Fall Planting for Honey Bees

Fall planting can begin now, in August while it’s really hot and humid.  That’s because now is the time to take stock of what is feeding your honey bees during the nectar dearth.

dandelion with bee
Honey bee working dandelion bloom


This time of the year, the abundance of nectar rich spring and summer bloomers have past their prime.  If your bees are relying on the clover in your lawn, they may be struggling to find food sources during the nectar death.  That makes this a good time to consider adding mid to late summer plants that support honey bees while they await fall aster and goldenrod (pictured together in cover photo).

bee on clover.JPG
Fortunately my lawn still has lots of clover to feed hungry honey bees, along with lots of other valuable late season plants incorporated over the years into my landscape.

At my house in central Maryland, I see honey bees sipping nectar from coneflowers, sunflowers, salvia and cosmos but the biggest crowds clamor to my summersweet bushes, mountain mint, anise hyssop, butterfly weed, Joe Pye Weed and blooming herbs like thyme and oregano.  

Honey bee working a cone flower.
Can you see her?  She’s covered in sunflower pollen, slowly working a ring of the sunflower blooms alongside this bumblebee.  Each one of the tiny blossoms of a sunflower must be pollinated to make sunflower seeds.
This girl became territorial over the rich food offered by a sunflower in my garden and repeatedly went after this bumblebee.  I have a video of the interaction on my Instagram feed where she manages to actually haul the bigger bumblebee away from her food!
Salvia blooms are a honey bee favorite at my house.  They can be cut back after the blooms fade and a fresh crop of blooms will provide more food.
This girl is working a patch of white salvia.
Ah, summersweet, or Clethra alnifolia.  I grow the ‘Ruby Spice’ variety.  Bees flock to it and understandably so as it emits a sweet scent that fills the air, intoxicating to both pollinators and humans alike.
Long awaited Mountain Mint attracts a myriad of bees.  This spreads very slowly and does not take over like the herbal mints, but does need room to spread.  Do you see her proboscis?
Hyssop is a perennial favorite at my house.  I grow a 2 x 10 foot patch of anise hyssop that practically sways with pollinator business.  I’ve now added it in other areas because it gets so much traffic, blooms holding multiple pollinators at any given time including honey bees,  bumblebees, native bees and butterflies.
Butterfly weed, Asclepias tubersosa, not to be confused with increasingly invasive butterfly bush, is a winner at my home late summer as the blooms feeds more than honey bees.  This more compact milkweed fits in well with my native landscape plantings and hosts monarch butterflies.
This monarch caterpillar is feeding on the leaves of butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, the blooms having previously nourished both bees and butterflies seeking its nectar.
And the result, monarch butterflies!  It’s fun to watch those caterpillars fatten up, leave and form a chrysalis (the game of which is finding it), then seeing newly emerged monarch butterflies getting their bearings in your garden.  Here a monarch finds sustenance from native Stokes Aster.
I plant lots of herbs and allow much of them to go to bloom to feed the bees.  Here, one of my girls is feasting on the blooms of oregano.  The patch grows from year to year and buzzes with life anytime I walk by it.

These are all easy plants to grow that can be worked into your landscapes should you need something else to support bees in at your house.  I listed just a few of many choices.  See Native Plants for Summer and Fall Honey Bee Forage (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_PLANTMATERIALS/publications/mdpmcbr12090.pdf) for more choices.

Two books I like specific to honey bee plantings are “the Bee-Friendly Garden” by Kate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn and the newly released “100 Plants to Feed the Bees” by the Xerces Society.   Both books are good resources to help you choose some plants to add to your landscape to support bees whether you have them or not.

I swoon from the cover shot of this book!  It is full of good information about how to go about creating a bee friendly landscape along with regional lists for your area.
Thank you to the Xerces Society for putting together such a great resource of plants that “feed the bees”, breaking them down by native and introduced varieties, including trees and shrubs, important bee forage food sources.
The descriptions of each plant are succinct, providing a good beginning as you search for appropriate plants for your spaces.  I like that each description specifies whether a plant attracts honey bees, native bees, hummingbirds, butterflies or moths to help you get the most bang for your buck!

Fall is a great time to plant as the watering demands are less intense, making it easier for new plants to get established from the shock of transplanting.  Choosing native plants like some of the ones I listed above is not only easy on you as a gardener because the plants are adapted to our local weather, soil and pests, but they likely support lots of wildlife beyond honey bees which is incredibly rewarding. 

This girl is filling her pollen pouches with pollen from the blooms of two of my sweet smelling crepe myrtles flanking a backyard staircase.  

Taking stock in where your bees are finding sustenance now, noting any gaps in blooming plants will help you determine what type of plant(s) you may like to add to your landscape.  Take a closer look at some options and determine if you have the right space and growing conditions for plants blooming during that gap, then when the planting bug bites you in spring or even this fall, you’ll know what you want to look for before stepping into the nursery or a plant sale where you can easily be sidetracked by the overwhelming array of choices.


Garlic chives are a late season favorite here.  I don’t worry about the taste of honey being tainted because this becomes part of their winter storage that they will consume.


While the heat and humidity of August keep us languid while outside, I encourage you to take a slow, observant stroll around your yard, watching your honey bees and determining where they’re finding sustenance.  Providing forage sources is not just a great way to support our bees, but a delight to watch when they actually utilize your offerings.   Happy planting!

“…to everyone who tears up their front yard to plant big chaotic wildflower gardens, to farmers who think hedgerows and wildflower field borders are just as important as crops, to urban planners and landscapers who turn gray and lifeless concrete landscapes into                                                               corridors of biodiversity…”                                                                     – the dedication of “100 Plants to Feed the Bees”, the Xerces Society


Mountain Mint alive with buzzing activity!




4 thoughts on “Fall Planting for Honey Bees

      1. Oregano is popular right now, ivy and golden rod is really useful for an autumn boost. I always leave on the late honey rather than having to top up with sugar water later. Seems fair!


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