The days are lengthening and queen bumblebees are stirring from hibernation. Here in Warwickshire, we have seen winter-active Buff-tailed Bumblebees for much of the winter, but the first emerging queen bumblebee we observed was a Tree Bumblebee about 4 weeks ago. This was followed by Early Bumblebees, Garden Bumblebees and most recently, a Common Carder Bee. Spring is an important time, as queens emerge hungry from hibernation and need to replenish their fat stores ahead of establishing new colonies, so we are keen to find out which blooms they are foraging. We are interested in all the records you send, but here are a few suggestions of likely flowers to find bumblebees on around now…
Flowering well here in the Midlands are various Lungworts (Pulmonaria) as well as Iberian comfrey (Symphytum ibericum). Both are excellent, low-growing bumblebee plants that are also visited by bumblebee lookalike, the Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes). Single petalled varieties of wallflower (Erysimum) are also foraged by bumblebees and some solitary bees, along with grape hyacinth (Muscari) and soon bluebells (Hyacinthoides non–scripta) will be out too.
There are also shrubs in flower, including flowering currants (Ribes) and Japanese quince (Chaenomeles), and if you have willow (Salix), the fluffy catkins are an important source of both nectar and pollen for queen bumblebees – though unless they are weeping or low-growing types, the flowers may be too high up to see the bees. Heath (Erica) is a smaller sub-shrub grown in many gardens and is similar to heather (Calluna) but rather than peaking in late summer, is in full bloom now. Rosemary (Rosmarinus), a favourite shrubby herb is also adorned with pale blue flowers in spring.
Don’t forget to look out for bumblebees on edible plants too: broad beans, blackcurrants and fruit blossoms such as plum and apple are all popular. If there are dandelions (Taraxacum) in your lawn, let them live; scores of insects rely on this bountiful pollen and nectar source which is particularly popular with the Early Bumblebee. In wilder parts of the garden, red and white dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum and L. album) are great at this time of year; white dead-nettle is a favourite of longer tongued bumblebees such as the Ruderal Bumblebee, one of the more scarce species recorded by Blooms for Bees app users last year. Wild plants like these are great at bolstering the amount of available forage until popular garden plants such as hardy geraniums start to flower in earnest, from around late May.
If you’re hoping to plant more flowers for bees this year, take a look at how we made the Blooms for Bees border in our short video and accompanying blog post. You can also find out more about flowers through the seasons on our gardening pages. As we collect more evidence of bumblebee foraging, we hope to refine these observations and gardening recommendations, so please keep using our app to send in your sightings. The app is free to download from the App Store and Google Play, and includes an ID guide to all 25 UK bumblebee species.