Gardening (for the bees) in the Inter Mountain West


*Dry, alkaline soil, sometimes little topsoil (area around Glacier Park is more like the Pacific NW, with more acidic soil)


*Wide range of temperature shifts especially in Winter months


*Semi-arid (average moisture 12” per year but not even that much lately)


*Zones? The USDA Hardiness Zones are based on lowest Winter temperature. That is not the only factor that matters to the plants. As a general rule of thumb, I suggest selecting either native species or choosing plants rated to one zone more extreme.


Planning for the bees includes having several varieties producing in each part of the growing year, 3 is a good target.


“Planting” might mean broadcasting native species seed any time between October and March, or sowing into garden areas, raised beds or planters and pots.


My first recommendation: look for species native to your area and species that originate in similar climates. E.G. “Russian Sage” is not a native and is not related to the Artemesias (the true sage,) but it thrives here and the bees love it.

Choose for hardiness and color. Bees like blues and yellows and need both pollen and nectar.


Early season: dandilions,


Mid season: dandilion


Late season; dandilion, sunflowers




Herbs: This is a golden category! Herbs generally thrive in dry situations and poor soils. Most of our culinary herbs originate in the Mediterranean, origin of the honeybee. Members of the mint family are very attractive to the bees. Herbs can also be potted, outdoors in the warm months and indoors in the cold weather. If allowed to bloom outdoors they will be covered with all sorts of bees for months. Cut back the plants when you bring pots in and you’ll have fresh herbs for the kitchen.


Trees and shrubs: anything that fruits, Sumac, members of the Russian Olive family, Cotoneaster,


Sources: The good catalogues have a lot of information, the photos are great, they’ll get you through January. These three online sources have good customer service, reliable seed, loads of info.

Pinetree Garden Seeds

Prairie Moon Nursery

Baker Creek Rare Seeds

For trees and shrubs


Local “high end” greenhouses and nurseries – better chance of minimal or no spraying, can answer questions about suitable varieties for your area..



Helpful hints:
Stop using herbicides and pesticides, packaged potting soil that is not organic, consider water sources. Everything we do for the honeybee benefits all sorts of other pollinators. This matters.

Consider losing your lawn!

“Many favorite flowers for honey bees, like sweetclover, thistle, alfalfa and dandelion, are Eurasian plants too weedy for flower beds.” This attitude loves the “golf course” model of the suburban lawn. Clover, alfalfa and dandilion are wonderful plants that benefit the ground as well as providing food for the pollinators Thistle is not my favorite thing but has its place on our acreage.


When selecting varieties, opt for single blooms and varieties that are not hybridized.

All the following do well in the Inter Mountain West. Common names are used


Spring and Early Summer

Crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac

Pale Purple Coneflower, Common Yarrow Mountain Bluett, Borage


Penstemon, bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons,  Sunflowers Milkweed

Blue Giant Hyssop , Horsemint , Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan , herbs

Globe Thistle, Fireweed, Clover, Alfalfa, Lemon Balm, lavender, poppies
Cleome (bee plant)

Zinnias, sedum, asters,  and goldenrod, Rabbit Brush, herbs except for those that are frost tender (e.g. basil)