some groups and specific plants that have done well for me at attracting different kinds of pollinators (minus a discussion of hummingbirds, lol, since that is a whole different ballgame, however much it overlaps with this.)

Also note, there is an inherent bias in my notes here for natives. There are two good reasons for this- 1) natives tend to be full of all their natural nectar, and not selected for other traits that may or may not impact their nectar availability or quantity. Double flowers may attract us, but the energy outlay for the plants may reduce the amount of nectar available, or simply impede the ability of insects and other pollinators of physically reaching the nectar. and 2) native bugs are adapted to native plants. If you want more pollinators, you should take a close look at the native "weeds" around you and which ones the local insects are actually using. For example, white clover (Trifolium alba) is a good nectar plant, but Trifolium wormskjiolii is a better one, and also attracts butterflies who lay their eggs on the leaves so it feeds their caterpillars as well as the adults and the bees. There are several other native clovers around, though most are difficult to find and spot, since they tend to be smaller and not so showy in flower. But they do attract bees and other pollinators like butterflies well.

Ok, so some plants I wold try for bees-

You mention Big-leaf maple and Cherry (the native bitter cherry is ideal), and hawthorn. I would add the native crab apple (Malus fusca), which blooms later than other crabs, but is excellent for attracting a wide range of insects, as is the native hawthorns, which seem even better. Another that I would add to the list of native small trees to introduce for bugs in general, not just pollinators (thought certainly always buzzing with bees when in flower) is cascara- Rhamnus purshiana. Small flowers, not at all showy, but I've seen bumbles, honey bees, and several other kinds of bees all swarming in its branches when in flower. The tree will grow in sun or shade, dry to somewhat moist areas, easy to tuck into a corner and forget about it. Be aware that all plant parts are known to produce laxative effects, and I believe the honey that the bees produce foraging it is no exception, if your doing that kind of thing.

In shrubs, the main native that will give the Ceanothus a run for its money is the Mock Orange, Phildelphus lewisii (or other non natives, so long as they are close to the species, not the double hybrids and such). I once found a naturally growing one near Chelan that I counted half a dozen species of butterflies alone on, three or four different bumbles, and an assortment of bee flies, and a beetle or two as well. They aren't quite as able to attract that variety of pollinators in my suburban garden here, but they do better than most.

Vaccinium ovatum is another I would plant, especially for early bumbles. It blooms about the same time as the queens start to emerge (along with Red-flowering currant, Mahonia aquifolium, and Rubus spectabilis, also all good pollinator plants). Plus its beautiful, and blooms sporadically through the year whenever its happy. Orchard masons also take advantage of its early flowers, as will early bee flies, and I suspect early moths like the salt and pepper moth. Other Vacciniums are just as good, including cultivated blueberries, but I like the evergreen hucks the best of the bunch, and they are one of the easiest of the natives to get going in the garden.

Mahonias in general are excellent pollinator plants too, both the native "Oregon grapes" and the non native grape hollies that bloom in the middle of winter. The Mahonia x media varieties are what is mostly keeping my overwintering hummingbirds happy now, but I do occasionally see winter honeybees on warmer days buzzing around them as well, and will see more of that as the weather warms up. There aren't a lot of good nectar flowers in winter, but this is one of the best. In spring, there are few large shrubs that can equal the nectar production of a good sized Mahonia aquifolium, and the bees will be all over it.

The last native shrub I would consider, specifically for smaller pollinators, is Holodiscus discolor, oceanspray. It won't usually attract a lot of the bigger bees, but smaller solitary bees like sweat bees, bee flies and such will be all over it, as will some of the smaller flower beetles. The dried seed heads are also a favorite overwintering place for all kinds of small bugs and spiderlings, making it a popular hangout for the winter flocks of bushtits and chickadees, vireos and other insectivorous birds mobbing the garden occasionally in mid winter.

