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Follow our progress as beekeepers, running the nursery, creating our own bee-haven and conducting research into the best plants for bees

Shade plants for bees

I get quite a few queries asking about plants for bees that are good in shade so I thought I would document my response. The straight answer is the most bees prefer to forage in sun. Honeybees in particular do not like cool temperatures; they keep the inside of their hive at a minimum of 20 degrees and at 34 degrees when they have brood developing. Therefore they rely on direct sunlight to keep them warm enough to survive while out of the hive. The larger, fluffier bumblebees have more tolerance for shade.

The other factor to consider with shade plants is that many of them are woodland plants in their natural habitat and have evolved to flower in early spring before the tree canopy opens. This is not a time of year when many bees are out flying as the temperatures are too low.

So, all in all, shady parts of your garden are never going to be a great resource of bees but you will get a few on nice warm days. The best plants I suggest for these areas are:

Hellebores - Flowers Feb/Mar orientalis is good but you must stick to single-flowered types as the frills block access to the pollen

Pulmonaria- Woodland species with early pollen for bees, flowering in March/April

Early bulbs such as crocus, wood anemony,

Geraniums - Mostly May/June flowering; pratense is the native hedgerow and sylvaticum is the native woodland species. The macrorrhyzum types are also good in shade.

Foxgloves - biennial flowering in June - the native variety (avoid new posh varieties that are beautiful but seem less bee-attractive) are great for bumblebees

If you have some sunny areas that can take a few more plants, even better!