Spring Blooming Plants to Attract Bumble Bees

American Bumble Bee (Bombus_pensylvanicus) queen, on red dead-nettle, Hanover County, VA – endangered species. Louise Woodrich, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons.

Spring blooming plants attract Bumble Bees. Bumble bees are among the very first insects we see flying in early spring. And now is the perfect time to take notice of what early spring blooming plants the insects are visiting.

Why Native Plants Are the Best Foundation

Native plants are the best to utilize because these plants form ecosystems. It is the indigenous (native) trees, shrubs, and herbaceous species which define an ecosystem. For example I live in the Oak-Hickory forest. The Oaks and Hickories that define this ecosystem are indigenous species, not oaks or hickories from some other continent.

Native plants have lived and formed specific interactions with each other. Indigenous plants and animals are the foundation of a healthy, diverse, and sustainable ecosystem. I go into more detail in the post, “Why Native Plants“.

Hairy Bumble Bees

Gnats and flies seem to emerge first, then the hairy bees are seen a few weeks later.

Bumble Bees have hairy bodies which provide insulation from the still chilly weather of spring. When they are flying around the trees are beginning to leaf out and we often wonder just what are the eating. There aren’t an abundance of flowers yet. Or so we think.

How do you tell a bee from a fly, see the post Bee or Fly?

Species of Bumble Bees

There are forty-nine species of Bumble Bees in North America north of Mexico. Here are four of the most common and easily found.

Yellow Bumblebee (Bombus fervidus) queen
Yellow Bumblebee (Bombus fervidus) queen. Photo courtesy Jacy Lucier, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

Golden Northern Bumble Bee (Bombus fervidus) ranging from British Columbia south to California and east to Quebec and Georgia.

Red-tailed (Tri-colored) Bumblebee (Bombus tenarius) worker, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario.

Red-tailed Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius) ranging from British Columbia eas to Nova Scotia; Kansa east through Michigan to New England and south to Georgia.

Yellow-faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii)
Yellow-faced bumblebee (Bombus vosnesenskii). Peter Pearsall/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Yellow-faced Bumble Bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) found in western North America.

Sonoran Bumble Bee (Bombus sonorus)
Sonoran Bumble Bee (Bombus sonorus). Judy Gallagher, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sonoran Bumble Bee (Bombus sonorus) ranging in western North America; and most abundant in the Southwest region.

Bumble Bee Lifestyle

Bumble bees don’t store large amounts of honey like honey bees. Bumble bees eat the nectar and pollen and use it to feed the larvae. Most of a Bumble bee colony dies off as winter approaches, therefore they don’t need to store large amounts of food.

Among bumble bees only a queen survives winter. She burrows into the ground and spends the coldest season there. She lays eggs in the spring and starts the life cycle over again.

my flower garden may 2020
My flower garden May 2020. Photo by Donna L. Long.

Bumble Bee Habitats

Bumble bees live and forage in open habitats including gardens, parks, fields, meadows, and forest openings. This means they will come to your garden.

About 70% of bees nest in the ground, including Bumble Bees. The queens build their nests in holes in the ground. These holes are often old rodent burrows or nests. The beneath the soils’ surface is also where the queen spend the winter.

If you would like to have a garden that attracts bumble bees in early spring, below are lists of plants are native to eastern North America including Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley and the whole Mid-Atlantic region. Not all the plants are indigenous to each region. Check a good native plant guide before you plant it.

The habitats the listed plants bloom in include woodland and wetland edges.

Spring Blooming Trees and Shrubs with Nectar-filled Blossoms

These spring blooming trees are the shorter understory trees. Understory trees bloom earlier than the taller canopy trees. I explain this in the post, Spring Starts From the Ground Up.

There are many more understory trees. Different varieties have been cultivated, too. Make sure the cultivated varieties blossoms don’t have too many petals that a bee can’t find the nectar.

  • Shadbush (Amelanchier, various species)
  • Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
  • Dogwood (Cornus florida)
  • Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

Spring Blooming Plants to Attract Bumble Bees

This list of spring blooming plants are suitable for woodland and/or wetland edge habitats. Plants for prairie habits aren’t included because it would be a very long list. Prairie plants can be found in the book by Heather Holm listed in further resources at the bottom of this page.

  • Monkshood (Aconitum, various species)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
  • Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis)
  • Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
  • Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia pulmonariodes)
  • Penstemons, various local species
  • Buttercup (Ranunculus, various species)
  • Golden Groundsels (Senecio, various species)
  • Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)
  • Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea)
  • Spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.)
  • Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
  • White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda)
  • Sharp-Lobed Hepatica (Anemone acutiloba)
  • Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
  • Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
  • Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum)
  • False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
  • Bishop’s Cap (Mitella diphylla)
  • Long-Styled Sweet Cicley (Osmorhiza longistylis)
  • Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans)
  • Smooth Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
  • Bloodroot (Sanguinaira canadensis)
  • Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
  • Large-Flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)
  • Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens)
American Bumble Bee (Bombus pennsylvanicus) in my garden
American Bumble Bee (Bombus pennsylvanicus) in my garden


Including nectar sources for pollinators such as bumble bees does make a difference. The photo of the endangered American Bumble Bee was taken in my garden. I feel good that a endangered species found food that it need to survive in my humble backyard garden.

Backyard habitats really can provide food, shelter, water, and places to raise young for endangered and non-endangered species.

More Spring Blooming Plants Information

Spring Ephemerals Early Bloomers for Your Backyard Habitat

Why are the First Flowers of Spring Often White or Yellow?

Spring Blooming Flowers to Attract Hummingbirds

Further Resources for Attracting Pollinators

The book links are Amazon.com affiliate links. If you purchase using these links I earn a small commision which supports this website. 

Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants by Heather Holm – includes field guide to pollinators, conservation actions, and plants for pollinator habitats for prairie, woodland edge and wetland edge. timeline for major habitats. A great guide filled with useful information.

Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies by Xerces Society – focuses on conservation actions and strategies for natural areas, farms, schoolyards, etc.

XercesSociety.org “is a science-based nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.”


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