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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - May 27, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Schedule for pollen and nectar for bees in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

For beekeeping in western Travis County (Cuernavaca at Bee Caves) I need to know what nectar and pollen is flowing when. I have asked my local beekeeping club, but they are in Blackland Prairie and don't know. Do you? What I see is juniper, live oak, prickly pear, yucca, yaupon and possumhaw holly, Lindheimer silk tassel--basically what you find at Wild Basin Wilderness preserve plus invasives like Nandina and Asian Jasmine.

ANSWER:

Bees are somewhat out of our range of expertise in native plants, but if you demanded a quick answer from us on when nectar and pollen was flowing, we would say it would be when the flowers are in bloom. In fact, we are not even sure we understand what your question is. Are you asking what flowering plants already in existence in range of your beehives will be flowering at a certain time? Or do you want to know what plants to plant to feed bees from your beehives? Since we begin this by knowing nearly nothing at all about bees, we found this website from outdoorplace.org Backyard Beekeeping, which is probably all things you already knew but at least it's a start.

As you no doubt know, there has been a disturbing trend of the bee population declining and, in some areas, almost disappearing. Giving them a new habitat will be one small step in reversing that trend, we hope. First of all, just for an overview, here is an excellent article, "What's the Buzz on Planting a Bee Garden?" by Stephen Buchman. Next, since there are many similarities and interchangeable information on planting for bees, wildflower meadows and butterfly gardening, go to the "How To Articles" and, in particular, read the articles on Wildflower Meadow Gardening and Butterfly Gardening Resources. 

The only way we know of to find out if a specific plant is blooming and will attract your bees is to go to our Native Plant Database, look up that plant and find out if it is a bee-pollinated plant. That material is not always going to be available, but we will try to address the ones you named:

Juniperus ashei (Ashe's juniper) - nothing to attract bees

Quercus fusiformis (plateau oak) - nothing to attract bees

Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri (Texas pricklypear) -  flowers are nectar source, blooms May and June

Yucca constricta (Buckley's yucca) - flowers are a nectar source for yucca moth, the yucca pollinator

Ilex vomitoria (yaupon) - both male and female bloom in April and May, attracts insects

Ilex decidua (possumhaw) - same as above, but blooms March to May

Garrya ovata ssp. lindheimeri (Lindheimer's silktassel) - attracts birds

Now, if your question is what you should plant to attract your bees, we accumulated a list of bee-friendly plants for Austin in answer to a previous question. We will reproduce this list, and you can follow each plant link to our page in the Native Plant Database on that plant, find out when that plant blooms and, under Benefits, learn about its production of nectar. We would also suggest you get out and walk around in the area where you wish to keep bees, and see if you can find any wild bees feeding on plants, and try to determine what those plants are. 

You would be wise to elect to plant only native plants. Sticking to plants native to your area is important in establishing and maintaining some sort of natural balance for the bees and other pollinators that will be patrons of your garden. You surely already know to avoid spraying herbicides or pesticides, which can certainly disturb the bee population, and natives are far less likely to fall prey to the pests that might need to be artificially treated. The plants we have listed are all native to Texas and should do well in the Austin area.

Liatris elegans (pinkscale blazing star)

Gaillardia pinnatifida (red dome blanketflower)

Monarda citriodora (lemon beebalm)

Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower)

Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan)

Clematis drummondii (Drummond's clematis)

Coreopsis grandiflora (largeflower tickseed)

Solidago nemoralis (gray goldenrod)

Lantana urticoides (West Indian shrubverbena)

Ratibida columnifera (upright prairie coneflower)

Plumbago scandens (doctorbush)

Salvia coccinea (blood sage)

Chrysactinia mexicana (damianita)

Refer to our list of Native Plant Suppliers to find nurseries or seed companies in your area that sell native plants.


Liatris elegans

Gaillardia pinnatifida

Monarda citriodora

Echinacea purpurea

Rudbeckia hirta

Clematis drummondii

Coreopsis grandiflora

Solidago nemoralis

Lantana urticoides

Ratibida columnifera

Plumbago scandens

Salvia coccinea

Chrysactinia mexicana

 

 
 

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