It’s old news that beekeepers are struggling to provide diverse, pesticide-free forage for their colonies, as scientists have been voicing alarm about the decline in pollinator populations for more than a decade. But part of the solution to help today’s stressed, malnourished bees may be in your own backyard: Consider the incredible quantity of nectar produced by a tree in bloom. Now consider the compounded effect of many trees blooming in strategic sequence throughout the growing season.
David Hughes of Rock Bridge Trees mail-order nursery markets a collection of trees that are perfectly suited to pollinators and, most importantly, that bloom successively during most of the growing season. “If you’re going to have trees in your landscape, let them be both beautiful and useful,” Hughes says. Heavily blooming shade trees top his list of bee-friendly tree species.
Increased diversity and security of nectar and pollen sources benefit honey bees in manifold ways, such as reduced stress, increased life span, heightened immune system response, more precise communication and, yes, increased honey production.
For diverse bee forage from early spring through late summer, consider the following trees for your property: black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), catalpa (Catalpa spp.), linden (Tilia spp.), manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.), maple (Acer spp.), honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), sourwood (Oxydendrum spp.), sumac (Rhus spp.), tulip poplar (Liriondendron tulipifera) and willow (Salix spp.).
While all of these trees can provide excellent food for honey bees and many other pollinators, your top choice should always be regionally appropriate. A tree that’s comfortable in its environment is much more likely to be a healthy tree. For comprehensive, area-specific advice on bee-friendly trees and bloom times, check out the nonprofit Pollinator Partnership’s Planting Guides.
Entomologist and author Doug Tallamy notes in his book Bringing Nature Home that “a plant that has fed nothing has not done its job.” Raise the bar for what’s invited into your landscape, and the benefits will easily outweigh the time and cost of planting some buzz-worthy trees.