“Bumble bee queens, honey bees, and solitary bees
start emerging from their winter homes ready to feast on the
landscape as early as March,” says University of Illinois Extension
horticulture educator Kelly Allsup. “Feed them from your garden by
planting a mix of crocus, snow drops, Siberian squill, grape
hyacinth, and bluebells to ensure many sources of nectar when little
else is in bloom.”
According to Allsup, crocus and snowdrops are a gardener’s favorite
because they are some of the first spring flowering bulbs to arrive
after the cold temperatures. “Emerging snowdrops in late winter let
us know the soil is warming and spring is coming. Both of these
spring flowers do best in full sun to partial shade and look
stunning when planted en masse,” she says.
Siberian squill is another hardy favorite for spring as it easily
naturalizes in lawns and other areas creating large drifts of blue.
These flowers prefer partial shade to full sun and bloom in early
spring before trees leaf out.
“Grape hyacinth is a showy fragrant blue flowering bulb coveted by
most bees,” Allsup says. Each bulb produces around three flowering
scapes that contain urn shaped, tightly packed vivid flowers. Grape
hyacinths provide an outstanding floral display when planted in
drifts in partial shade to full sun.
“Hyacinth is an abundantly fragrant and very
showy. They come in a wide range of colors from blue, purple, pink,
magenta, red, and white and make a good early nectar source for bees
and butterflies,” Allsup explains.
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Hyacinth bulbs grow well in full sun and should be deadheaded after flowers are
spent to increase energy to the bulb. They are best displayed en masse. Allsup
suggests that gardeners should be cautious when handling these bulbs as some
growers have experienced allergic reactions.
Another bee-friendly flower is winter aconite. “Winter aconite is only a half an
inch tall but it is attractive to honeybees, mining bees, and hover flies. It is
very bright yellow so it also pulls a passerby into the landscape,” she says. It
is best grown in full sun during flowering but shaded by trees when they leaf
One of the first spring bulbs to bloom is the glory-of-the-snow flower and “it
blooms just in time to the feed the overwintering bees,” Allsup says. The
flower’s purple strappy petals with a bright white middle grows in full sun to
part shade and spreads by offsets. Only six inches tall, it easily naturalizes
in a garden space. As the garden warms up, the leaves will fade.
“A bit of strategic planting this fall will not only give you welcome blooms
this spring, but keep your garden buzzing with bees,” Allsup concludes.
[News Source: Kelly Allsup, Extension
Terri Miller, MPA
County Extension Director - Unit 16]