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Best for bees

AndrewR

By AndrewR

9 comments


What is the best flower for bees? That was one of the questions at a talk I attended last autumn. Surprisingly perhaps, it is not a British native, but a member of the daisy family from North America – heleniums. While most flowers refresh their nectar stores every 24 hours, heleniums do it twice a day, making them particular good for bees.

Heleniums are flowers of late summer into autumn, starting in early August here and continuing for several weeks if deadheaded on a regular basis. They come in shades and mixtures of yellow, orange, and red, growing between two and six feet tall, but are amenable to the Chelsea chop. This involves reducing their height during the week of the Chelsea Flower Show (the third week of May) by anything up to two thirds. This delays their flowering by a couple of weeks but reduces the eventual height of the plants. A six foot tall plant, reduced by half, usually flowers at around three feet, but if we have a very dry summer, the final height will be less. Plants may look a little ragged for a couple of weeks after this cutting back, but soon recover as new growth continues.

Heleniums appreciate a rich, moisture retentive soil that doesn’t become waterlogged. Although they will tolerate periods of drought when established, it is important to make sure they don’t go short of water early in the season or when young. Slugs may happily munch on young shoots, so some protection is required early in the growing season.

Many varieties are available, but here are the ones I grow and am familiar with.

Helenium ’Sahin’s Early Flowerer’
As the name suggests, this is one of the first into flower. Three feet tall, more leafy than some. Flowers a good mix of orange and yellow, becoming more red as they age

Helenium ‘Pumilum Magnificum’
Another one starting to bloom early in the helenium season. This is shorter at two and a half feet tall, with flowers a soft yellow colour although not so large as many other varieties. Doesn’t seem to be widely available but is a good plant

Helenium ‘Chipperfield Orange’
Another one that you will need to hunt for. Grows to four feet if not cut back. Strong orange flowers – nothing subtle about it!

Helenium ‘Bressingham Gold’
Taller again, growing to five feet in height. Brilliant yellow flowers without any hint of orange. ‘Riverton Beauty’ is said to be the same plant

Helenium ‘Margot’
This is my second season of growing this one, a variety recommended by Special Perennials Nursery. Neat flowers, red around the central brown cone, with a bright yellow edge on plants three and a half feet tall. The flowers remind me of a gaillardia. H. ‘Biedermeier’ is very similar

Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’
‘Moerheim Beauty’ is an old variety that has stood the test of time. Flowers open coppery-red, fading to a rusty colour as they age. Four feet tall

Helenium ‘Red Army’
A much shorter variety, ‘Red Army’ grows to just over two feet and starts into flower quite early. The blooms are deep red with no hint of yellow. The stems are self supporting but may flop if the plant is fed heavily. Identical to H. ‘Vivace’

There are so many varieties to chose from that picking the right ones can be confusing. I have found the website www.helenium.net/helenium.htm invaluable when researching which ones to grow

Please find a place for a helenium or two in your borders – bees need all the help we can give them

More blog posts by AndrewR

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Comments

 

Very informative and helpful, something I shall keep. My husband kept bees for many years and when the last hive died over the winter, he decided not to get any more because of our young grand children visiting the garden. He misses them.

7 Sep, 2019

 

Great blog Andrew, thank you. I was wondering what kind of flowers would help the bees.

7 Sep, 2019

 

Very informative blog. I can't decide which is my favorite - well done.

8 Sep, 2019

 

I discovered Heleniums last year and bought several, not realising that they would grow so tall (read the blurb!) so they tend to flop if I forget to stake them. Next year I shall do as you suggest and have a go at the Chelsea chop. They certainly brighten the place up. Yours are spectacular.

8 Sep, 2019

 

Very good blog Andrew, I cannot keep them here but I'm persevering, added to favs for future ref, thankyou for naming them...

9 Sep, 2019

 

Thanks Andrew - very useful. Gone into favourites.

10 Sep, 2019

 

Oh no, just when I have decided to buy no more new perennials you tempt me with these beauties:-(. I did have Sabine early for a few years the they vanished, it was beautiful. I do find bees go mad for musk mallows and, of course, lavender in my garden also love foxgloves. I'm now going to see who's selling heleniums on line and it's your fault:-)

13 Sep, 2019

 

Excellent blog ... I have found the Bees and Hoverflies are loving the flowers of Sedums and a Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' more than any other flowers in my garden lately.

13 Sep, 2019

 

I obviously meant sahins early, flippin' computer telling me what I should say:-))

13 Sep, 2019

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