Bee populations are in trouble all over the world. You can do your part, though, by adding bee-friendly plants to your garden. Every year, gardeners wait in great anticipation to learn about new and improved varieties that are about to hit the market. You can find dozens of new varieties each year! We sifted through the new releases with the help of plant expert, Susan Martin, to recommend 12 great new plants to help save the bees.
The zones recommendations, which are offered for most of the plants below, refer to the USDA's plant hardiness map.
1. Monarch Promise Milkweed (Asclepias, annual)
Milkweed is the host plant of monarch butterflies, and since populations are on decline, this is a great time to add this plant to your yard. This cultivar has bright orange and red flowers along with beautiful green and white variegated foliage. A lot of milkweed plants are perennials, but this one is tropical and should be grown as an annual for most of the country.
2. Campfire Fireburst (Bidens hybrid, annual)
This is an annual that pretty much screams summer with its orange and yellow bicolor flowers. It will bloom and bloom all through summer and even into fall. It's also extremely heat-tolerant, so it's an excellent choice for containers and hanging baskets.
3. Pink Sparkler Spirea (Spiraea betulifolia, Zones 3-8)
If you're looking for a smaller shrub, this is a fantastic option. It's particularly cool because it blooms twice — once in early summer with large pink flowers and then again in the autumn. When it's done blooming, you'll get beautiful red foliage. It grows about 3-4 feet tall and wide, and it keeps a nice rounded shape.
4. Beyond Midnight Bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis, Zones 5-9)
Caryopteris has always been a popular shrub in gardens, and this new variety definitely doesn't disappoint. It grows 2-3 feet tall and wide, and it has beautiful blue flowers. Not only will it attract bees, but it will also bring in hummingbirds. Plus, it's known for being deer-resistant!
5. Mojave Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora, annual)
For years, moss rose has had a reputation among gardeners as being resilient and heat-tolerant — and that still holds true today. You can definitely count on moss rose as being a reliable summer plant. And now there are cool new colors on the market in shades of pink, red, fuchsia, yellow and tangerine. Best of all, you don't have to deadhead the blooms! If you don't have great soil or it's dry, look for the Mojave line of these plants.
6. Cha Cha Cherry Penstemon (Penstemon, Zones 7-9)
If you've never had penstemon in your garden, then now is a great time to add one. All penstemon are good for bees and butterflies, and this new cultivar is beautiful with deep red flowers that are vibrant from spring through late fall. If you live outside of zones 7-9, grow it as an annual.
7. Meteor Shower Verbena (Verbena bonariensis, Zones 7-11)
This verbena is a good example of what you can get with new, improved varieties. While some of the older verbenas are often invasive, this one is good to go because it doesn't seed that much. It's also heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. It will grow a couple of feet tall, and it's another good choice for containers. If you live outside the recommended zone, plant it as an annual.
8. Kudos Yellow Agastache (Agastache, Zones 5-10)
Agastache has been a popular plant for hummingbirds for years. Some even call it by its nickname of "Hummingbird Mint." The Kudos series is a line of agastache plants that have been developed to be resistant to downy mildew. You can find several different colors in the Kudos series, but the newest is this yellow one. It's also shorter that typical agastache, growing just a couple of feet tall.
9. Pardon My Cerise Bee Balm (Monarda didyma, Zones 4-8)
Every garden should have bee balm in it. It's fantastic for attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The Pardon My series is a new line of bee balm plants that are shorter and more compact. Also look for Pardon My Lavender, Pardon My Pink and Pardon My Purple — they are all newer varieties that will work well in gardens or containers.
10. Banana Popsicle Kniphofia (Kniphofia, Zones 6-9)
The common name for kniphofia is called red hot poker, but this newer cultivar is definitely not red. While some red hot poker plants have blooms that are short-lived, these will keep blooming as long as they have good heat and light. This will make the bees happy since they'll be a continuous source of pollen through summer.
11. Rainbow Marcella Purple Coneflower (Echinacea, Zones 4-9)
Purple coneflowers have evolved tremendously in the past five years! While they were once known as just being pink plants, you can now find them in practically every shade. Here's a new shade that's part of the popular Butterflies series. The color starts off as an orange sherbet, and then it fades to a soft pink color as the season goes on. Look for this compact coneflower (growing just a foot or two) at your garden center.
12. Denim 'n Lace Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia, Zones 4-9)
If you're looking for a "plant it and forget it" option, this is it. Russian sage is another option that gardeners have been using for years to attract butterflies and bees. This variety is particularly nice because it can really take heat and neglect. You seriously just plant it and let it grow! The purple blooms can really fill out a space because it'll get about 3 feet wide.