Winter Blooms for Bees                    

I wonder whether honey bees pass the time telling stories during the long winter cluster, waggle-dancing their legends of exuberant spring blooms, describing fields of colorful flowers bursting with pollen, canopies of nectar-filled blossoms, and clouds of fragrance filling the air.

A captivated crowd of diutinous bees can hardly believe their antennae, through which they perceive the dancer’s movements and perfumes as she recites such fantastic tales. After all, winter hereabouts can be naturally rather bare in floral terms.

But if we gardeners plan ahead and get some cold-weather bloomers into the beds ahead of time,  there will be attractive color to greet bold bees who venture out on a mild winter’s day….and maybe convince them of the possibility that a spring paradise actually does lie ahead.

Fortunately, we don’t usually get enduring hard frosts or long-lingering snow on the ground in most of the Puget Sound area that could freeze our good intentions.

Winter heathers in Jefferson County, WA

November may be too late to sow seeds or plant bulbs for Christmastime blooms, but if one cares to splurge a bit to purchase a few winter-hardy perennials and shrubs, there are some splendid choices that can brighten short days ahead.

A few of my favorites to please our adventurous midwinter-bees are winter heather, hellebore, and erysimum “winter joy,” along with the nearly year-round blooming rosemary, borage, calendula, hardy cyclamen, and yarrow, among others that somehow refresh themselves in autumn and keep on bravely blooming as long as winter holds its iciest blasts under wraps.

Hellebore, rosemary, and erysimum “winter joy”

Winter camellias such as C. sansanqua open their deep pink flowers in an extravagant show starting in December or January most years, and fragrant daphne (D. odora) joins forces in February with other fresh beauties that will be ready and waiting for the spring “early-birds” (early-bugs!) for pollination.

Willows provide good fodder here starting in late February before various maples offer their abundant nectar for the first honey flow in March or April.  In addition, red alders, which are plentiful in this region, provide a lot of pale yellow pollen, often opening their catkins shortly before the willows bloom. 

And when that happens, it means that soon, the honey bee dreams of glorious landscapes overflowing with flowers will come true!

Some Winter Cold-Hardy Pollinator-Friendly Flowers (Puget Sound Area, WA)

PlantPlant Type Approximate Bloom Dates
Aconite, WinterbulbFebruary-March
Alder, Reddeciduous treeFebruary-March
Boragehardy annualYear-round, or June-November*
Calendulahardy annualYear-round, or Spring-November*
Camellia (C. sansanqua)shrubNovember-January
Crocusperennial bulbFebruary-March
Currant, Native Red-FloweringshrubFebruary-April
Cyclamen (C.  cilicium, C. coum)perennialFall through Spring*
Daphne, Fragrant (D. odora)ShrubFebruary-March
Erysimum, Winter Joy (fertile hybrid)perennialYear-round, nearly nonstop
Fruit Trees, early (Cherry, Plum, etc.)deciduous treesStarting in February
Heather, Winter (Erica carnea)evergreen shrubDecember-April
Oregon Grape (Mahonia)evergreen shrubNovember-March
Primrosehardy perennialOctober–early Spring
RapiniannualYear-round, serial replanting*
Rhododendron, WinterShrubsDecember-February
Rosemaryevergreen perennialYear-round, or December-March
Witch Hazel Deciduous shrubJanuary-February
Yarrow (for native bees)hardy perennial herbYear-round, or April-November*  
*If weather allows, and there is not severely hard or long-lasting frost.

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