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by Nancy Schramm

Bee . . . Good!




  European honeybee

What would our world be like without honeybees?

Well, no more bee stings, no buzzing insects bothering you in the garden. No more swarms setting up housekeeping in inconvenient spots. But then we'd also have no more honey, and no almonds, because almond trees are completely dependent on bees for pollination. We'd lose 90% of our cherry and blueberry crops, both dependent on bees. Apples would be mostly lopsided because of incomplete pollination. Our crops of melons, broccoli, and kiwi would be much fewer, too. In short, things would be awful without bees!

Bees, both native and domestic, provide a great service to agriculture. Many of our food crops originated in Europe, and the first settlers that brought both plant material and the bees accustomed to pollinating it were on the road to success. After all, our honeybee isn't native to the U.S., but to southern Europe. The European honeybee (Apis) is an immigrant to the New World. And a most welcome immigrant because of its industry and productive nature, its willingness to do an honest job and be a part of the community.

Here's a local bit of bee history: The first bees to be shipped to the West Coast arrived at the Port of San Jose! The original name of the local minor league ball club, The San Jose Bees, celebrated that fact.
But bees (the little flying variety) have had a hard time of it lately. Several types of mites started causing problems in the 1990s, and the last few years have seen a tremendous loss of hives from something called "hive collapse." Beekeepers and scientists are the ones who have to create solutions for those problems, but, believe it or not, there is something we plant lovers can do to help.We can put plants in our gardens that provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to the honey makers. A healthy, well established hive can produce 10 gallons of honey each year, and it takes a lot of nectar and pollen to feed the process. Yes, bees collect and use both nectar and pollen, with pollen being the most important source of protein. Not all plants are created equal, though. A friend recently shared a chart with me that lists 100 or so different plants and how attractive they are to both honey and native bees. Some plants are food sources for both types of bees, but sometimes they don't share the same tastes.

For today, let's just look at a few of the plants that are especially attractive to honey bees.

You might not want to grow plants for bees near where small children play, but most of us have areas in the garden where bees can visit undisturbed.

Starting with trees, consider the stone fruits (apricot, cherry, peach). After all, since many of these depend on the honeybee for pollination, obviously bees are attracted to them. Citrus, apples and crabapples are good candidates, as is the Washington thorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum. This tree can grow up to 25' tall, and is esthetically pleasing, with lovely fall color and red berries, that persist on the tree and provide winter interest.

Bees are quite particular, they single out one of the largest California lilacs, Ceanothus "Ray Hartman" as their favorite. This large shrub or tree can get 20' tall and about as wide, and has large, dark green leaves and medium blue flowers.




 Echium candicans

Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) is a large (5-6' tall x 6-10' wide) dramatic shrub with many branches, most ending in tall blue flower spikes. Keep this one away from paths, as the tiny hairs on the long, narrow gray-green leaves can be irritating to tender skin.

There are enough different Salvias (sage) to fill a book, and I heartily recommend several such books written by Betsy Clebsch to help you decide which sages to plant for bees.

Several other plants in our herb gardens provide bee food, including rosemary, lavender, thyme and oregano. Besides the origanums grown for culinary purposes (oregano, marjoram) there are many lovely ornamental ones to choose from. Many of these have a low arching habit, perfect for hanging baskets, with small roundish leaves all along the stem. Flowers start appearing at the ends of the stems by early summer, with large colorful bracts stacked and hanging like little pink pinecones.

How about plants in our vegetable gardens? Put in some pumpkins, squash, zucchini or peppers, and watch the bees happily humming around.

Be observant, watch the plants around you, and you're sure to see more blossoms that attract bees. I've noticed loads of bees around a vine I have covering a chain link fence, Cissus striata. It's a great plant, but I'm going to save that one to tell you about in a whole column devoted to vines.


Copyright. Out and About Magazine

           Third generation owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003. She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.

Contact Nancy at

Western Horticulture Society
PO Box 166, Mountain View, CA 94042
(650) 948-4614 or (650) 941-6136