Annuals and perennials are usually the first things to spring to mind when thinking about planting for pollinators… bright flowers in summer aflush with bees. But whilst these sorts of flowers are most certainly adored by pollinators, trees and shrubs actually provide 60% of nectar sugar for pollinators in our gardens. So, when choosing trees or shrubs, it really is worth considering whether they will benefit pollinators too. Trees and shrubs will also encourage birds to your garden – they provide shelter for nesting and perching as well as food from their fruits and the insects that will visit them too. 

Here’s a list of some of our favourites… 

Our favourite small trees for pollinators  

Malus sylvestris – Crab apple

Crab apple blossom

A native small, rounded tree with beautiful large white blossoms with tinges of pink in the Spring and yellowy green or sometimes red tinted fruits in the autumn. Pollinators love the flowers and birds and small mammals the fruits. There are numerous different varieties which vary in size. Malus Evereste is one of our favourites. Be sure to pick a variety with single flowers, not double, so the pollinators can enjoy the nectar.  

Hawthorn

Hawthorn blossom

A stalwart of the British hedgerow but equally popular as a standard tree, Hawthorns are loved for their berries by birds and for their nectar rich blossoms by insects. There are two native to the UK, Crataegus monogyna and Crataegus laevigata, both of which work well as trees in small urban gardens. They like full sun to part shade and require little to no pruning, unless you are growing them as a hedge. Look out for Crataegus monogyna compacta, a dwarf variety which is also said to be thornless. 

Amelanchier

Amelanchier blossom

Amelanchiers are beautiful trees or shrubs with delicate white flowers in Spring and incredible Autumn colour. They are an excellent and increasingly popular choice for small gardens for exactly this reason. On top of this, their blossoms are great for bees and the berries will attract birds, especially robins and blackbirds.  

There are several varieties to choose from but all have stunning blossoms and autumn colour. Amelanchier Canadensis Rainbow Pillar is a great choice if you are limited on space, it grows to approximately 4m high and 2.5 wide in 20 years so has a narrow shape but all the benefits. As ever, check each variety’s specific needs but generally Amelanchiers do best in full sun but are happy in part shade. You will certainly get the best Autumn colour by planting in a sunny spot.  

Sorbus aucuparia 

Sorbus

Attractive to bees, butterflies, other beneficial insects and birds, Sorbus aucuparia – otherwise known as Mountain Ash or Rowan – is a great choice as a wildlife friendly tree. With blossoms in spring and berries in the autumn it provides much food for wildlife as well as seasonal interest for us. It has an upright habit and likes full sun to partial shade, and gives lovely leaf colour in Autumn. There are many varieties with different colour blossom and berries, just be sure to check the expected eventual size. 

Our favourite shrubs for pollinators 

Shrubs can sometimes be a little undervalued but often provide the structure in a planting bed, evergreen colour, pretty blossom and a beautiful foil against which perennials and annuals can be set. We love the following not only for their appearance but for the fact that they are pollinator magnets too!

Mahonia 

Mahonia provide a pop of yellow at a time when colour in the garden can be lacking, and they have the most beautiful scent. Flowering time varies from variety to variety but is generally sometime between November and March. Adored by bees, these early sources of nectar come in many varieties from low ground cover plants to large focal shrubs for architectural interest in a border. They are evergreen and have a deep green leaf with serrated edges and produce a blue/black berry in the autumn. One of our favourite smaller varieties is Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ which has slender leaves and is happily grown in a container too. Plant it in part shade and it will reward you with it’s pretty foliage and sweet scented blooms. 

Sarcococca hookeriana and confusa 

Commonly known as sweetbox, Sarcococca is an evergreen shrub which produces tiny but highly fragranced white flowers in winter, followed by glossy black berries. Requiring full or partial shade, Sarcococca offers a great choice for sometimes trickier sites and when planted along a pathway or near an entrance, the scent can be enjoyed even when we are spending less time outside in winter. What’s more, honeybees especially enjoy the nectar in the winter when there is little else to forage from.  

