Bees are attracted to winter aconites and snowdrops

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this column was illustrated with a photo that was not a snowdrop flower.

Spring is just around the corner now, and observant gardeners have noticed that the odd bee appears on mild days. These early foragers may be jumping the gun just a tad, but if they come out they need something to feed on. There are several things that we gardeners can plant to help them out.

First and foremost, be thinking ahead in the autumn. Plant the earliest bloomers, such as winter aconites and snowdrops. There are also some very early flowering crocus that may come out sooner if they’re in a southern exposure or if temperatures are above average for several days in a row. Winter aconites in particular are very attractive to early foragers with their flat, open faces and ring of yellow anthers. Aconites also spread and colonize reasonably quickly, so every year your population will show an increase. Snowdrops are much slower to colonize, but over time you’ll see nice clumps develop.

Another advantage to planting these early minor bulbs is that if you have the money, time and stamina you can actually plant large drifts in your lawn to have a bigger display. The foliage on these bulbs will die down before lawn mowing season arrives, so your bulbs will be adequately fed for the next season. A lawn full of aconites or snowdrops is also a very cheerful sight when everything else is brown and dreary.

Most importantly, leave dandelions in your lawn. I know, I know — there are some out there who absolutely must have a pristine, green, weedless lawn. That’s a matter of taste, and I respect that choice. Up to a point. But here’s the thing — mild spells in January and February may not be enough to coax the aconites and snowdrops out of hiding, but there will nearly always be dandelions here and there. And they may be the only thing flowering for the foolhardy bees that come out. Leave the dandelions so that the poor kids have something to eat. You’ll be doing our pollinators a big favor, and goodness knows they need every bit of help we can give them.

Susan Krobusek trained as a master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension. She's been part of the Mansion Floral Design team at Sonnenberg Gardens for over 20 years and is a charter member of the Sonnenberg Garden Club. She graduated from FLCC in 2004 in ornamental horticulture, and was the school's 2013 Outstanding Horticulture Alumni Achievement Award honoree.