Sunflowers are easy to grow, and bees love them, but not all varieties are created equal. While some are hugely appealing to pollinators, others provide little benefit.
Whether you’re a beekeeper or want to give honey bees a helping hand, choosing a suitable sunflower species will help. This guide reveals the best sunflowers for honey bees and bumblebees; they’ll transform your backyard or fields into a haven for our feasting fuzzy friends.
What sunflowers are best for honey bees?
To entice honey bees into your garden, grow varieties like Lemon Queen, Mammoth Grey Stripe, Vanilla Ice, or Black Russian. Check with your seed supplier that they’re not a pollenless variety, or your bees will get short-changed.
Try to also be realistic and choose a species that fits your allocated space. There’s no point overcrowding a small patch of garden. If you’ve got lots of room, consider planting some bee trees to give pollinators a more diverse food supply. Another wonderful pollen source is clover.
1. Lemon Queen
The Lemon Queen is fast-growing sunflower that has lovely lemon-yellow petals. It produces many small to medium size blooms that bees, birds, and butterflies love. Reaching a height of 7½ feet, these flowers are tall. Lemon Queen sunflowers are easy to grow and tolerate dry conditions.
2. Mammoth Grey Stripe
Mammoth Grey Stripes can grow to a lofty 12 feet, so make sure there’s plenty of room for them to reach their potential. They also have massive flowers that stand out like a beacon for honey bees. You can grow them as an edible hedge that feeds the local bees, birds, and other random pollinators.
3. Vanilla Ice
The Vanilla Ice sunflower is a small variety that takes up less space in the garden. Reaching a height of 4 feet, they flower for a long time and are prolific. The Vanilla Ice species has relatively small, creamy white flowers and requires plenty of water.
4. Black Russian
Black Russians will dwarf other flowers in the garden, reaching an impressive 12-15 feet in height. The flowers have an 8″ diameter, providing a feast of pollen for bees and a wealth of seeds for wild birds or yourself.
5. Giant White Seeded
The Giant White Seeded sunflower is a good description for this colossal plant that can reach a height of 14 feet. Its flowers can grow to 19 inches in diameter, similar to a large dinner plate! In addition to their size, these sunflowers have unique-looking white seeds.
6. Dwarf Yellow Spray
Dwarf Yellow Sprays are an easy-to-grow variety with vibrant yellow petals and orange centers. Their enticing bright color and pollen-packed blooms are too much for bees to resist. This species only reaches a height of 2 feet with a spread of 17 inches.
7. Henry Wilde
The Henry Wilde sunflower is a classic heirloom variety with dark centers and delicate yellow petals. When pollinators have had their fill, these blooms are perfect for cutting and adding color to your home.
8. Autumn Beauty
The Autumn Beauty produces flowers that are a stunning combination of earthy shades. Orange, gold, yellow, red, mahogany, and brown petals maximize their visibility to the honey bee. These sunflowers grow 6-8 feet and develop multiple heads from each stem.
9. Chocolate Cherry
The Chocolate Cherry has burgundy petals and a dark chocolate center. It is highly popular with pollinator garden enthusiasts and makes an excellent border. If you decide to cut some flowers for inside, you’ll find they have a long vase life.
10. Evening Sun
The Evening Sun variety is an eye-catching sunflower that grows fast and produces flowers that look like a brilliant sunset. Its mahogany and copper blossoms are large and much-loved by bees, birds, and butterflies. They’re also deer resistant which may be a bonus, depending on where you live.
11. Earth Walker
The Earthwalker sunflower will undoubtedly appeal to honey bees with its vibrant pop of burnt orange, rusty red, and copper brown. Like many varieties of sunflower, it is easy to grow, so long as it receives plenty of sunlight. The species grows to around 6 feet and is suitable for most soil types.
If you want a smaller type of sunflower, then Sonya should be at the top of the list. At just 3 feet in height and producing 4-6″ flowers, it’s perfect for small spaces like urban balconies, patios, and small gardens. These sunflowers are low pollen but better than nothing if you have limited space.
13. Teddy Bear Sungold
For a different-looking sunflower, try the Teddy Bear Sungold. Its flowers are bright yellow and look like giant puffballs. This variety grows fast and is excellent for tempting honey bees. They’re also drought resistant, a drawcard for people in dry areas.
