Best Early Spring Flowering Plants to Attract Pollinators

After a long cold winter, pollinators are on the wing looking for food. Early spring nectar is particularly important for early-emerging queen bumble bees and other solitary bees, as well some butterflies, and pollinator flies and beetles. When daytime temperatures edge up into the 50 degree+ mark you might notice them buzzing about. Their options are limited in these very early months before the flowering fruit trees kick into bloom, but if you’ll plant a few of the  nectar sources below, you can help them start the season all fat and happy.

These are just a small selection of plants that are valuable sources of early season nectar. Please consult with your local garden center for even more great option. Plants here are divided by groups of regions, but do know that as plant zones often overlap, it’s a good idea to look at all options here.

Note that “early spring” is a relative term and depends on when spring comes to your region! Questions? Please do ask in comments!

ZONE 3 - 7

Gold Heart Bleeding Heart
Zone: 3 – 9

Very early food source with heart-shaped pink flowers that dangle from long wands. Perfect for woodland gardens and under larger shade trees. Full to partial shade.

Declaration Lilac
Zone: 4 – 7

Large clusters of reddish-purple, fragrant flowers and blooms a week or so earlier than common lilacs. Very useful in very cold zones. Up to 8′ tall, 6′ wide. Full sun.

willow400x400

Kilmarnock Willow
Zone: 4 – 8

Catkins (the flowers of willows) smothered in pollen and laden with nectar are a big draw for pollinators such as bees. Small tree, up to 8′ tall, 6′ wide. Full sun.

Winter Dreams™ Double Fantasy Christmas Rose
Zone: 3- 9

Pollinators such as just-waking-up insects and bees flock to this very early bloomer. Full shade to partial sun.

Blue Ribbons Bush Clematis
Zone: 3 – 9

Upright, non-vining, shrubby habit and solitary, nodding, bell-shaped, indigo blue flowers. Good mid-season nectar source and low habitat option. Partial to full sun.

Cornelian Cherry Dogwood
Zone: 4 – 8

Bees love dogwoods, and this early bloomer can be grown as a low-branching, multi-stemmed shrub or small garden tree. Up to 20′ tall and wide. Partial to full sun.

ZONE 6 - 8

Bountiful Blue® Blueberry
Zone: 6 – 10

Blueberries are the gift that keep on giving! Early spring flowers are a big draw for pollinators including returning butterflies. Up to 4′ tall and wide. Full sun.

Carolina Jessamine
Zone: 7 – 9

Native to the Southeast, this early flowering, fragrant, well-mannered, vining plant is a favorite of native bees that have evolved with it. Partial to full sun.

Royal Star Magnolia
Zone: 4 – 9

Magnolias are associated with beetle pollinators, but that doesn’t mean the bees will pass them by! Right sized for smaller space. Up to 15′ tall, 12′ wide. Full sun.

Charity Mahonia
Zone: 7 – 9

Winter-active bees and some hoverflies seek out this nectar-rich (their primary carbohydrate) very early bloomer. Up to 10′ tall and wide. Full shade to partial sun.

Ivory Prince Christmas Rose
Zone: 4 – 9

Virtually problem-free, this delightful cool-season bloomer with upward facing blooms graces the dappled shade of woodland gardens. Full shade to filtered sun.

Enchanted Forest® Impish Elf™ Lily of the Valley Shrub
Zone: 6 – 8

Important food source for mason bees which typically emerge in early spring. Up to 5′ tall and wide. Partial sun.

ZONE 9 - 11

Claremont Western Redbud
Zone: 6 – 9 

Redbuds are loved by hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other native pollinators. This has dark pink flowers in late winter to early spring. Up to 20′ wide, 15′ tall. Full sun.

Box-Leaf Azara
Zone: 7 – 10

White-chocolate fragrance fills the late winter garden from the tiny yellow flower clusters on this large shade tolerant shrub. Up to 18′ tall. Filtered to full sun.

Victoria California Lilac
Zone: 8 – 10

Look for many different bee species on sunny days from late February through June! Dark cobalt blue buds are nectar and pollen laden. Up to 9′ tall, 12′ wide. Full sun.

Tangerine™ Spreading Lantana
Zone: 9 – 11

Bees, butterflies, pollinating insects–everyone love the tiny flowers that bloom all year in mild climates. Bright-orange flowers are a butterfly magnet. Full sun.

Moonlight Parfait® Winter Daphne
Zone: 6 – 9 

Pollinators love to snack on the sweetly fragrant flowers that open in late winter. Plant where you can enjoy the show. Up to 4′ tall and wide. Full shade to partial sun.

Blue Elf Aloe 
Zone: 9 – 11

Aloes are typically pollinated by birds, but that doesn’t mean bees, hummingbirds and insects will take a pass. This is compact, heat and drought tolerant. Partial to full sun.

TIPS FOR ATTRACTING POLLINATORS

By offering plants that flower from early spring until the first hard frost, your garden can help to provide nutrients for the entire life cycle of bumblebees and other pollinators. Remember, no garden is too small to help create habitat for pollinators. Combine your space with of those other gardens around you and it all adds up!

Here are a few tips for attracting pollinators:

  • Determine which pollinator-friendly plants are appropriate for your region.
  • Plant lots of them. Make sure there is at least 3 x 3 feet of each plant species. These can be planted together, or in other areas of the garden.
  • Limit your use of chemicals (both synthetic and organic) and use plenty of compost and mulch to build healthy soil. Healthy soils create healthy plants.
  • Plan your garden so that there is something blooming for as many months as you can manage. Many pollinators, especially bees, forage during the entire growing season.
  • Provide shelter by letting your yard get a little wild. Allow a hedge to grow untrimmed, leave a section of lawn unmowed, pile up grass cutting in a sunny spot, and create a nesting habitat by leaving some soil bare for ground nesting bees.

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