What’s in flower for emerging bees in your garden? This is a critical time in bee world, late winter flowers are a vital food source

Take a look around your garden? Are your crocuses flattened after the storms? Or have you still got drifts of snowdrops in flower?

February and March are a tricky time for garden bees. If the weather is warm and calm, some Queen bees will start to emerge and early solitary bees will venture out into the garden. These bees need food fast and your garden plants are the nearest bee bars. A clump of hellebores, with their nodding, umbrella like flowers can provide vital sustenance to our bees. These are a great choice as they flower over the course of a few weeks and the flowers are rich in nectar. Crocus are another good bee plant, but these delicate flowers are susceptible to bad weather and can be quickly flattened.

If you’ve got a greenhouse you could bring a few early spring flowers into its protected environment, which will allow the plants to flower a little earlier than those outside. Don’t forget to put them back out into the garden where the bees can find them.

Plant a few perennials that flower now. One of my favourites is the perennial, or oriental borage, you can read about it here.

But there’s another great plant called lungwort or pulmonaria that’s a great food plant for early bees and particularly popular with one of my favourite bees, the hairy footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes), which feeds voraciously on its flowers, darting from bloom to bloom like a little hummingbird. In fact hummingbee is a good description of this lovely little solitary bee. It nests in crumbly walls, cobb walls and other cavities and emerges in late February. The males are a gingery brown and appear first, usually a week or two before the females. These bees nest en-masse giving the appearance of a larger colony, but in fact it is an aggregation of nests in a place that offers the ideal nesting conditions. The males will hang around the nest site, until the females emerge. Both will feed on early spring flowers like the lovely lungwort (pulmonaria) but also primroses and primulas.

Early spring flowers such as this lungwort (pulmonaria) are a vital source of nectar for emerging Queen bumblebees and solitary bees Image: Jean Vernon

To help the bees in and around your garden plant lungwort (pulmonaria), grape hyacinths (muscari), crocus, primroses, hellebores and some early flowering trees and shrubs that offer pollen and nectar such as willow, flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum), hazel and early flowering cherries.

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