14. Red Sun
The Red Sun is a branched type of sunflower that yields stunning red blooms that bees and other pollinators enjoy. They grow to roughly 6 feet and have 6″ flowers. Remember that bees have difficulty seeing red, so they won’t stand out as well as other options on this list.
The Maximillian is a tall, rigid sunflower that has brilliant yellow flowers. Arriving in late summer and early fall, they’re a valuable food source for honey bees when foraging gets tough.
You can grow these sunflowers in meadows, garden beds, borders, and wildflower gardens. They often grow to 10 feet and self-seed, meaning they could form a large colony.
The Pastiche sunflower has lovely red, yellow, and purplish flowers that grow to 5″ in diameter. They tend to last a long time which is super-helpful for pollinators needing a reliable food source.
17. Velvet Queen
Velvet Queens produce 4″ flowers that are an eye-catching mahogany shade. These sunflowers may provide a pollen supply for up to 100 days. They have multiple flower heads and can grow to 7 feet in sunny conditions with well-drained, rich soil.
If you’re looking to go big, the Titan sunflower is the one for you. At maturity, it reaches 12 feet, and its flowers can grow to 24″ across. A plantation of Titans will keep multiple hives busy for months. They’re also loaded with sunflower seeds which you can harvest or let the local bird life eat.
Tips for growing sunflowers to keep pollinators happy
- Plant several varieties of sunflower so that bees, birds, and butterflies can enjoy an extended bloom time.
- Dwarf sunflower varieties tend to bloom early in the season, while perennials arrive much later.
- Sunflowers typically do best in warm climates with at least 8 hours of sun each day.
- Take part in the annual Great Sunflower Project.
- They have expansive root systems, so plant seeds in soil that isn’t compacted.
- Feed sunflowers and water regularly for best results.
- Plant sunflowers in groups and provide them with stakes as support if they’re top-heavy varieties.
- The large sunflower stems can be cut, dried, and used as temporary housing for bees as they go about their duties.
- Choose a sunflower variety that suits the sizing of your bee garden.
If you live in a drought-prone area, check out our best drought-resistant plants for bee gardens.
Commonly asked questions
Are all sunflowers good for honey bees?
Many types of sunflowers provide a vast source of pollen and nectar for bees. But it’s important always to check the seed packet as many new varieties are pollenless. While they’re a popular option for allergy sufferers and those wanting to avoid mess, they won’t provide a source of pollen.
Are sunflowers good for bees?
Sunflower pollen provides an excellent food source for pollinators. Studies show that pollen from sunflowers provides wild and domesticated bees with medicinal properties. Sick and pathogen-infected bees use it to boost their immune system. Source.
Do sunflowers attract honey bees?
Sunflowers draw in honey bees thanks to their bright colors and height, which puts them above most other plants. When choosing a variety, remember bees aren’t very good at spotting red objects.
Are pollen-free sunflowers good for bees?
Pollen-free sunflowers provide a helpful source of nectar for honey bees. However, open-pollinated varieties provide much better sustenance, so try to avoid pollen-free seeds.
Both the pollen and nectar of sunflowers are quite attractive to bees throughout the day, with the heads of the sunflowers composed of hundreds and thousands of individual florets.Degrandi-Hoffman and Chambers 2006; McGregor 1976
5 fast facts about sunflowers
- The tallest sunflower ever grown was an impressive 30 feet.
- There are more than 70 varieties of sunflower, mainly native to North America.
- The scientific name for the common sunflower is Helianthus annuus from the family Asteraceae.
- Sunflowers are broadly classified as Dwarf, Giant, and Colorful (hybrid) varieties.
- Around 90% of commercially grown ornamental sunflowers in the United States are pollenless.
Home gardeners and beekeepers have a wide range of options when it comes time to plant sunflower crops. Varieties like the Lemon Queen, Mammoth Grey Stripe, and Vanilla Ice are all good choices.
While any sunflower will provide nectar, reading the seed packet will ensure the variety you choose also offers pollen. Choose wisely, and your garden will supply a nectar-pollen combo that honey bees appreciate.
If you’ve got hungry bees that can’t wait for sunflowers to grow, check out how to feed bees.