A Good Time For Planning: Flowers For Pollinators I
Snow came down two days ago accumulating just three inches. Today the garden is still covered with snow and the temperature dropped down to just above 10°F. It’s a perfect winter day for bird watching through the patio door. Since the ground is covered with snow and the sources of water around here have turned to ice, they congregate around our feeders and heated birdbaths. It’s also a good day to start planning for the next growing season.
The plant catalogs have been piling up. I have picked out a couple of new vegetables I want to try and am now looking for flowers that bees and butterflies will like. A new Cosmos ‘Cupcake’ looks very tempting. I have already put 200 crocus in this autumn. If they haven’t all been dug up by the squirrels and chipmunks they should blossom when spring arrives. Any new plants I choose I make sure will benefit all pollinators, not just honeybees. If I have to pick and choose however, flowers for the bees will come first.
Here are some plants that work for our pollinator garden and I start with flowers:
These are just some of the flowers I managed to photograph with honeybees on them. There are many more flowers that they like- crocus, snowdrop, Black-eyed Susan. Next post will be on herbs and vegetables that I allow to flower, both as a pollinators food source and as the next season’s seeds.
Summer flowers in our garden are easy to grow and most of them are drought tolerant. Having a full time job I have to be practical about what I plant in the garden. I water the vegetable garden regularly since most of the vegetables don’t do well without constant care. The opposite goes for the rest of the garden. Most of them are doing fine being left alone. I weed, prune and feed them when I have time.
So, summer flowers for bees are the ones that will bloom even when neglected. Here’s some of what I grow..
Black-eyed susan ‘Gold Sturm’ (Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii ‘Gold sturm’) helps brighten up the garden even when everything else wilts. Bees and butterflies love them. The seed buds become finch food. It is also much more compact and mildew resistant than other varieties.
Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) lives up to its name; it draws butterflies in like moths to a light. It has a lovely sweet fragrance. The down side is that it’s very invasive if you let the flowers set seeds.
I should have classified Echinacea under herbs since it has herbal properties. This one is a native that will grow wherever the seeds drop. The birds also like the seeds.
Well, a lot of people see this Goldenrod (Solidago) as a weed but I found the bright yellow flowers really beautiful. It can take care of itself even along side the road where nothing else would grow.
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is another flower that lives up to its name. The fragrance is sweet to the point of intoxication when enough of them bloom at the same time. The white one above is called ‘Vanilla spice’ the pink one below is ‘ Ruby spice’.
I grouped a variety of zinnia together this year and they came out really nice. I also planted them where they can get full sun all day long. That helps the flowers to stay longer and suffer far less mildew on the leaves.
Autumn will be here in a week; September 22nd is the first day to be exact. I don’t really go by the date when I think of autumn. I depend on the temperature and plants in the garden to tell me that fall is coming. The same goes for spring when I’m prompted to start sowing seeds by the sprouting of weeds.
I know I have a few flowers that bloom until the first frost, but haven’t been concerned until this year when I acquired honey bees. I want to make sure that they have enough natural food to last the winter. The temperature has been down below 50F in the last couple of nights, but has gone up between 70F and 80F during the day. The honey bees won’t come out foraging until the temperature is above 50F, but the resident Bumblebees have been very busy from early morning until last light. There doesn’t seem to be any competition between them. They seem to co-exist pretty well, unlike the wasps.
There are still plenty of flowers in the garden, Garden phlox, Coreopsis as well as herbs and vegetables flowers. I let the Goldenrod (Solidago) grow and set seeds. I know it is a weed but what constitutes a ‘weed’ anyway. On the other side of the globe, Goldenrod is a cut flower and being sold in the market. Farmers Markets in NYC also sell them. I guess the phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” still rings true. I like them for the bright yellow flowers when there is not much else blooming, and for how much the insects and birds love them. Our resident honey bees can also forage on them from mid-summer to fall.
Clematis ‘Sweet Autumn’ (Clematis turniflora) really has a perfect name. As soon as the temperature cools down, it starts to blossom. It is a sign of autumn approaching. They create a cluster of small white flowers so dense that they look like snow from afar and they are lightly but beautifully fragrant. A plus side? Bees love them. A minus side? It can grow to 30 feet in one season. I cut everything down to a couple of feet off the main branch in spring; it grows right back on to our roof by the end of summer.
Another autumn flower is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. It’s great for full sun and dry areas, and it’s hard to kill. As soon as the flower blossoms, the whole mop head will fill with all types of insects. I’ve never really liked it much, but it came with the house so I keep it. I keep dividing them and replanting them in an area that doesn’t need much care. I may look for a different variety next year since I want to provide a variety of food for my resident bees in fall.
Abelia (Abelia grandiflora) is another staple for mid-summer to frost blooming. This compact shrub with dark green leaves provides little white cluster flowers with a light fragrance. I don’t have to do much aside from cutting some old stems off at the base in spring so it doesn’t get too crowded. Mulching with compost once a year keeps it in good health.
I can’t leave this last one out, Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). This lovely shrub can be very invasive if I let the flowers set seeds. But it makes up for the down side by providing a lot of beautiful and fragrant flowers. They are still blooming in our garden in September, though less than a month or so ago, but still providing scent for the garden and food for the insects.
I know bees fly for many miles to collect nectar and pollen, but since they’ve entered our lives now, I’m hoping that I provide enough flowering plants for them to be happy closer to home. I wouldn’t insist they just forage in our garden but at least I can encourage them to do so by providing them with flowers they like. I’m not sure the bees are that particular, but I am providing them with wholly organic flowers to work.
Fragrant flowers make up most of our garden. The runners-up are wild and native flowers. Since I started to keep bees, I have been searching for plants that will provide nectar and pollen for them. Surprisingly, a lot of plants and flowers we have in our garden already are suitable for bees. I should have known since we have a lot of Bumblebees, Carpenter bees, Sweat bees and other insects that thrive on nectar.
One of the blogs I’ve been following has posted Favorite English Garden Bee Plants – Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) and provided a list of plants for bees from The Royal Horticultural Society which I find very helpful. I can’t place all plants on their list from across the pond in our garden but I’m going to do my best to add more. Another blogger and beekeeper on the other side of the Atlantic has also posted What’s flowering now: mid August 2012 regarding flowers for bees in late summer. In response to the last line on her blog, here’s what’s still blooming in the garden on this side of the Atlantic, despite the heat, thunder storms and hail. Our bees still have plenty to put in storage for the winter.