In spring, you can’t swing a bat in a garden centre without sending a display of bee-friendly flowers flying. Everyone’s on the bee-saving bandwagon and that’s a good thing. But even though we’re heading into autumn, you can still plant for beauty and the bees. Add a nectar-producing tree to your garden. Some of the larger species can produce huge quantities of food for bees. Fall is an excellent time to plant a tree and you might find your choices on sale now. Here are four gorgeous trees that feed bees:
Hedge Maple (Acer campestre): The fast-growing Hedge maple got its name in the U.K. where it’s often used to form a hedge or screen. In southern Ontario in zone 5, this tree makes a good city tree because it can be pruned to stay relatively small, tolerates dry soil and can tolerate moderate salt exposure. The flowers are insignificant, small and green, but the petite lobed leaves, smaller than more common maples in Ontario, create a nice texture within a rounded crown throughout the growing season and then turn bright yellow in fall.
Redbud (Cercis canadensis): A native of southwestern Ontario (hardy in zone 5a), this lovely tree is actually part of the Legume family. In spring, the leafless branches are covered in clouds of the pink blossoms attracting honeybees and hummingbirds. Once the flowers start to fade, fresh green heart-shaped leaves appear. Older redbuds tend to have interestingly shaped trunks and branches that spread in an elegant vase shape.
Tulip tree or Tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera): This native of eastern North America (hardy in zone 5a in Ontario) flaunts large yellow and orange tulip-shaped flowers in spring. It’s fast growing , reaching up to 90 feet high and 50 feet wide. Besides the size of this tree at maturity, there is one more warning: They’re susceptible to limb breakage in high winds or ice storms and they also have shallow root systems so you need to choose companion plantings carefully.
American basswood (Tilia americana): According to the USDA, basswood is “a prolific nectar producer and pollination by honeybees results in a choice grade of honey.” It’s very hardy in Canada, thriving in zones 0a to 7a. The drooping clusters of small, fragrant, yellow-white flowers bloom later in mid-summer unlike most other nectar-providing trees which is a big help to bees. But there’s another good reason to plant a basswood. It’s considered a soil-enricher. Calcium and magnesium are brought up from deep within the soil via the roots and eventually deposited within the leaves which, in turn, fall to the ground in autumn, creating enriched leaf litter.
For more Ontario trees that feed bees (and shrubs and herbaceous perennials, too), check out the University of Guelph’s comprehensive list available online as a PDF.