Bees in December

Bees are not expected in this northwestern Virginia garden in mid December, but here they are. There have been scattered freezes and consistent frosts for a month, but daytime temperatures have been mild, and this week a few days have climbed into the sixties. After two cold winters, I have no complaint.
CamelliaIn addition to the unusual warmth, there must be something flowering to attract bees. They show slight interest in the variety of camellias (above) that are flowering, but dozens of bees drift between yellow blooms of the mahonias (Mahonia x media, below). ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Charity’ are just past their peak bloom, though I expect flowers to persist into early January. In this odd year when pollinators are out and about, the fading flowers should be followed by small dark purple fruits, which are quickly plucked by birds once they ripen in late winter.

Winter Sun mahonia

At this northern edge of the their cold hardiness, mahonias are best grown in full sun with a break in midday, if that can be managed. Though the late winter flowering leather leaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei) performs well in shade or sun, ‘Winter Sun’ declines slowly and flowers poorly in moderate shade. I presume that with prolonged heat further to the south more shade is welcomed, and bees and winter fruits are more likely.
Winter Sun mahonia

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