Best spring plants for pollinators

Help bees, hoverflies and butterflies and enjoy watching them in your garden by growing nectar-rich flowers with our guide to the best spring plants for pollinators.

Bee on pink flower (Ribes sanguineum)

If you’d just flown from another continent, you would need some nectar. In spring, butterflies arrive in the UK after a mind-boggling flight from Africa or southern Europe, and require food to revive them. Likewise hoverflies – 4 billion of them, arriving from Europe – must find sustenance after their journey. And our native bees are busy feeding and building nests in the shelter of our gardens. With wildflower forage in decline (for instance 97% of flower meadows have been lost), gardens are vital sources of nectar.

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Here is our guide to ten of the best spring plants to provide pollinators with an essential food source – and add colour and variety to your garden.

Small tree: Prunus ‘The Bride’

Prunus small tree
Enjoy white blossom in spring/Credit: Getty

In spring, this compact flowering cherry is a mass of snow white flowers that lure bees and butterflies. Throughout April, the tree’s bare branches are coated in the single white flowers that have a central raspberry red flush; then in autumn, the leaves take on fiery tints. Grow in well-drained soil in sun. H2-4m.

Wild garlic growing wild

Ground cover perennial: Trachystemon orientalis

Hardy-perennial-Trachystemon-orientalis
Large leafed Hardy perennial Trachystemon orientalis known as Abraham Isaac Jacob in a shady border/Credit: Alamy

An excellent ground cover plant for shade (even dry shade), the early-flowering borage is also a rich food source. In March and April, the small blue flowers with purple-pink spikes are a-buzz with contented bees. H30-60cm.

Shade-loving perennial: Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’

Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign'
Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ a spring blue perennial flower plant commonly known as lungwort/Credit: Getty

Bees visit the glowing blue flowers that adorn this lungwort from March to May. Plant in semi-shade or shade, ideally in the dappled light near deciduous trees and shrubs, in humus-rich, moist, well-drained soil. H30-40cm.

Flowering shrub: Ribes sanguineum ‘King Edward VII’

Ribes sanguineum 'Pulborough Scarlet' shrub
Bushy deciduous Ribes sanguineum ‘Pulborough Scarlet’ shrub in spring garden with pink, crimson red flower petals, spikes, leaves and pollen, flowering currant with gardening background/Credit: Getty

The loud whir of bumblebees surrounds this ornamental currant when it flowers in April. The racemes of shocking pink flowers dangle amongst the aromatic leaves. It can be grown as an informal hedge in well-drained soil in sun. H1.5-2m.

Dwarf evergreen shrub: Heather, Erica x darleyensis ‘Furzey

Erica x darleyensis
A bunch of Erica x darleyensis, or Pink Spangles flowering subshrub plant also known as Furzey, Winter Heath/Credit: Getty

Bees love the nectar-rich flowers of this heather, which form a mat of lilac pink during winter and spring. Grow in well-drained, neutral to acid soil in sun. H30-45cm.

Apple blossoms in early spring

Evergreen perennial: Ajuga tenorii, Princess Nadia

This new bugle has young pink evergreen leaves that mature to green and cream, and purple blue flowers that attract butterflies in spring. It appreciates moisture-retentive, well-drained soil, so dig in organic matter (such as compost) on planting in semi-shade. H10-20cm.

Biennial: Honesty, Lunaria annua

Lunaria annua
Autumnal seed pods of Moonwort honesty plant aka as ‘Silver dollars’ in the USA, Money plant in Asia, and Judaspenning (coins of Judas) in the Netherlands/Credit: Getty

Honesty is a biennial, which means it flowers in its second year. As well as the mauve purple flowers feeding butterflies in May, the plant provides a place for the Orange Tip to lays its eggs. The lunar disc-shaped seed pods are enchanting in autumn and winter. Grow in moisture-retentive, well-drained soil in semi-shade. H75-90cm.

Herbaceous perennial: Primula vulgaris 

Primroses
Primroses delight in spring/Credit: Getty

The good old primrose delights us in spring when it blooms en masse, on the banks of hedgerows. At home, create the same effect, planting generously around deciduous trees and shrubs. H10-15cm.

 Bulb: Muscari ‘Jenny Robinson’ (syn. ’Baby’s Breath’)

grape hyacinths
Two pots with grape hyacinths (Muscari) bring colour in spring/Credit: Getty

Butterflies like the sweetly scented, ice blue flowers of this grape hyacinth, which bloom in April and May. Grow in pots or sunny, well-drained borders. H15-20cm.

Evergreen shrub: Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Green Ginger’ 

Rosemary
Fragrant rosemary is a useful kitchen plant to grow/Credit: Getty

This variety of rosemary has ginger-scented, evergreen leaves and nectar-rich blue flowers that bloom in late spring and early summer. It can be grown as a low hedge to line a path in well-drained, sun-baked soil. H50cm-1m.

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Where to buy

Plants that aren’t organic can contain chemicals that harm wildlife. But there are an increasing amount of suppliers that grow organically, including Penlan Perennials , peat free plants and Bee Happy Plants.