Plants Bees Like in Houston
by Donald Burger, Attorney at Law

Below is an alphabetical list of plants that I have personally seen bees liking in Houston. To make the list the plant must be one that I have actually seen bees visiting in numbers. One visit is not enough. Someone telling me bees like a plant is not enough. An eyewitness view is required.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
This is a great herb. This annual is easy to grow in Houston. Buy it in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. Buy lots of plants. Let half of them go to flower for the bees and reserve the other half for your spaghetti. Nothing transforms store bought spaghetti sauce like fresh basil. Grow basil and you can be a great cook as well as a great beekeeper.

Blackberry, Brazos (Rosaceae 'Brazos’)
Blackberries are easy to grow in Houston. They bloom in the spring and provide great flowers for the bees. Plus, you will get a delicious fruit for munching or making into cobbler. Remember that blackberries bloom on this year's canes. So, to keep them from getting that bramble look, prune off the old canes after they have fruited.

Black & Blue Sage (Salvia garanitica)
This is a pretty blue sage. It should be planted in groups of at least seven plants, close together, to attract bees. I saw this plant at Joshua’s Nursery in the Heights, and the bees were really working it.

Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens)
This is an easy plant for Houston. It will survive our winters, and it produces pretty oragnish blooms that bees enjoy. The plant gets about 12 to 18 inches in height. I recommend planting at least three (five is better) so as to give the bees something worth their while.

Catmint (Nepeta faassenii)
Mounding plant with bluish flowers. Bees love it. So, apparently, do cats. Perennial.

Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia splendens)
This plant blooms very early in the year, assuming you grow it in a pot and take it inside the garage on freezing nights. As an early bloomer, the bees will appreciate the blooms when nothing much else is around. As spring continues, they will go to other plants. Still, the plant is worth growing just for the fact that it can provide nectar for the bees after a long winter. Just remember to bring it inside on cold winter nights. It is easy to grow in a clay pot, 12 inches in diameter or above.

Duranta (Duranta repens)
This is a great plant for Houston. It has a brilliant blue bloom. The plant will get to about five feet by five feet. It will be covered in blooms all summer and fall. It will freeze in winter, but comes back from the roots. On this list, this is my favorite bee plant. Honey bees love it. Bumblebees love it. Butterflies love it. I love it. If you have the room, get one of these bushes.

Goldenrod (Solidago ssp)
This is another plant used to signal the honey flow in and around Houston. Bees, of course, love the bright yellow flowers.

Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi ‘Rio Red’)
This is another good citrus for Houston. In addition to mouth-watering fruit, your bees will thank you for growing this tree. To keep the plant small, be sure and get a variety growing on Flying Dragon root stock.

Guara (Gaura lindheimeri )
This is an airy bush that blooms profusely. I have seen bees working a large single specimen of this plant at Buchanan’s Native Plants.

Hummingbird Bush (Hamelia patens)
Hamelia, Dwarf Hummingbird Bush (Hamelia patens): This is another find from Joshua’s Nursery. The full-sized version of this plant attracts hummingbirds in the fall. However, it dies back in winter, and does not come out from the root until well into spring or early summer. And the regular plant gets gigantic. I don’t know if hummers like the dwarf version, but I have seen lots of bees working it.

Kumquat (Fortunella margarita x japonica )
I have a small version of this tree, on Flying Dragon Root stock. That keeps it dwarf. In the spring, it is covered in blooms–and bees.

Lace Cactus (Echinocereus caespitosus)
In April of 2008, I was in the Hill Country looking at the wildflowers. The usual wildflowers were in short supply. However, the cacti were in bloom. I probably would have overlooked the small blooms if the bluebonnets had been prolific. As it was, I was looking for something to photograph and studied some lace cacti. Lace cacti are normally about three inches tall. Some had only one bloom and some had up to four blooms. As I squatted close to fill the frame of the camera, I noticed that most of the blooms had honey bees working them. A single bee would alight on the bloom and then snuggle down into the stamens until she completely disappeared. I assume the bees were after the nectar at the base of the blooms. Unfortunately, so far mine have not re-bloomed since the spring.

