Stunning Winter Blossoms That Bring Drama and Nourishment for Pollinators
By Aislin Suparak Gibson, Houzz
Plant now for blooms in winter and early spring that will feed pollinators. As a bonus, these beauties are easy to care for, since they’re well-acclimated to cold temperatures. Their dramatic foliage and vivid colors make them a mysterious and bold color splash for fall and throughout the holidays.
Terra Nova Nurseries Inc, original photo on Houzz
Onyx Odyssey hellebore (Helleborus x hybridus Winter Jewels Onyx Odyssey)
Pollinators and bees eagerly seek nourishing blooms to help them survive the winter. Some bumblebee species with furry coats may forage for food well into the winter months. Honeybees venture from the hive on rare, warm days when the temperatures are above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or 13 degrees Celsius, to search for nectar and pollen.
Here are a few plants that grow in a variety of regions, are tough enough to survive the cold, and complement native plantings by blooming during the lean winter and early-spring months.
Monrovia, original photo on Houzz
‘Charity’ Oregon grape (Mahonia x media ‘Charity’) features attractive flowers and berries that are tasty to wildlife.
Native to eastern Asia, North and South America
These evergreen shrubs, also known as Oregon grape or barberry, have candy-like flower stalks with a fragrance reminiscent of lily-of-the-valley that bees find irresistible. Most mahonias have spiny leaves, making them an excellent choice for a privacy shrub or barrier. They’re also known to be deer-resistant.
The hundreds of small flowers on each mahonia are attractive food sources for pollinators. Native bees, honeybees, hummingbirds and other pollinators can feast on many blooms in one spot while conserving precious energy.
Bloom season: November to March, depending on variety
Where they will grow: Hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 9.4 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 5 to 9), depending on species
Water requirement: Drought tolerant once established but needs more water in a sunny spot
Light requirement: Full sun to dappled shade
Mature size: Up 10 feet tall and 5 feet wide
When to plant: Spring or fall
Skagit Gardens, original photo on Houzz
Monte Cristo hellebore (Helleborus x ericsmithii Gold Collection Monte Cristo)
(Helleborus spp., including H. orientalis and H. hybrids)
H. orientalis is native to Central Europe
Hellebores, also known as Christmas rose, bloom prolifically in the winter when flowers are a rarity. For a spooky ambiance, choose varieties with black foliage or petals. Deer, rabbits and rodents also tend to ignore hellebores.
Caution: All parts of the plant are poisonous to people and pets.
Choose hellebores, or other winter flowers, with petals that allow easy access to nectar and pollen in the middle. Wide, open flowers make it easier for butterflies, moths and larger bees to land to take a sip of nectar or gather pollen.
Bloom season: January to April
Where they will grow: Hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 34.4 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 9)
Water requirement: Moderate to regular
Light requirement: Best in partial shade but can handle full shade
Mature size: 1 foot to 2 feet wide and up to 3 feet tall
When to plant: Set out plants in late winter or early spring or sow seeds in fall
Related: More on How to Plant Hellebores
Markku Mestila, original photo on Houzz
Heaths and Heathers
(Erica spp. and Calluna spp.)
Native to various regions around the world
Heaths (Erica) and heathers (Calluna) are low-growing shrubs that are so beautiful year-round, they gave rise to a saying: No matter the weather, plant heath and heather. Once established, these hardy plants need little to no maintenance. Many people report that deer ignore these plants.
Heaths and heathers are magnets for hungry bees during the winter and throughout the year. The small, bell-shaped flowers welcome tiny native bees or wasps that may emerge early from dormancy, seeking much-needed sustenance.
Bloom season: January to October, depending on location and species; heaths bloom longer into winter
Where they will grow: Heathers are hardy to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 31.7 degrees Celsius (Zone 4); heaths are hardy to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 26.1 degrees Celsius (Zone 5)
Water requirement: Heaths and heathers need plenty of water but dislike soggy ground; both are drought-tolerant once established
Light requirement: Allow for at least six hours of sun a day for best foliage; too much shade makes plants leggy and dull
Mature size: Varies from ground cover to 3 feet tall, depending on species
When to plant: Fall or early spring
Landscapes & Cie, original photo on Houzz
Other flowers to consider. Plant flowers that are a rich source of nectar and pollen. Protein from pollen is essential during the winter for overwintering honeybee hives. Other flowers to consider for honeybees:
• Sweet breath of spring (Lonicera fragrantissima); can be considered invasive in some regions
• Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
• Crocus, snowdrop and hyacinth bulbs
Bubble Rock, original photo on Houzz
Creating a winter wonderland. Planting flowers is a powerful step in helping our pollinators. Here are other important ways you can help pollinators survive the winter and throughout the year.
• Provide water. Fresh, clean water, with landing spots like rocks, will help bees and butterflies land and drink. In areas where it freezes, providing a source of warm water, like the fountain shown here, is also a great way to take care of migrating winter birds.
• Create large swaths of the same native (noninvasive) plant in addition to the nonnative flowers mentioned above. This pollinator buffet attracts bees and provides an abundance of food with minimal work traveling to and from flowers.
• Plan for a continuous bloom. The benefit is enjoying attractive flowers all year.
• Eliminate pesticides and fungicides. If that isn’t possible, minimize spraying pesticides. Apply early in the day or late in the evening when pollinators aren’t feeding.
The more nectar and pollen sources abundant flowers provide, especially during the crucial winter months, the more they will help improve pollinators’ health and numbers.