Clover provides a bounty of forage for local pollinators, but choosing the right crop is essential. While some varieties offer abundant pollen and nectar, others make foraging difficult. Whether you’re a beekeeper or a bee-friendly gardener, this guide reveals the best clover for honey bees.
Top 5 types of clover for honey bees
With over 250 species of clover on offer, it’s easy to get confused about which variety to grow. Five excellent options to entice bees include alsike, crimson, white, sweet, and berseem clover. They’re easy to grow and appeal to pollinators foraging in spring in fall.
1. Alsike Clover (Trifolium hybridum)
Alsike clover is an excellent choice to encourage honey bee activity.
It thrives in the cooler, damp regions of North America’s Pacific Northwest. But it’ll also grow well in most places with medium to high rainfall.
Alsike blossoms have a long bloom time, from spring until summer, and have a lovely pinkish shade.
The foliage produces exceptional honey, and lots of it! According to the American Bee Journal, a good season will result in 500 pounds of honey per acre.
2. Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)
Crimson clover is another superb option for bees. Although it isn’t grown on the same scale as other popular species, the crop produces pleasant flavored honey in high yield for beekeepers.
Crimson clover is an annual that produces crimson red blossoms from April to June in the United States. It won’t tolerate extreme hot or cold weather but enjoys clay or well-drained sandy soils.
Gardeners looking for green manures can use this crop to improve soil structure and add nitrogen. It is also helpful for suppressing weeds.
Keep in mind that crimson clover flowers early in the season, so it won’t keep providing nectar and pollen for bees in the fall.
3. White clover (Trifolium repens)
White clover, or Dutch clover, is a popular variety that produces attractive small white blooms from late spring to fall. It is the benchmark by which other honey types are judged.
Although white clover does best in cooler climates, it will tolerate a diverse range of conditions. It is relatively drought-tolerant, providing a valuable food source for bees until the first frosts arrive.
4. Sweet Clover (Melilotus)
Sweet clover is an excellent choice if you live in a hot climate as it will tolerate drought better than most other clovers. Even poorly irrigated soil won’t stop it from becoming a handy food supply for honey bees.
Although the honey from sweet clover tends to granulate more than white clover, its quality is considered excellent. It is light in color with a distinctive mild yet peppery flavor.
Sweet clover produces high levels of nectar and pollen from April to July. There are two species that are popular options for bees:
- White sweet clover (Melilotus alba).
- Yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis).
- Sweet clover yields around 200 pounds per colony.
The white variety blooms two weeks after yellow clover. Planting both crops is a good way for beekeepers to extend the honey flow, as the food supply will last longer.
Hubam is an annual species that starts to flower in late summer. It will help bees prepare stores for the winter.
Another cultivar is Silver River clover which is an excellent pollinator. It offers a similar yield to hubam and has adapted to other areas like central and south Texas. Silver River clover is rust-resistant, tolerates soil with a high PH, and grows in hot and dry conditions.
5. Berseem sweet clover (Trifolium alexandrinum)
Berseem clover is a legume that originated from a wild strain in the Middle East that is now extinct. It is a versatile crop that thrives in conditions ranging from extremely wet to moderately dry. However, berseem won’t deal with the extreme heat and cold.
Berseem is grown in California, Florida, and parts of southern United States.
Summary table: Recommended clover types for bees
|Type of clover||Scientific Name||Notes|
|Alsike Clover||Trifolium hybridum||Long bloom time, from spring until summer. foliage produces exceptional honey.|
|Crimson Clover||Trifolium incarnatum||Produces pleasant flavored honey in high yield for beekeepers. Flowers early in the season, so it won’t keep providing nectar and pollen for bees in the fall.|
|White Clover||Trifolium repens||Popular variety that produces attractive small white blooms from late spring to fall. Tolerates a diverse range of conditions.|
|Sweet Clover||Melilotus||An excellent choice if you live in a hot climate as it will tolerate drought better than most other clovers|
|Berseem Sweet Clover||Trifolium alexandrinum||A versatile cover crop that thrives in extremely wet to moderately dry conditions|
Commonly asked questions
How does clover honey and wildflower honey differ?
Honey varies depending on the variety of foliage the bees feed on. Clover honey often has a milder, less bitter, cleaner taste than wildflower honey. Pure clover honey is almost white and much lighter than honey made from wildflowers. Wildflower honey tends to be darker and more flavorsome when harvested later in the honey season.
What type of clover isn’t good for honey bees?
Although most clover provides a valuable food source, red clover (Trifolium Pratense) may not be suitable. The flowers are too long for some varieties of bee to access the nectar. Red clover is a good choice if you want to feed bumblebees.
What type of honey is the most popular?
In the United States, clover honey is the most popular. In areas where the bulk of America’s honey is grown, like North Dakota, clover raises nitrogen levels in the ground. Farmers grow it to balance their soil, but the added benefit is that bees love it.
Does the color of the clover matter?
Scientists believe that bees are attracted to violet, purple, and blue shades of foliage. However, they don’t discriminate when it comes to clover, foraging any color that’s on offer.
What are the potential health benefits of clover honey?
Clover honey is high in antioxidants like phenolic acid and flavanols. Research has found they can help protect the central nervous system and improve heart health. Clover honey also has no cholesterol, making it a good option for people looking to lower their LDL cholesterol.
Fast facts about the clover plant
- Clover, or trefoil, is a plant from the genus Trifolium and is part of the pea family (Fabaceae).
- In addition to providing pollinators with a rich source of nectar and pollen, clover helps with soil erosion and adds valuable nutrients to the soil.
- It is a cheap crop to grow and makes useful animal fodder.
- For amateur beekeepers, making pure clover honey is challenging. Bees will also feed on other flowers, affecting the honey’s flavor and appearance.
- Some of the leading producers of clover honey include New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
- Clover honey will crystallize quickly into a solid white mass, so it is often creamed to keep its structure.
If you’re looking for ways to provide your bees with a food source, also check out our recommended sunflower varieties for pollinators.
Most varieties of clover will provide a bounty of food for your local bees. Whether you’re a beekeeper or just want a bee-friendly garden, the proper flora will make a big difference.
We suggest planting alsike, crimson, white, sweet, or berseem clover. They’re all popular with bees, bumblebees, and butterflies.
If room permits, choose a range of species that flower at different times. This system will extend the foraging season, and pollinators will greatly appreciate it.