Gardening for Bees


This just in from KQED–as part of their Quest series about science and nature in the San Francisco Bay Area, they’ve posted this video of UC entomologist Gordon Frankie showing off some bee-friendly plants in his garden.  It’s pretty interesting; he’s really looking at specific plants and the particular species of bees they attract.  He’s also created a website devoted to bee-friendly gardens, particularly on the west coast.  Visit his website to learn more about:

And so much more.  One of his favorite bee plants is Tansy Phacelia, an annual that he says attracts a wide variety of bees.  I think he’s referring to Phacelia tanacetifolia, a wildflower that thrives on poor soil and neglect.  Anybody growing it?



  1. Yes, Amy, here on the foggy East Coast of Canada I’m growing P. tanacetifolia–from seed I got from Salt Spring Seeds in BC. it’s not as showy for sure as some of its genus relatives, but interestingly, it selfseeds politely and comes back year after year…if I don’t have a dumb moment and pull it out as ‘weeds’ in the early spring….
    I also grow nettles, thistles, goldenrod and queen annes lace and we have wild orchids around and in the pasture. Having seven acres makes it easy, of course, to have lots of bee-friendly (and other pollinator friendly) sites, and we’re blithely free of pesticides (except where I’m putting glyphosate on a batch of goutweed that wants to contaminate my pasture.). I’m no perfect gardener but I do what I can for the wildlife around me–especially the bees and butterflies.

  2. Interesting post. There are a few bee friendly plants that I like to use but am constantly getting complaints like, “Those flowers attract to many bees” from customers. I have been worn down enough not to plant them anymore, or put them in less traveled areas on the garden. I try and explain the role of bees in the garden but it doesn’t seem to matter.
    A few of the plants that I don’t use too much anymore:
    Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
    Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
    Blue Mist (Caryopteris clandonensis)

  3. I love the bees but have experienced, rather unpleasantly, the ground nests and would rather that the bees find another place to tunnel than right in the middle of my garden! I’m happy to see that the others who left comments listed those plants that do attract bees. I am in RI and Cimicifuga racemosa had at least two different bee species on it just last evening. The Sedum Autumn Joy also attracts quite a few bees and I will be paying closer attention to observing and noting bees on those plants that the bees seem to love. Thanks!

  4. I love those websites.

    I have a shiny blue Agapostemon texanus in my garden right now. Yesterday I watched him flit back and forth between Madia elegans and Cosmos bipinnatus while I took a gardening break.

    The San Francisco Botanical Garden sells Phacelia tanacetifolia most years. That plant looks terrible in containers (true for many native plants, but especially true for that one), so it’s a hard sell for us. It does much better once it gets in the ground, but it’s more fun to start with seeds anyway.

    So we have another interesting reason to step back from the constant mulching. I think there was a post about that awhile ago. I’m going to go read through all the links now

  5. I wish we had this kind of good research going on with non-California plants because we need it. A Maryland gardener has done independent research on which species of butterflies are attracted to which plants and put it on his site, but I can’t find similar info for all of wildlife – except for the ubiquitous directive to “plant natives”. Even the wildlife advocates won’t tell us which nonnative plants are good for wildlife, so gardeners are just guessing and sometimes guessing wrong. E.g., to look at those red berries on nandina you’d think the birds love ’em, but they won’t eat them at all. People want to know these things!

  6. I’ve noticed that visitors are much more solicitous of the bees lately. People don’t seem as freaked – as a matter of fact, most seem really pleased to see so many honeybees. There was even one guy who went and sat near the wild hive in a tree stump next to the greenhouse so he could just hang “with the girls” for a while. Along with planting good nectar and pollen flowers, bees also love having a place to drink. “The girls” spend a lot of time at our cement pond and in saucers we keep filled just for them.

  7. In terms of bee habitat, I was pleasantly surprised by the five expandable bamboo lattices I bought at Gardener’s Supply this spring for trellises. They’re made of hollow 3/4″ bamboo canes, which means that certain species of bees will have plenty of places to overwinter.

    What I like are the plants you don’t think much about but that are surefire bee magnets every year. The smaller species like metallic sweat bees love Coreopsis verticillata. The Scabiosa columbaria usually has a bee on it too. And my favorite “invasive,” the Campanula rapunculoides, is usually full of bumble bees.

    Another surprise is that the privet hedge is so attractive — I’ve seen wasps, bees, and an amazing number of painted lady butterflies going for the flowers.

  8. One plant I saw that had been left out: Cilantro.

    I had a boom crop of cilantro last year and the bees were ALL OVER it. They were completely nuts for the stuff with several bees constantly on each plant.

    I had so much cilantro/coriander from those that I did not plant it this year, and this year there are far fewer bees in my garden. Even though I am growing a large number of the “bee attracting” plants from that list(almost half of them). None of those attract bees like that cilantro did.

    Just a note – maybe it’s just my local bees (east of Seattle area)that are crazy for it, but crazy they certainly were.

  9. Well, I can’t comment on many of those western plants but here in my midwest garden I have bee balm, coneflowers, and joe pye weed. I always had tons of honeybees on these plants until this year, but this year I have noticed fewer honeybees and more bumble bees.

  10. Pieris is surprisingly popular with bees in our UK garden, buddleia unsurprisingly so.

    speaking of fascinating communal insects that occasionally sting, hornets seem to be increasing in the UK and using gardens. My dad accidentally “located” a nest whilst removing an unwanted tree the other week – he was not keen to hang with those girls!

  11. Wax-leafed ligustrum, a kind of privet, is considered invasive here in Austin and I don’t have it. But my neighbors do, and as Firefly noticed, the flowers were covered with bees, wasps and Admiral butterflies.

    In my own garden the tiny pink faces of Cuphea [bat-like or mouse-like, your choice], the long lavender flowers on Vitex and the flat yellow fennel flowers seem to draw the most bees.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  12. In my garden, the two large catnip are like bee central, with honey bees and bumble bees and several of the smaller hovering type bee species that I don’t know the name of, all sharing. The cilantro was also a huge hit, as another poster mentioned, they are crazy over that. I have lots of pumpkin vines and summer squash, the bumble bees seem to love those flowers, also. I plant sunflowers and nasturtiums in amongst the vegetables, and borage, as well, and they also love those. I’ve noticed the honey bees seem to prefer the sunflowers, and we leave many patches of un-mowed clover flowers on our lawn for the bees. This year we have been so thrilled to see so many species of bees and butterflies in our garden.
    I really enjoyed this post, by the way – thank you!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here