Pollination and Food Sources

Pollination syndromes are characteristics of flowers that have evolved to attract specific pollinators. These traits include flower shape, color, scent, and nectar production. For example, tubular flowers are often pollinated by bees with long tongues, while bright, open flowers attract a variety of generalist bees.

Nectar guides are visual cues on flowers, such as color patterns, that guide bees to the nectar. These guides increase pollination efficiency by directing bees to the reproductive parts of the flower. These patterns are often not visible to us as humans, but are visible to our native bees (and birds!), as they are able to see UV light.

How to create Bee-Friendly Gardens

Plant Selection

Choose a variety of native plants that bloom at different times to provide a continuous food source for native bees throughout the growing season. Increasing the diversity of flower color, shape, size, etc. will increase the diversity of native bee species you can support!

Nesting Habitat

Incorporate features like bare soil patches for ground-nesting bees and dead wood or stems for cavity-nesting bees to provide nesting habitat.


Regularly monitor and maintain the garden to ensure a healthy environment for native bees, including providing water sources (even a shallow dish with pebbles and water will serve as an accessible hydration station!) and avoiding disturbance during nesting season, and leave perennials standing through winter to provide habitat.

Beneficial Native Plants for Bees

Planting native flora is one of the best ways to support native bees, especially specialist bee species as mentioned above.

Here are some of our favorite and easy to grow native plants beneficial to Virginia’s bees:

  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
    • Benefits: Produces abundant pollen and nectar, attracting a variety of bee species.
    • Bloom Time: Summer to early fall.
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
    • Benefits: Offers a rich source of nectar and pollen. It’s also easy to grow and very resilient.
    • Bloom Time: Summer to fall.
  • Bee Balm (Monarda spp.)
    • Benefits: Highly attractive to bees and other pollinators due to its fragrant and nectar-rich flowers.
    • Bloom Time: Summer.
  • Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
    • Benefits: An excellent late-season nectar source for bees preparing for winter.
    • Bloom Time: Late summer to fall.
  • New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
    • Benefits: Offers late-season nectar, which is crucial for bees before winter.
    • Bloom Time: Late summer to fall.
  • Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
    • Benefits: Produces large, nectar-rich flower heads that attract numerous pollinators.
    • Bloom Time: Mid to late summer.
  • Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
    • Benefits: Provides early-season nectar, supporting bees emerging in spring.
    • Bloom Time: Spring to early summer.
  • Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus)
    • Benefits: Offers nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators, especially attractive to long-tongued bees.
    • Bloom Time: Summer to early fall.
  • Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
    • Benefits: Produces abundant nectar, attracting a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.
    • Bloom Time: Summer to early fall.

Why do Trees and Shrubs Needs to be Included?

Here are four reasons why you need to consider adding trees and shrubs to your garden.

Seasonal Diversity

These plants provide nectar and pollen throughout the growing season in conjunction with perennials, ensuring that bees have a continuous food supply from early spring through late summer, while providing physical layers of forage territory.

Habitat and Nesting Sites

Many of these trees and shrubs offer not only food but also habitat and nesting sites for bees. Dense shrubs can provide shelter, while tree bark and dead wood can be nesting sites for cavity-nesting bees.

Support for Specialist Bees

Some plants, like highbush blueberry, support specialist bee species that have evolved to forage on specific plants, enhancing biodiversity.

Native Adaptation

Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, making them resilient and low-maintenance choices that are more likely to thrive and support native wildlife.

Here are some of our favorite tree and shrub native plants beneficial to Virginia’s bees


  • Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
    • Benefits: Eastern Redbud blooms early in the spring, providing a critical nectar source for emerging bees. Its flowers are accessible to a variety of bee species, including bumblebees and mason bees.
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
    • Benefits: Serviceberry is another early bloomer, offering nectar and pollen at a time when food sources can be scarce. It supports a range of bees, including small sweat bees and mining bees.
  • Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
    • Benefits: This tree produces large quantities of nectar and pollen, attracting many bee species. Its flowers bloom in late spring, providing a valuable food source.
  • Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
    • Benefits: Black Locust blooms in late spring and is highly attractive to bees due to its fragrant, nectar-rich flowers. It supports a diverse array of pollinators.
  • Willow (Salix spp.)
    • Benefits: Willows bloom very early in the season and provide one of the first sources of pollen and nectar for bees. They are particularly important for early-emerging bee species.


  • Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
    • Benefits: Produces spherical flower clusters rich in nectar, attracting a variety of bees and other pollinators.
  • Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
    • Benefits: Known for its fragrant flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. It thrives in wet conditions.
  • Itea (Itea virginica)
    • Benefits: Also known as Virginia sweetspire, this shrub produces fragrant white flowers that are highly attractive to bees.
  • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
    • Benefits: Provides flat-topped clusters of small flowers that are accessible to bees. The berries also support various wildlife.
  • New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus)
    • Benefits: Offers clusters of small, white flowers that are highly attractive to bees and other pollinators. This shrub is also a nitrogen fixer, benefiting soil health.
  • Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum)
    • Benefits: Produces bell-shaped flowers that are highly attractive to bees, including specialist pollinators like the Southeastern Blueberry Bee. The berries also provide food for wildlife.