Best Bee-Friendly Plants for Pots 2023 (Native Species)

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What Kind of Potted Flowers Help Bees? (Top Bee-Friendly Plants for Pots)

A bee collecting pollen from a cherry blossom
Without bees and other pollinators, we would lose a massive 1/3 of our food supply globally and 90% of all plant species.

Potted plants offer a contained way to bring beauty to your space! With potted plants, you can take a smaller yard or a smaller garden space, even a patio, and create immense beauty wherever you are. Not only do they offer beauty, but they also are quite attractive to pollinators such as butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees! 

You may ask “Why is it important to have bees around?” and that’s a great question! A good portion of plant species (90%) rely on having pollinators to reproduce and ultimately thrive. Without plants, we would be losing many things such as a third of the world’s food supply and half of the world’s fibers and oils! Plants also help with keeping our waterways clean, preventing soil erosion, producing oxygen, absorbing CO₂, and overall just making our world a little more colorful.

If you’re looking to #savethebees and help out the pollinators in your area, here are some bee-friendly plants to start potting! 

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Why Choose Potted Native Plants for Bees?

invasive garlic mustard overtaking forest floor
Though they may seem appealing, invasive species like this garlic mustard spread readily and overtake native plants.

In this article, we’ll touch on some common plants that have been proven to attract bees and look great at the same time. Invasive plant introduction to new areas by humans is one of the leading contributors to the loss of native biodiversity (like bees!), degradation of wildlife habitats, and damage to the natural resources critical to our survival, like fresh water, healthy soil, and pollinators that help produce our food.

In fact, scientists are finding again and again that within just a few years of being colonized by invasive species, habitats of all kinds begin to get choked out, and are at great risk of disappearing altogether. This spells trouble for fish, mammals, herpetofauna, insects, and birds alike – including sensitive and critically important bees. The good thing is that planting in pots helps greatly reduce a plant’s potential to spread, but even so utilizing native species is important. Even just having a few flowering potted plants around can really help sensitive and struggling organisms like bees. This is great news, since between 16 and 25% of bee species have already gone extinct and another 40% are at risk of extinction if we don’t make some changes pretty soon.

We can all truly make more of a difference than we realize – all it takes is a few native flowers to help out!

List of the Best Bee Friendly Plants for Pots

1) Lesser Calamint (Clinopodium nepeta)

a lesser calamint Clinopodium nepeta with several flowers
The flowers of lesser calamint are specially shaped to draw in bees, the lower petal acting as a “landing strip.” Daniel VILLAFRUELA, CC BY-SA 4.0

Native to Europe and naturalized in the US and Mexico

The lesser calamint’s lavender and white flowers provide a beautiful atmosphere for not only the bees, but for you as well! With brilliant blooms throughout the summer, the beautiful weather will be accompanied by a pleasant minty smell. The best way to describe them is a cloud in a pot, with the beautifully colored blooms being the star of the show!

Lesser calamint is a moderate-growing perennial in the mint family, Lamiaceae. This thick-stemmed, bushy plant grows up to around 12-24 inches and thrives in moist, well-drained soil, though it will tolerate drier sites. You can expect these plants to do well in full to partial sun. It’s important to note that lesser calamint is typically seen as a “filler plant” as they tend to spread due to rhizomes, but this can easily be contained by keeping them in a potted environment.

In terms of hardiness zones, lesser calamint does best in zones 4-7 and is quite easy to care for. They repel most of their predators (herbivores such as deer and rabbits) with a fragrance that they aren’t too fond of, but bees and hummingbirds are absolutely in love with it! If you’re looking to attract bees to the area, look no further than planting some of these simple and elegant beauties.

2) Geranium (Pelargonium spp.)

cranesbill geraniums with bumblebees
Geraniums, like these cranesbill geraniums, are very attractive to bees and come in countless color, size, and scent combinations.

Native to the United States and the UK as well as other locations depending on the variant (there are 400 species)

For those who know a little about the geranium flower and plant, you may think that this is an interesting selection. What’s important to know, however, is that studies are finding that short-tongued bumblebees in particular are loving these flowers!

If you’re looking for an iconic and exquisite plant to have around that also attracts helpful critters like bees, a pot of geraniums is exactly what you need! You can get just about any color of the rainbow by selecting out of the available variants and on some variants, the scents are as unique as the colors, and include chocolate mint and lime. The bees aren’t too picky, though they do have a favorite: Geranium rozanne, which is a bluish-purple color and stunning to look at. Something to consider is that bees can’t see red, so avoid these when selecting a color variant. Bees tend to see shades of blues, purples, and yellows most vibrantly and as such are attracted more to these colors than others.

These plants are found typically as perennials in zones 3-8, love warm temperatures, and depending on the particular species can even overwinter outdoors, though many gardeners bring them indoors for the winter. The soil they are planted in should be loose and well-drained to prevent issues that they are prone to such as root rot.

3) Aster (Aster spp.)

A bee gathering pollen from a purple aster
Asters are a favorite of bees, and with 180 species there’s no shortage of options to choose from.