In annuals, one that I have always enjoyed, but that many find a little weedy is the native candyflower, Claytonia sibirica. Its has small quarter inch flowers, usually white to palest pink with darker nectar guides. Mostly grows in moist shade, but does really well in mixed annual pots, and sunny garden borders when irrigated. Naturally left to its own devices it will come up in late winter, start flowering whenever its gets big enough, and usually will dry out when things dry out, hopefully reseeding itself before then. Usually this is not a problem, it can actually be a bit aggressive about seeding (though not any worse than the borage you just planted! Actually, the two would be pretty together.) You would think such a small delicate flower would only be for the smaller pollinators, but I have seen bumbles laying on their backs, holding tight to the flowers to get the nectar out. They seem to really like it, lol. If I remember correctly, much of the Battleground area is a little drier than we are here in Seattle, so you may have better luck with its close cousin, Montia perfoliata, Miner's lettuce. This little guy has a cup shaped leaf under the flower scape, and was actually used as a salad green by many settlers in the area. The flower are just as popular with the smaller bees and such in my garden.

Mustards in general are good plants for bees, especially larger bumbles and honey bees. The one that will seed from birdseed mixes is usually good. I prefer the habit of the native Barbarea orthocerus though, it is more compact and just prettier, I think. Bright yellow flowers, bloom heavily mid to late spring, sometimes in to summer.

If you have some of the Russian Kales, you will know they can also be a veritable tower of flowers, sometimes up to six feet tall, of bright yellow mustard type flowers, again always buzzing with bees. These winter kales are great pollinator plants, people should grow them more often, not just for the tasty greens but also the pretty, simpler flowers.

In mints, try some of the Tuecrium/Ballotta type germanders. I think they were used to flavor liquers or something, but the flowers are a bee magnet, better than any of the other various mints I have grown, and I love mints so tend to try a bunch of them. Smaller flowered ones like the spearmints and peppermints tend to attract smaller polinators, and larger ones like the begamot/ bee balm clan tend to favor hummingbirds, but these seem just right for honey bees in particular. Rangy and rank, find a corner they can take over. Weediness is a given with this group. For what its worth, I rarely see a ton of bees on my lemon balm either, though it does seem to attract smaller bees like the sweat bees in the later summer. These little guys are harder to spot, but they can be plentiful in a dense patch, hidden in the bushy leaves.

If you like onions, try the native Allium cernuum. Much prettier than the other chives, with a milder flavor to the leaves. Nodding, light pink to off white flowers, supposedly also attract butterflies but I haven't seen that so much in my garden, but then my urban garden is depressingly butterfly poor most years. Other native relatives like Camas and harvest onions (Brodiaea and Tritelia spp) are also generally pretty good. A field of camas can be a mine field of bees, when in flower.

In later summer and early fall, look for a good native goldenrod. Aster subspicatus will also do well, but the goldenrods attract a wider variety of pollinators in my experience.

I'm sure there are lots more, but those are the ones I can think of at the moment. Probably a better idea to keep coming back to this as the bees remind me of what they like in the garden!

Sorry for the long winded reply, lol...

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 4:11PM
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bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)


Thanks for all of the thoughtful information. You could write a book!

I have a beehive, and I am adding another one this winter. So partly I want to provide some pesticide-free pollen and nectar for my honeybees. That's even though I know they forage far and wide. I was encouraged by how active they were last year on my own property, when I had forage for them.

But also, I want to provide forage for local native bees. I liked watching tiny pollinating bees and big bumblebees on my flowers last year. From what I read, their numbers may also be declining due to pesticide use and loss of habitat.

This year we are putting in a few hundred square foot of wildflower meadow. We solarized the grass, and will be broadcasting the seeds soon.

The mock-orange / Philadelphus sounds appealing. Also the cascara. I will look into those this spring or late winter. I think there is a patch of Claytonia growing wild on my property. I didn't know that plant before.

Local bees also liked wild Lamium pupureum which seems to grow like crazy in the Spring then die off. I assume it will do that again this year.

Last fall I planted some Camassia bulbs. We'll see if they grow. Kind of pricey to plant a lot but maybe I can collect seeds from them and increase the numbers.

I also ordered a batch of Phacelia tanacetifolia and plan to put in a big patch of that.

Thanks again for the thoughtful comments!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 11:14AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Cascara is a damp soil tree in nature. Camas can be bought in quantity from bulb dealers for lower prices, the pricing also varies a lot with which particular kind you are planting.

