And the nectar flow! The Maryland nectar flow relies upon tulip poplar, black locust and blackberry, all beginning to bloom as my scaled hive proves with steady increases of five to seven pounds each day last week. As we revel in warm weather, watching our busy girls returning to the hives with full bellies of nectar and fat pollen pants, it’s time to think about…the fall. While there’s an abundance of blooms outside this month, have you considered what your bees will eat after you harvest honey and the supplemental plants are spent? We can take a lesson from the bees and plan now for what’s to come.
As the planting bug takes you around your property and you seek to fill gaps (or grab a spade and dig up a new spot altogether), consider adding some plants that will serve pollinators well in late summer. Some of my favorites are New England aster, goldenrod, and Joe Pye weed, native plants that provide a lot of bang for the pollinating buck. They are rich, late food sources that thrive in our climate, especially as summer lingers and the heat and humidity wage war on other plants. They also spread so an initial investment can yield a robust pollinator bed in years to come.
New England asters grow quite tall, often requiring staking or placement in the back of the planting bed. While other plants headline the show early on, these plants will spend the summer leafing out and gradually growing taller. You’ll appreciate them on a September day when you visit them in time to watch the pollinators relishing their fall blooms. Combined with fireworks goldenrod, a more appealing Solidago than the roadside goldenrod but one that also grows tall with gentle draping limbs, you will have a nice purple and yellow combination that attracts honey bees as well as their kin in pollination.
You’ll need to really get up close to see the bees at work on Joe Pye Weed because they often blend in so well with the mounds of pale blooms, allowing colorful butterflies feasting at this site to steal the show. Rest assured that honey bees appreciate Joe Pye Weed, especially when the mountain mint they coveted finishes blooming and they can move on to this treat.
Many fall bloomers can be sown from seed directly now that the risk of frost is passing us. Choose a good seed supplier and follow package instructions to be rewarded with a fall bonanza for pollinators.
Sunflowers are pollen powerhouses for bees. Last summer, I witnessed a honey bee hauling a bumble bee almost twice her size off a coveted sunflower in my backyard! Next time you look at the dark disc of a sunflower head, note the thousands of tiny, individual blossoms that make up what will later be a disc of sunflower seeds for you or your birds to enjoy. Each one of those tiny blossoms requires pollinator attention and the bees find themselves coated in pollen upon completion. As a crop, sunflowers rely on bees for pollination so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship, one that in turn serves much wildlife. Having sunflowers available in late summer is a way to offer fresh pollen for those all-important fall bees and an ample food source. Sow periodically to ensure a steady stream.
Mexican sunflower is a fan favorite here. These grow quite tall and each stem boasts large, orange blossoms with a yellow bullseye for pollinators. I like to combine these with zinnias and cosmos that tend to carry on well into September. Newly emerged monarchs are also searching for nectar in late summer before journeying south. Most milkweeds are spent by then, having played their role in rearing the young, so the butterflies flock to nectar rich plants too, making these seeded plants worth your while as they serve all pollinators well. Cosmos readily reseed as the summer goes on, providing new blooms late into September. Keep in mind that you can easily save seeds from these plants for next year.
I grow a fair amount of salvia, both purple and white varieties. These plants are covered with bees mid-summer. The trick with salvia is to cut it back and let it regrow for a second pop later that will continue to feed your bees.
Sedums are easy to grow in part because they handle dry conditions well. Autumn Joy sedum is another fan favorite here, blooming alongside my garlic chives in September. While sedums are tame, garlic chives will spread like mad so consider your location. The girls like sedums so much (or maybe, they are just in such need of fall food sources), that they line up before the blooms are actually open for business! When the rush of hot pink finally presents, all pollinators are welcome to the table and it’s a joy to watch them work together so amiably.
A little planning now can set you up for a feast for your eyes and a smorgasbord for your bees come fall. While you’re at it, consider designating a patch of your yard specifically for pollinators. Pollinator patches don’t require much attention as they are less structured than our formal flower beds but boy, do they ever offer rich food sources for pollinators! They are feast for our eyes and a joy to watch. In fact, I frequently see motorists stop by my patch to get a closer look. Happy planting, friends!
“Foraging bees are conservative, visiting the nearest, most profitable of several plant sources.” – Dewey Caron