Native to North America and Eurasia depending on exact species

Asters have that beautiful wildflower look that can be grown quite easily in a pot or in the ground! The star-like appearance of their flowers, which is their namesake, and their stunning colors attract both humans and bees alike. These plants grow great in pots and the pots will keep their normal size (1-6 ft. tall and 1-4 ft. wide) at bay, in order for you to have beautiful and manageable asters. Note that there are approximately 180 species of true asters, so some research will be needed on your part to determine ones native to your particular region.

The typical bloom period of an aster is summer to early-mid fall when bees are still thriving and looking for that late-in-the-season supply of nutrients. This is particularly useful to bees, as most other flowers have already gone into dormancy by the start of autumn. The flat surface of the aster works wonders as a landing pad and easy access for the local pollinators! They require regular watering, moist soil, and full sun locations to keep them happy and healthy. In terms of hardiness zones, zones 3-8 are typical as most asters are quite resilient in cold temperatures with access to nutrient-rich soil.

4) Black-Eyed Susan(Rudbeckia hirta)

A honeybee on a black-eyed susan Rudbeckia hirta
Black-eyed Susans are, like other asters, very attractive to bees and hold a great deal of pollen.

Native to North America and naturalized in Europe

Why grow one flower when you can get hundreds for the price of one! The black-eyed Susan, also known as the brown-eyed Susan, actually has a ring of hundreds of flowers around the dark brown-black center, each with their own nectar and pollen, acting as a feast for the critters that land on them. That’s right – what you thought were petals are actually individual flowers! The flower number isn’t the only thing interesting about this plant, but the actual color of the dark center emits a particular pigment that quickly attracts bees.

Black-eyed Susans can grow up over 3 feet tall with 6-inch long leaves and 2-3 inch diameter flowers. These plants can get huge, but this can be controlled by planting in a pot to keep them smaller in size. However, it is important to note that they will need a fairly large pot for their large roots. If grown in the right size pot, they’ll be able to thrive and provide a perfect bee-friendly area.

These plants do best in hardiness zones 3-9 and are incredibly hardy in the wintertime. When taking care of a black-eyed Susan, you’ll need to ensure that they are in full sun environments and that the soil stays moist and doesn’t dry out too often!

5) Lavender (Lavandula spp.)

Several bumblebees on a lavender plant
Not only is lavender easy to grow in pots, but its color and scent really draw in bees!

Native to the Mediterranean and naturalized in North America

Lavender is a very popular plant for not only its looks but for its usefulness! Lavender is used for many things, including essential oils, relieving insect bites, and attracting pollinators! The beautiful blooms also offer a calming fragrance that will bring something special to your space. Pollinators, such as bees, love lavender and the nectar and pollen that it offers throughout the spring and summer months.

These plants do extremely well in pots and grow to look almost shrub-like. Lavender can get up to 3 feet tall, but these heights are restricted when grown in pots. The delightful scent and purple-colored blooms draw in the bees along with the tubular flowers that make it easy for longer-tongued bees to forage for their daily nectar, pollen, and overall nutrient intake. Small flowers are ideal for smaller pollinators that might get chased away from larger flowers by larger pollinators.   

Lavender needs full sun to grow and well-drained soil to avoid encountering problems such as root rot. Although you need to make sure the soil is well-drained, other than that, you really don’t have to focus on soil types as much since lavenders can handle pretty much anything. The hardiness zones these plants thrive in are zones 5-9 and in these areas, they can survive winters as well with only select varieties being able to handle the extreme cold of other regions. 

6) Basil(Ocimum basilicum)

A basil plant with flowers
Basil is not only easy to grow in pots and can be used in cooking, but has flowers that bees love. Photo by Mokkie, CC BY-SA 3.0

Native to Central Africa and Southeast Asia

You may be familiar with using basil in cooking, but did you know that bees are also a fan? The white to light purple flowers attract bees with their delicious source of nectar and pollen.

Basil grows best in hardiness zones 10-11 as it is very sensitive to cold weather and any type of frost will be deadly to your basil plant. You want to keep basil in areas that are warm with access to full sunlight and soil that is well-drained. This plant can grow up to 18-24 inches tall and expands outwards; however, this is kept at bay with a pot.

By potting this plant you have a win-win situation with a delicious herb in an easily accessible pot and providing nutrition to the local pollinators! If your basil is getting a bit too bushy for your liking, this a perfect time to trim off some of the larger, older leaves! These can then be used for cooking, and trimming will actually encourage a healthier plant.

7) Common Sage (Salvia officinalis)

A bee gathering pollen from sage flowers
Sage is a wonderful option for potted gardens, patios, cooking, and bees!

Native to the Mediterranean; naturalized in many places around the world including the US and UK

If you’re looking for a plant that is easy to grow, good to use in the kitchen, and that bees love, sage is the plant for you! Sage plants are perfect to grow in potted containers and tend to thrive in this environment. This fragrant herb grows flowers in the springtime that vary from colors of blue and purple to white and pink that the bees are extremely attracted to.

If you choose to start growing sage, note that it prefers to be grown in loamy, well-drained soils and regularly watered. These plants grow between 12 and 30 inches tall in areas where they have access to full sunlight. If you’re in zones 5-8 your sage will grow as a perennial and in zones 9 and above, it’ll grow as an annual due to the heat and humidity often present in those areas. Like basil, sage is a win-win situation in terms of planting. You get fresh sage and bees get fresh and nutritious nectar and pollen!

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