Lemon (Citrus limon ‘Meyer’)
Another great citrus for Houston. Meyer lemons are big and sweet. They taste like no other lemon. And the bees love the blooms.

Lime(Citrus aurantifolia)
Limes are susceptible to freezing. I put the old-fashioned Christmas tree lights on mine and wrap them in freeze cloth if the temperatures are falling. Bees love the blooms. You will love the limes.

Mexican Heather (Cuphea hyssopifolia)
This is a perennial in Houston. I usually cut mine back in late April so it doesn’t get too “leggy.” I wait that long because it is an early bloomer and there’s not much else for the bees to go to. This is one of the most popular blooms for bees, and it is common to see your plants covered with foragers. This is an easy care plant, with no insect or fungus problems.

Pentas (Pentas laceolata)
This is another landscape plant that bees love. Pentas are disease free and will survive our winters. The plants are from twelve to eighteen inch high, and covered in star-shaped blooms. Bees love these plants, and you will too. This is one of the easiest plants to grow in Houston. They are nectar plants for butterflies, honey bees and bumble bees. Red, pink and white blooming plants are available, as are pentas in various heights. Do not miss the chance to plant this wonderful flower.

Poppy (Argemone albiflora)
Bees love the white version of this plant. It can reach 3 to 4 feet high, with prickly leaves and stems. Be sure and plant in groups.

Portulaca (Portulaca oleracea)
Also known as purslane. This plant has small yellow flowers that bees love. It can take full sun, but likes water. Spreads easily.

Purple Heart (Setcreasea pallida)
This is one of those plants that has to be grown in sufficient numbers for the bees to find it attractive. On our morning walks, we pass by a planting of purple heart that is easily ten feet by ten feet. It is planted at the base of an oak tree, with a western exposure. The bees worked it all spring and into summer. Bees love the pink/purplish blooms. The leaves are a rather odd shade of purple. The plant gets to between 12 to 18 inches tall. This is definitely a plant where a larger planting will attract more bees than a smaller one.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs. I love to sprinkle steaks with rosemary leaves when I grill. I plant rosemary at the "corners" of paths so one has the chance to brush against them as one walks in the garden. The scent is wonderful. And bees also love rosemary. The plants are covered with light blue blooms all summer long. Both the upright and the prostrate versions work well. The prostrate version seems to flower more than the upright versions. Give this herb a try. It over-winters well, and gets no diseases.

Roses (Rosa ssp.)
Roses come in all kinds of varieties. Mostly, bees do not visit roses because the blooms are multi-petaled, and, therefore, hard for the bees to get in to. However, bees with visit the so-called single blooms and semi-doubles. The American Rose Society defines a single bloom as a rose bloom with four toeight petals and a semi double as a blooms with nine to sixteen petals. I love roses, and grow lots of them. However, most roses are not visited by bees.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Light blue flowers all along the stems. Because of the number of flowers, bees seem to love it. Blooms from summer and fall. Drought tolerant when established, but hard to grow in Houston. We may get more water than it likes.

Satsuma (Citrus unshiu)
This citrus is covered in blooms. Bees love it. Once you taste the fruit, you will too.

Tallow (Sapium sebiferum)
This is considered an invasive species by many gardners, but it is one of the favored plants by bees. The tallow blooms are used by country beekeepers to signal the start of what is called the "honey flow." That is the time most of the nectar is gathered for ultimate use as honey.

Texas Sabal Palm (Sabal texana)
This is the most freeze tolerant palm for Houston. This is a fan palm with great dignity. It is a little hard to find at most nurseries but its cold hardiness makes it worth looking for.

Torenia (Torenia fournieri ‘Catalina Midnight Blue’)
This is an annual. Intensely blue flowers are attractive to bees. The plant likes some shade, and lots of water.

Water Lily (Nymphaeceae ssp)
Nelsons Water Gardens is the source for water lilies in Houston. I have stood fascinated at their nursery as I watched bees work the blooms on the water lilies. Lilies take full sun and lots of room. The bees seem to work even single blooms.

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