Honeybees are important pollinators for flowering plants, shrubs, and trees in your yard and garden, but these busy little insects do more than help beautify your landscape.
Crops that supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition are pollinated by bees and other insects. One global study has shown that honeybees are the most important pollinator species. The lead researcher even went so far as to say, “We now see in quantitative terms that they are currently the most successful pollinators in the world.”
Honeybees love gardens and wildflowers for both pollen and nectar, but did you know trees provide some of the earliest sources of necessary food in the spring? The queen bee’s brood in the hive is fed on pollen. A queen can lay upward of 2,000 eggs in a single day—that’s a lot of hungry honeybee babies.
You can help support healthy honeybee populations by including one or more of these five trees that attract honeybees to your home landscape design.
1. Apple and Fruit Trees
Fruit-bearing trees are the most commonly known trees that attract honeybees, and the apple tree stands out as favorite landscaping choice. The riot of spring blossoms adds beauty and fragrance while providing a feast for the honeybees.
Many varieties of apple trees thrive quite well in the Portland area. However, some apple trees are more prone than others to fungal problems in wet climates. Check with your county extension or local nurseries to learn which apple trees are recommended where you live and which will also provide the best fruit for your purposes. Be sure to consider the mature size of the tree, the intended use of the apples, and the hardiness of available varieties.
You don’t have to stop at apple trees. Other edible fruit and nut trees that attract honeybees include:
- Cherry (with the exception of sweet cherry, which is prohibited in the Portland area)
- Plum—European and Japanese
- Pears—Asian and European
When considering adding any of these crop trees to your landscape design, be sure to also consider when the fruit ripens and the time necessary for harvesting and processing the crops. Or choose ornamental varieties such as flowering crab or almond. The fruit on these ornamental species is either nonexistent or readily eaten by birds and small animals. You can enjoy all the benefits and same characteristic beauty of crop growing trees, without the work of harvesting.
2. Pacific Serviceberry
A relatively easy-care fruit tree, the diminutive serviceberry tree grows approximately 18 feet high with a 10-foot spread of well-spaced branches. This species blossoms from mid-spring to early summer, bearing clusters of fragrant white flowers. The name is said to have come from “church service,” as the annual blossoming of the trees coincided with the time of year traveling preachers began making their rounds again.
Varieties are found throughout the northern hemisphere, but the Pacific serviceberry, or Amelanchier alnifolia, is particularly well suited to the Portland area. It thrives in full sun or partial shade and grows in dry, moist, or wet soil. The fruit is edible, and like the crabapple, it’s a favorite of birds. If you want to use it in pies or preserves, you may have to beat your feathered friends to it; a hungry flock can strip a full tree in a matter of hours.
If your available landscaping space is limited, the redbud fits the bill for a small tree that attracts honeybees. Redbud is part of the pea family, belonging to the legumes. An important genus in the list of bee plants, legumes are prolific producers of nectar for honey.
With its irregular and graceful branching and profusion of spring blossoms, it makes a striking statement in your landscape design. Trees can be maintained at heights of 10 to 25 feet. A weeping variety is even smaller at maturity.
The petite flowers are white, pink, or magenta and bloom in clusters of racemes, or short chains. Even the leaves get in on the show with this versatile tree, unfurling in green, gold, purple, or variegated color. Seed pods, resembling those of peas, will mature in late summer, attracting songbirds such as chickadees.
Redbuds adapt to many soil types. In the Portland area, be sure to provide sufficient drainage to avoid root rot. The redbud will absolutely not survive in a permanently wet site.
4. Willow Tree
Providing one of the earliest sources of pollen each spring, the willow is definitely among the trees that attract honeybees. The slender, one- to two-inch, catkin-shaped blossoms each have hundreds of hair-like spikes with a minuscule, yellow flower at the tip. If you’re not paying close attention, you may miss the bloom altogether, but rest assured the honeybees won’t. In fact, if you stand near a blossoming willow tree, you’re likely to hear the buzzing serenade of literally hundreds of pairs of tiny wings.
There are more than 250 species of willow shrubs and trees. Though willows are technically air pollinators, meaning the tree pollen is distributed by wind, this fact doesn’t stop the busy bees from helping themselves to the early food source.
The willow’s affinity for water and the ability to thrive in wet soil make it a perfect choice for the Pacific Northwest climate. Ornamental varieties, such as weeping and curly willows, are especially attractive in landscape designs. Just be sure to consider your space requirements when choosing a willow tree—standard cultivars can reach 50 to 70 feet at maturity. The willow is also more prone to breakage in strong wind and storms, meaning extra clean up.
Also known as linden, this is another large tree, reaching 60 to 80 feet at maturity. The Basswood blossoms later in the spring or early summer. It has been long considered one of the finest shade trees in North America because of its dense crown of large leaves. The white flowers are small but strongly fragrant, attracting honeybees in search of nectar from great distances.