Heptacodium 

A multi stemmed deciduous shrub, Heptacodium miconioides is a fantastic specimen plant for full sun or partial shade. It can reach up to 6m tall and has creamy-white flowers in the late Summer that are fragranced and followed by pinkish-red calyxes. The leaves are rather exotic looking and the bark is decorative too and peels off in yellowish flakes. If you raise its canopy, Heptacodium can be made to look like a small tree too making it rather versatile in a planting bed.  

Ceanothus 

Ceanothus are also known as Californian lilac and most commonly are evergreen with a profusion of blue flowers in April and May. They prefer a sunny sheltered site and their flowers are loved by bees and butterflies. After flowering, many varieties produce berries which are loved by birds. There are many varieties to choose from and many can be both free-standing shrubs or wall-trained. You can also look out for evergreen white and deciduous pale pink varieties.  

Shrubby roses

Rose Kew Gardens

An English Garden classic, roses are not only beautiful but can be a great source of nectar for pollinators if you choose the right varieties. You need to choose an open flower where the insects can access the nectar. Some of our favourites include Kew Gardens, Tottering-By-Gently and Scepter’d Isle and many of the Rosa Rugosa varieties. Roses that produce hips are also beneficial for wildlife with lots of birds including thrushes and blackbirds feeding on them over winter. Two of our favourites for hips are Tottering-By-Gently and most of the Rugosa varieties. If you spot aphids on your roses don’t worry too much! Whilst you don’t want them to overrun the plant, they are an important food source for birds and insects and will encourage them to your garden. If the birds are not getting them simple remove the aphids by hand.

Cotoneaster 

This is another shrub where there are many varieties to choose from, coming in various sizes and growth habits, from ground cover, to large shrubs and small trees. Some are evergreen whilst others are deciduous. Most commonly the plants have white blossoms and red berries. We love Cotoneaster frigidus ‘Cornubia’ which has evergreen elongated leaves, pretty blossom loved by bees and gorgeous red berries in the winter. It is quite fast growing but responds well to pruning and can form a beautiful multistem or single stem shrub/small tree depending on how you train it. 

Euonymus europaeus 

Euonymus europaeus is a deciduous shrub that has yellow flowers in Spring and green leaves that turn yellow or red in autumn. What really sets this shrub aside though are its fruits… striking pink lobed fruits crack open to reveal orange seeds in autumn. They are just beautiful! Happiest in full sun or partial shade, Euonymus europaeus is best planted where it can be viewed from the house in autumn to really enjoy the autumn leaves and fruits. Birds love its seeds. 

Rosemary

Trailing rosemary

Rosemary is a versatile evergreen herb. It grows well in pots and provides a lovely scent when the sun shines on it. As well as using it in cooking, the small delicate lilac flowers are a good source of food for bees. It works well as an evergreen shrub in mixed borders, as well as in a herb garden. It requires full sun but little else to thrive, doing well on poor, dry soil. If you have heavy soil you can plant it in raised beds or pots as long as they have good drainage. There are various varieties to choose from ranging in sizes and habits, as well as the trailing/creeping variety Rosemarinus Prostratus which looks beautiful trailing over plant pot edges, a wall or as ground cover in Mediterranean or gravel gardens.  

The wild card! 

Hydrangea

Lastly, we’re including some hydrangeas. This listing comes with a big caveat… not all hydrangeas are equal when it comes to benefitting pollinators. Hydrangeas are never going to be the very best plants for pollinators, but they are really beautiful and so if you are after a hydrangea, it is certainly worth considering whether you could choose one that pollinators will like too. Varieties such as Hydrangea paniculata “Confetti” which has green buds which open to white and mature to a pinker tone, and “Big Ben” whose flowers start out white, fade into green and then deep pink are good choices. Please note not all Hydrangea paniculata are visited by bees.  

We hope this list has provided some inspiration for trees or shrubs to add to your garden. We always consider wildlife when designing new gardens and planting plans. If you would like to see what we can do for you, please get in touch