13 Flowers for Stem-Nesting Bees in the U.S. and Canada

You don’t have to install a bee house to provide habitat for stem-nesting bees. By planting the right flowers and following some simple pruning guidelines, you can help peaceful bees create their nests naturally.

About 30% of our native bees nest in cavities above ground. Carpenter bees dig their own tunnels in soft wood. Mason bees, leafcutter bees and some yellow-faced bees use existing tunnels, like hollow plant stems or old cavities abandoned by beetles or carpenter bees.

All these habitats are dwindling, which is where us backyard gardeners come in.

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How to Create Habitat for Stem-Nesting Bees

Embracing your yard’s wild side is key. Leaving dead stems for insects might seem strange to tidy gardeners, but it’s worth it to help the bees. Here’s how it works.

  1. Fall/Winter: Resist the urge to prune your plants (seed heads = bird food!).
  2. Early Spring: Cut the stems down to various lengths from 8 to 24 inches. This creates widths to fit different types of bees.
  3. Spring/Summer: Watch busy bees lay eggs in the cavities. Leave the stems intact for another year, so the babies can grow and hatch next spring/summer.
  4. Fall/Winter: Repeat with the next crop of stems.

See details and graphics of the process in this Xerces Society explainer.

Hollow stems of coneflowers ready for cavity-nesting bees to move in

If you want to minimize the appearance of dead sticks in your yard, try succession planting. In the spring, these hollow coneflower stems are hidden by daffodils. Then in the summer, new coneflower foliage grows around them.

Hollow vs. Pithy Stems: Hollow stems are move-in ready, since they already have cavities. Pithy stems, like raspberry and hydrangea canes, have soft wood that is easy for carpenter bees to excavate.

Plants for Stem-Nesting Bees

These plants have hollow or pithy stems that are well-suited for bees. It’s best to choose native flowers that provide food for your local bees, so they can easily stock their nests with quality pollen and nectar.


  • Genus: Symphyotrichum
  • Native Range: Throughout the U.S. and Canada

Bees love asters for their late-season buffet as well as their long stems for nesting. Asters can get up to six feet tall depending on the variety. They have a reputation for being spreaders, which can be a good thing! Put them in a tough corner of your yard and let them go wild.

Honestly though, who wouldn’t want these beauties taking over their garden?

Aster flowers that make great habitat for stem-nesting bees (Photo by Cédric Toelen)

(Photo Credit: Cédric Toelen)

Bee Balm

  • Genus: Monarda
  • Native Range: Central and eastern U.S. and parts of southern Canada

Also known as wild bergamot, bee balm is a summer bloomer with spiky flowers enjoyed by bees and gardeners alike. It grows up to four feet tall in sunny spots.

Look who else loves bee balm!

Hummingbird enjoying a bee balm flower (Photo by Melissa Burovac)

(Photo Credit: Melissa Burovac)

Blazing Star

  • Genus: Liatris
  • Native Range: Central and eastern U.S. and Canada

Blazing stars grow tall spikes covered in fluffy flowers offering pollen and nectar. They can get up to six feet tall but more commonly reach around two to four feet tall. That’s plenty of room for a bee to set up a nest.

Blazing star flowers have long stems for nesting bees (Photo by Ember Navarro)

(Photo Credit: Ember Navarro)


  • Genus: Echinacea and Rudbeckia
  • Native Range: Central and eastern U.S. and parts of southern Canada

Coneflowers come in a seemingly endless variety of colors to brighten up your garden. They thrive in sunshine, and their cone centers make a lovely landing pad for happy bees.

Bumble bee enjoying a coneflower


  • Genus: Solidago
  • Native Range: Throughout the U.S. and Canada

Goldenrods can grow over six feet tall in some cases, with hollow stems ready to house bees. Their autumnal blooms offer pollen and nectar for pollinators.

Bee on a goldenrod flower, which has stems that make good habitat for bees (Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton)

(Photo Credit: Jeffrey Hamilton)

Joe Pye Weed

  • Genus: Eutrochium
  • Native Range: Central and eastern U.S. and Canada

Joe Pye weed is due for a rebranding. This native plant grows up to eight feet tall with stunning pink puffs of blooms that you could hardly consider weeds. Instead, what if we called this “Joe Pye’s low-maintenance flower that is adored by nesting bees”?