The hummingbirds that are present here through the winter are the Anna's hummingbird, native well south of here and presumably having expanded its range north in response to the planting of exotic flowers that bloom in winter and/or the hanging out of feeders at that time of the year.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 3:16PM
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bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)

Just looked up Philadelphus. I should look into that. I like mock orange. If bees like it, then I should try it.

Some sites - such as the King County website - say it's deer resistant. The USDA states it is a moderately important browse for deer and elk. I need plants that deer and rabbits won't completely destroy. A fence tall enough to keep out deer would be too costly.

Still, I think that will go on the wish list. Thank you for recommending that.

Here is a link that might be useful: USDA on Mock Orange

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 7:08PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

I run across a Cascara seedling once in awhile. They are sprinkled about in the woods here, but not in the higher, dry areas. To the untrained eye, they look a lot like a Red Alder.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 9:26PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

You can fence a fairly large area using peeler poles and deer netting for a few hundred bucks. Spending a lot more money than this - and all the time involved - on plantings of some scope and involvement, only to leave them completely open to plant-eating wildlife seems a false economy to me.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 1:16AM
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A friend of mine who created a deer "hedgerow" to try and keep them in the ravine rather in her garden, considered mock orange one of those the deer would browse but not kill, and that once it was established at least, was able to withstand their affections for it. Perhaps create a cage for it from chicken wire or something, so that at least initially, it has space to grow, and the deer can only nip the outlyers? For what its worth, it tends to like similar conditions to your Ceanothus- sunny edge to open areas, preferably on the dry side once established. Happy with summer irrigation, but once going strong shouldn't need it. In shade the plant will grow well, but not necessarily flower too well.

On cascara as a moist forest species, I beg to differ. It is one of several trees folks taking care of the Mima Mounds, Glacial Heritage and similar prairies in the south sound area are weeding off the mounds and out of the meadows. It can and will take dry conditions very well. However, it does tend to change how it looks in dryer soils- smaller leaves, more compact habit. Osoberry will do the same, though it is much more dependent on moist spring soil than the cascara. Cascara does NOT like wet feet either. It will do ok along the edges of marshy areas, but rarely seeds itself into saturated soils. Of course, in the garden it will typically get more moisture than it tends to in the woods anyway.

As far as Anna's not being native, well neither is the honey bee, lol. At least the Anna's is an American Native. Honeybees are old world bugs, however treasured by many. Both enjoy a winter nectar source.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 2:49AM
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bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)

Points taken.

Given the moles, voles, rabbits, and deer, I try to grow plants, including bee forage, that won't add too much to my efforts. Fruits and vegetables do get extra caging / nets / chicken wire under the raised beds.

I did have oleander, which is poisonous. Deer didn't touch it, but I read the toxins may enter the honey, so pulled it out.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 10:06AM
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Is it to late to plant Borage this fall in Kitsap WA?

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 9:05AM
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bear_with_me(8 Pacific NW)

Larry, I don't know if you can plant borage now and get significant bloom before frost. I would say, "maybe". I planted mine in May, and got a lot of July bloom, which is only 2 months.

You got me thinking, I should try that too. I will look to see if I have any borage seeds.

The plants I grew this year were prolific. Last year's plants also self seeded like crazy. Of my bees' favorite flowers at the moment, borage is #1 and chinese chives are #2.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 7:06PM
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Thank You Bear with me, I pickup some black locust seeds today and planted with hopes of a tree or few.
Some people said I would be sorry, but if my ladies like it, I am ok with it.
I was just thinking to plant or not to plant the borage. It just maybe to late and should save the seeds.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 9:16PM
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May-July is a lot different than August-October for getting from seed to bloom. Some borage started now could possibly survive a mild or protected winter, and bloom much earlier next year than plants seeded in May 2015. I see some of these early borage bloomers now and then.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 10:33PM
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With the nectar flow gone our bees are a little upset and my wife that does not get stung has been stung several times now and yesterday just watering some plants one got her in the eye lid. As new beekeeper just want to plant our 8 ac with as much as we can to keep the girls happy and strong for the winter.

This post was edited by larry_n7luf on Sat, Aug 9, 14 at 10:51

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 9:00AM
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