Below is a list of honey bee plants that do well on acid soils.
Trees and shrubs
Acers All acers produce pollen but some won’t produce nectar in the UK. Flowering time is generally April to May.
Bilberry or whortleberry Vaccinum myrtillus. Produces nectar and pollen in April, May and June. Related to the American blueberry, these aren’t cultivated but can be used to make preserves. They are too acidic to eat raw!
Cherry laurel Prunus laurocerasus Good nectar and pollen through spring with the bonus that the undersides of young leaves have nectar even when it is not in flower. Handy when nectar is scarce. Not everyone’s favourite look though.
Daphne Daphne odora, D. mezereum, D. bholua Daphnes are often chosen for their intoxicating scent and as they flower in mid-winter are often grown near the house. They can offer both nectar and pollen to honey bees when temperatures are clement enough for them to fly.
Gorse Ulex europaeus, U. minor. From the legume (pea) family, gorse provides excellent pollen but not much if any nectar. The main flowering period for common gorse (U. europaeus) is April but it you can see some flower at any time of year!
Heather and heaths The other stalwart (with gorse) honey bee plant is heather. Calluna vulgaris, the traditional heather honey, and flowers between July and November. Erica carnea is the ‘winter heath’. By selecting differnet cultivars the flowering period can be extended from December to April. This species can survive in alkaline conditions but is happiest in a more acidic environment. Erica cinerea (bell heather), E. tetralix (cross-leaved heath) and E. vagans (Cornish heath) flower between June and November. All are excellent honey bee plants it’s just a question of overcoming their seventies image. Check out this contemporary design with them.
Witch hazel Hamamelis mollis Witch hazels offer bees good early pollen (no nectar) in winter when little else is available. Flowering on bare wood, witch hazel tassel petals can range from yellow to a rich red. Leaves turn similar shades in autumn but their summer interest is limited and they can take up a fair amount of space. Their spicy fragrance is an incentive to venture out on a winter’s day. For more details on different varieties (colour, flowering time) visit the RHS website https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=368 and see Mary Keen’s article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/howtogrow/9024795/The-allure-of-witch-hazel-flowers.html The Sir Harold Hilliers gardens in Romsey holds a national collection of witch hazels, well worth a visit in January and February.
Magnolia Magnolia spp. Like witch hazel, magnolias offer pollen (though not quite as much) but no nectar, and flower in early spring. There are many varieties of Magnolia. For more information see the RHS Plant Finder.
Rhododendron and Azaleas Rhododendrons have a bad press in two respects – firstly the species R. ponticum is having to be removed from the countryside and secondly the nectar can become poisonous honey. There are tales of people being poisoned by eating honey. Some, but not all, rhododendrons and azaleas contain the neurotoxin, grayanotoxin, and ancient literature tells of armies being floored for several days after collecting the wild honeycomb. In certain areas honey isn’t used in the spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas are flowering. As with all potential poisons it’s a question of dose as Deepak discovers in Hunting mad honey film. Enjoy!
Strawberry tree Arbutus unedo Another from the heather (Ericaceae) family with the characteristic flowers, in white, offering both nectar and pollen from October to December. The strawberry-like fruits come from last year’s flowers and the leaves are shiny evergreen. The tree comes from the Mediterranean and so needs as much sun as you can offer and to avoid a frost pocket.
Wintergreen Gaultheria spp. Evergreen shrub from the same family as heather with similar bell shaped flowers in May/June. Pollen only.
Gentians There are several varieties of summer flowering gentians with their characteristic cobalt blue flowers. Nectar and pollen offered to foraging bees.
Lithospermum syn. Lithodora Another brilliant blue flower which is great for bees. Flowers between April and July.
Himalayan poppy Meconopsis betonicifolia Flowers in June and July but provides nectar and pollen only in warm temperatures. Not the easiest to grow by all accounts.
Meadow rue Thalictrum spp. I’m a fan of Thalictrums so it is with regret that I tell you they only offer pollen for honey bees. There are several interesting varieties flowering at different times during the summer. My favourite is delicate Thalictrum delavayi.
Wake robin Trillium spp. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of this beautiful spring bulb and although it is listed by Howes as a honey bee plant he doesn’t say whether it offers nectar, pollen or both. This is one I’d be buying in bulk if my garden was on an acid soil!
Yarrow Achillea millefolium Nectar only Season can be extended from May – Sept by using different varieties
Betony Betonica officinalis or Stachys officinalis May – June Nectar and pollen
Knapweed Centaurea nigra June – Sept Good Nectar and pollen
Ox-eye daisy Leucanthemum vulgare/Chrysanthemum leucanthemum May – Sept Nectar and pollen
Birdsfoot trefoil Lotus corniculatus June – Sept Good Nectar and pollen
Plaintain Plantago spp. May Nectar and pollen
Buttercup Ranunculus acris, Ranunculus bulbosus Various flowering times depending on species Nectar and pollen
Lesser celandine Ranunculus ficaria Feb – May Nectar and pollen
Yellow rattle Rhinanthus minor June/July Nectar only
Hawkbit spp. Leontodon autumnalis or Scorzoneroides autumnalis – June – Sept Nectar and pollen
Devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis Annual June – Oct Nectar and pollen
Wood sage Teucrium scorodonia July/Aug Nectar and pollen