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Excerpted and adapted from an article by Dean Fosdick for Associated Press/Asheville Citizen-Times

“Winter and early spring are lean times for honeybees as they emerge from their hives, where food supplies are dwindling, to forage.  Adding clusters of winter-blooming plants around the yard will give them much needed  nourishment.

Bees take in carbohydrates from floral nectar and protein from floral pollen.  Being aware of bloom times and providing flowers that over lap seasons are important for beekeepers who want to overwinter their colonies.  Some bees, including many wild varieties, begin searching for food as early as January, when sunny days can push temps up to 55 F or more. In the early spring, bees are going to need food to get their engines started again…solitary wild bees, honeybees and hummingbirds are just clinging to life.

So the preparation you do now is very important.  Early spring is a vulnerable time for pollinators.  Pollinator plants like crocus, primrose and snowdrops will bloom even when show is on the ground.  Threes and shrubs also are effective choices for feeding early emerging honeybees.

In early spring, it’s the trees that are most important.  Willows, maples, filberts and hazelnuts are some of the earliest sources of pollen you’ll find.  They’re easy to establish and grow.  Establish early-blooming plants in clusters to make it easier for foraging honeybees to spot and access them.  Bees are efficient pollinators – they really appreciate patches of flowers.  They can get from flower to flower easily, saving on their own low energy supplies.

Many winter-flowering plants grow in the wild, but pollinators generally don’t live near them…so that makes cultivating winter bloomers important when planning your garden.  Property owners should also leave suitable places for native bees to hibernate undisturbed.  Let turf grass grow long over the winter.  Avoid pesticides.  Reduce lawn size and turn instead to protective shrubs.  Even a small amount of habitat will be enough to sustain bees….they are tiny creatures, and a well-thought-out landscape can provide all the food they need in winter.  As a gardener, you can really help with that.

Some additional bee-friendly plants:

  • Oregon grape, an evergreen shrub that produces yellow flowers blooming for weeks.
  • Heath and heather, in shades of purple to copper to gold; these low-growing plants make a mat of color throughout the year, including winter.
  • Male willow plants, maples, apple, crabapple, native cherry.

Native trees, shrubs and other plants selected to feed bees are definitely part of the solution to declining bee populations.”

NOTE:  In WNC, the best time to plant trees and shrubs is in the fall, giving them time to establish their root systems over the winter.


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