Red Maple, Acer rubrum, in bloom in spring

Trees For Bees

As spring approaches and temperatures rise above 55º, some native bees and exotic honeybees begin foraging for food. Nectar and pollen sources in March, April and May are not as abundant as other times of the growing season.

However, there are many native trees that bloom during this time. Some have inconspicuous flowers high in the canopy, making it difficult for us to see them and their pollinators. With their larger size and abundance of flowers, trees and shrubs can be a convenient and ideal food source for early-emerging bees.

In very the early spring, trees and shrubs with early blooms are critical for honey bees and our native bees. Some provide both nectar and pollen, and some only offer pollen.

Nectar, a source of carbohydrates, provides energy that bees need to build their nests and continue foraging. Pollen provides protein and fat and is critical for successfully raising their broods.

Bumble bees are often the first bees active in the spring and the last bees active in the fall, taking advantage of flowers as early as March and as late as November. Timing their emergence with the availability of food, there are many other bees that can be observed in early spring: Mason Bees, Sweat Bees, Mining Bees, Carpenter Bees and Honey Bees.

Early Blooming Varieties

  Pussy Willow, Salix discolor, are an excellent early pollen source, blooming March - May, but sometimes as early as February. Males are preferred for the pollen.

  Red Maple, Acer rubrum, bloom March - April and provide both nectar and pollen. At full-bloom, the flowers give the canopy a reddish hue, making them more noticeable than surrounding trees.

  American Elm, Ulmus americana, bloom March - April and provide a source of pollen when other sources are scarce.

  Downy Serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea, also blooming in April, has white, fragrant, shallow flowers that are appealing to short-tongued bees.

  Fragrant Sumac, Rhus aromatica, blooms March - April, providing nectar and pollen.

  Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, blooms in April, before the leaves appear. Early, small native bees, as well as honey bees, nectar on the yellow blossoms.

The Right Species

The planting of trees that supply bees with their food is therefore popular and has, in fact, become necessary. In order of flowering time, a few excellent species are willow, maple, horse-chestnut, acacia and linden. These trees provide high levels of pollen and nectar that bees need for their existence.

There are also countless other species and, of course, we must not forget fruit trees either. In gardens, ornamental fruit trees may be an interesting choice, although it is important to realize that species that have double or filled flowers, such as many decorative Japanese cherry trees, do not produce nectar or pollen, whereas the species and varieties with single flowers do.

Large Trees Give More To Bees

Maple Tree

If a 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 keeps the nectar flowing freely.

Trees that have reached a certain stage of maturity and have a substantial crown flower the most and are therefore the richest source of nectar and pollen. It is also important that there are enough plants available during the flying season, which lasts from March to October. Many plants flower in spring or summer, but as the year progresses, the flowering varieties become more and more limited. There are a few species which still bear the occasional flower until into September and these are visited by huge numbers of bees

To find out more about Trees For Bees, read: Pollinator-Friendly Trees

Flowering Plants Are Vital To Bees

Mankind likes making use of bees. We do not always realize it but it is thanks to their efforts that we are able to enjoy such a wide range of food products. Around 35% of the world's food crops depend on bees. Without bees there would be no apples, pears, walnuts, or almonds and we could forget our daily cup of coffee too.

However, honey bees are going through very difficult times due to the Varroa destructor, a millimeter long parasite, large numbers of which have been weakening the colonies since the early eighties. In addition, bees have faced a reduction in food as a result of urbanization and a huge decline of available countryside. The use of insecticides and fungicides has also caused a reduction in the bee population. Fields and meadows offer little in the way of food as herbicides have destroyed many useful plants, leaving behind fields of grass and flowerless corn and grain.

Read More:

 Are Earthworms Truly Good?
 YIKES! Invasive Jumping Worms
 Soil Biology
 Native Plant Root Systems

Bees flying footer graphic