We are entering the middle of March and we are beginning to see our first flowers blooming here in Central Pennsylvania. One plant I have taken notice to in particular is Winter Aconite.
This is a flower that I have seen over the years and it would always lift my spirits seeing it blooming with snow still on the ground, but I never took particular interest in it until this year when I saw bees going nuts over it! The partially opened blooms seemed particularly attractive to bees with 3-4 of them foraging in a single flower at a time. I suspect that the freshly opened flowers contain more nectar than ones that have been open for a while.
Winter Aconite blooms for a short time from late February to mid-late March. This is a time period that can make or break colonies of bees that have made it through the winter to this point, so having flowers that bloom at this time to provide the nectar and pollen to boost their population can be critical to getting them through this final stretch of cold weather. If you want to add some color to your property when there is none and help out local honey bees plant Winter Aconite!
Winter Aconite is not particularly difficult to grow, but it can take some time to get a large stand of it. You can either plant from tiny bulbs or seeds, both in the fall (the seeds need a period of cold stratification to sprout). In its native range Winter Aconite grows on the forest floor, so plant in partial shade in a well mulched bed for best results. Once you have a few plants established Winter Aconite will slowly spread by seed.
Other bee friendly plants that bloom at or around this time are Crocuses, Willows, and Maples.