Thank you to Dani Furlong for a brilliant question sent to our plant doctor today. Dani asked, “What plants can I put in pots to attract bees?”. We answered as follows:
There are numerous plants for bees you could plant in pots but the balance you may have issue with is between plants for bees and looking good for you. By this I mean that nearly all flowering herbaceous plants are loved by bees but as they are perennials the plants die back in autumn/winter only to reappear again the following spring/summer and so for a number of months your pots will look bare. One way to overcome this is to have a herb planter which is great for everyone and added benefit of being edible in the kitchen! Herbs like Rosemary, Borage, Nepeta, Lavendar and chives would be great.
Alternatively to get the best result for everyone I would suggest using one large bee friendly plant in the centre of your pots (a shrub or perennial) and then underplant with seasonal bedding (annual plants) for interest to the eye. Though these annual plants will need replacing after the season. Alternatively you could underplant with flowering bulbs that depending on the variety will either give you spring, summer or autumn flowers.
The main rule of thumb for bees is to look for a simple open flower. The less fussy the flower the better as it means the bee can get to the pollen and nectar. White and yellow flowers are also better at attracting bees than other colours.
As a starter, I would recommend the following for your consideration:
Helleborus foetidus – a herbaceous plant that has winter flowers
Erica x daryleyensis or Calluna vulgaris (heathers)
Skimmia Japonica – a shrub that would be a good centre piece
Astrantia major rubra – a sumer flowering perennial
Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender)
Eryngium planum – a summer flowering perennial
Nepeta x faassenii – a perennial
Stachys byzantia – a tall perennial
Spiraea japonica – a shrub but this will grow quite large
Aster novi-belgii for autumn flowers (a perennial)