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With their showy blooms and iconic shape, tulips are a popular bulb flower among gardeners. There are more than 3,000 varieties of tulips to choose from, and they come in nearly every color imaginable. With such flashy flowers, you’d think they’d be popular with pollinating insects. So, do bees like tulips?
Yes, bees like tulips. But sometimes, it can take a little coaxing to get bees to visit them. While these flowers provide bees with a good source of protein early in the spring, they don’t offer much nectar. As a result, some bees may prefer other bulb flowers, instead.
Why are bees attracted to tulips?
Many bee species hibernate over the winter. Some species, like the honey bee, stop brood-rearing for a time, in order to conserve resources. In late winter, brood-rearing resumes in order to build up a workforce for the coming pollinating season.
So when bees finally emerge after winter dormancy, naturally, they’re hungry! They need to build their strength. The minute they leave the hive, they’re on the lookout for brightly colored, fragrant flowers that are loaded with pollen and nectar. From this point on, their main priority is finding food.
Since bees don’t see too well, they rely on their keen sense of smell to guide them to the best blooms. Tulips are brightly colored, so they’re easier for bees to spot. But some varieties are more fragrant than others. Many of the hybrid blooms barely smell at all, and that makes it tough for bees to locate them.
Additionally, even though tulips are chock-full of pollen, they’re not a great source of nectar. Bees need both of these things to survive — pollen to meet their protein requirements, and nectar to provide quick energy and to produce honey. Some hives may prioritize one of these things over the other.
Ultimately, tulips do have the potential to attract bees. However, whether or not they actually do attract bees comes down to your native or domestic hive’s personal preference. While some bees may be happy to forage on your tulips, others may need a little encouragement. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to convince the bees that tulips are worth checking out after all.
Which tulips are best for attracting bees?
The first thing you can do to get bees interested in your tulips is ensure you’re planting the types of tulips they’re attracted to. While any bee may visit any variety of tulip, bees tend to prefer some varieties over others.
You’ll have the best luck with unhybridized varieties. Referred to as “species tulips”, these tulips retain the pollen and nectar that newer ornamental varieties lose during the hybridization process. These flowers are smaller in size, and they’re more open, giving them a star shape, as opposed to the wine-cup shape most people picture when they think of tulips. Tulipa bakeri, or ‘Lilac Wonder’, is one such primitive tulip. It can be tough to find, but pollinators love it.
Because hybrid tulips are in such high demand, finding unhybridized tulips can be a difficult task. So you can also try looking for the most fragrant hybrid tulips, as these have more of the nectar that bees love. Popular varieties include ‘Princess Irene’, ‘Monte Carlo’, ‘Ballerina’, and ‘Apricot Beauty’. Violet tulips are also good choices because they reflect the sun’s ultra-violet rays better than other colors, so they’re highly visible to bees.
Which bulb flowers can you plant with tulips to attract bees?
Bulb flowers are often the first flowers to usher in the spring season. This means they’re also some of the bee’s first available food. Because of their ready availability, bees enjoy a number of bulb flowers. So planting a variety of bulb flowers along with your tulips will boost your chances of bringing in the bees.
For starters, bees love daffodils. These yellow, orange, and white flowers are an excellent source of nectar. And, thanks to their unique shape, they help keep bees safe from predators while they forage. With six large petals arranged in a circle around a smaller, tubular center flower, bees actively seek out daffodils for both energy and protection.
Although they’re poisonous to humans and animals, hyacinths are another valuable source of food for bees. This plant is a feast for the eyes! Featuring dozens of star-shaped flowers growing on a single stalk, hyacinths come in an array of colors. Pink, purple, blue, white, there are so many options, you’ll have trouble choosing just one, and so will the bees.
Crocuses are among some of the best bulb flowers for attracting bees, too. Members of the iris family, crocuses come in shades of pink, blue, violet, and orange, and grow in clusters. They’re shaped similarly to tulips. With their large openings, they’re easy for bees to climb into on their never-ending quest for pollen and nectar.
Other bulb flowers you can use to attract bees include snow-drops, aconite, and allium. In fact, bees love just about every kind of bulb flower. As long as you choose unhybridized varieties, you really can’t go wrong, so include as many different types in your garden as you like!
How can you attract uninterested bees to your tulips?
If the bees just aren’t warming up to your tulips no matter what you do, here’s a fast and easy way to catch their attention. Take a small, shallow basin, such as a terracotta plant saucer, and fill it with hummingbird nectar made with organic granular sugar — never use brown sugar, because bees can’t digest it.
Next, place the feeder on a few bricks or a stone paver near your tulips. It’s important to keep the saucer off the ground and level, so it doesn’t spill all over and attract ants. Be sure to place a couple of small rocks in the dish so the bees don’t drown. Once you’ve got your bee feeder set up, just give it some time. You’ll be surprised how quickly the bees (and other pollinators) find it. Often, it only takes a few hours.
Once the bees get their fill of the homemade nectar, they’ll be ready to search for pollen. That’s when it’s your tulip garden’s time to shine! All in all, getting your bees interested in tulips is simple. By giving the bees their preferred varieties of tulips, and by supplementing their diet with an alternative source of nectar, you can keep your local hive interested in your tulips all spring long!