  • Genus: Asclepias
  • Native Range: Throughout the U.S. and Canada

Milkweed is another non-weed that provides habitat for bees. Some types might die back in the winter, but supposedly swamp milkweed works well for stem-nesting bees.

As the only host plant that monarch butterflies can lay their eggs on, milkweed is vital for pollinator gardens. Just know that you might want to plant it in a container, because it’s especially aggressive.

Portland Monarchs free milkweed seed box created by Ida Galash

Read More: How to create habitat for monarch butterflies


  • Genus: Helianthus
  • Native Range: Throughout the U.S. and Canada

A crowd favorite, sunflowers are often covered in happy bees. While some giant sunflowers might be too big for little nesting bees, the smaller sunflower stems provide snug cavities.

Sunflower growing in my Portland garden

Shrubs for Stem-Nesting Bees

Some larger shrubs can also make wonderful bee hotels, with soft canes for bees to tunnel into. Prune the shrubs with clean cuts on their regular schedule. Then watch little tenants arrive in the spring and summer.


  • Genus: Rubus
  • Native Range: Throughout the U.S. and Canada (and everywhere else…like probably Mars?)

The pithy canes of raspberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries and other native brambles are ideal for stem-nesting bees. Brambles might not be ornamental, but salmonberry flowers are surprisingly flashy.


  • Genus: Sambucus
  • Native Range: Throughout the U.S. and Canada

Elderberries feed the bees, hummingbirds and other birds. Some varieties, like blue elderberry, can make tasty wine and jam for humans, too. As very large shrubs, elderberries offer lots of pithy stems for bees.


  • Genus: Hydrangea
  • Native Range: While a few hydrangeas are native to the eastern U.S., most are not native but grow well in zones 4 to 9.

You have to love hydrangeas in summer, with their deep green foliage and big pom poms in soothing hues.

Hydrangeas in bloom

Early spring hydrangeas, on the other hand, might not look appealing to most gardeners. But these soft, newly-pruned stems are a welcome sight to carpenter bees.

Pithy stems of hydrangeas for cavity-nesting bees


  • Genus: Rosa
  • Native Range: Throughout the U.S. and Canada

Rose canes make cozy homes for little yellow-faced bees, according to the Xerces Society. There are a variety of native roses to add woodland color and bee habitat to your yard, like this young baldhip rose (which I’m eager to see bloom someday!).

Shade-loving baldhip rose (Rosa gymnocarpa) with a few leaves left in fall

Related: Hardy PNW plants for dry shade


  • Genus: Rhus
  • Native Range: Throughout the U.S. and parts of southern and eastern Canada

I can vouch for the softness of sumac wood, which is a cinch to prune. It brings all the cool cats to the yard and has stunning fall colors. Carpenter bees are welcome to join the party.

Cat in a sumac tree with beautiful fall colors

More Bee Habitat Resources

For an even easier way to create bee habitat, you can leave soft logs and tree snags in the garden for carpenter bees to call home. Here are some more ideas for your pollinator garden.

After getting my first bee house a few years ago, I absolutely fell in love with bees. This is from someone who is terrified of bee stings! Our native solitary bees are peaceful and almost never sting, and seeing them thrive in the garden is very rewarding.

Best flowers for stem-nesting bees (coneflowers, sunflowers, asters and more)
Flowers that provide habitat for peaceful stem-nesting bees like mason bees (bee balm, blazing star, goldenrod and more)

2 thoughts on “13 Flowers for Stem-Nesting Bees in the U.S. and Canada”

  1. Very interesting read about bees…lots of info and things I didn’t know. We get quite a few in our yard (along with the hummingbirds year round) in the spring/summer with all our different plants and flowers we have in our backyard and some in our front yard. I’m sure “your” bees are very appreciative of all you do for them to provide housing and food for them!! Good job Tara!!

    • Thanks, Judy! I love helping out the bees and seeing their numbers increase each year. That’s so cool you get bees and hummingbirds. We didn’t used to see a lot of hummingbirds, but now that we’ve added more bee plants, more hummingbirds have arrived, too. They like a lot of the same yummy flowers. 🙂


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