Don’t forget about your garden when you’re getting ready for fall. Whether you’re planting your first pollinator garden or updating an existing one for autumn, you’ll need to make sure your garden can provide for your local pollinators all season long.
Pollinator gardens rely on a few simple principles:
1. Native plants are the best food for native pollinators.
While beautiful, many hybrid flowers produce inadequate or inaccessible pollen and nectar. This is because these varieties were bred for their appearance, often to the detriment of other traits. On the other hand, native bees are adapted to forage the plants that naturally grow in their habitat. Since honey bees are generalists, they’ll happily forage a wide variety of flowers.
2. A succession of blooms provides year-round forage.
Bees need to forage, or find food, throughout the spring, summer, and fall. An effective pollinator garden incorporates plants that flower in different seasons so something is blooming in every season except winter.
3. A wide diversity of plants attracts the greatest diversity of pollinators.
Plants with different flower shapes, sizes, and colors appeal to different species of native bees, as well as butterflies, hummingbirds, bats, and other pollinators. Since not all pollinators feed on all types of plants, protecting biodiversity means being intentional about plant selection.
4. Bees require shelter and water as well as food.
Most native bees are solitary or live in small colonies and require little in way of habitat. For most native bees, a bare patch of earth is the perfect ground-nesting site. Other bees nest in cavities in trees and hollow plant stems. For water, a small trickle from a garden hose or a rock-filled water dish is sufficient.
5. Pesticides are bad for bees.
While some pesticides kill bees outright, others accumulate in their system and affect their ability to forage and reproduce. Even organic pesticides are harmful to bees, so these interventions should be used minimally and only as a last resort.
Now that you know the pollinator garden basics, what can you do to update your landscape for fall?
During the late summer and fall, bees are working hard to collect enough nectar to overwinter. That means autumn is an especially important time to cultivate abundant blooms in the pollinator garden. However, fewer plants are equipped to survive the short days and chilly weather than the heat and sun of summer. Gardeners must be careful to select plants that thrive in brisk fall weather.
When you need plants you can count on for flowers in the fall, these fall-bloomers are a good bet:
? Purple aster: This fall-blooming flower’s shock of color is delivered in an unassuming daisy-like shape. It’s a favorite of butterflies as well as bees.
? Hydrangea: Most hydrangeas bloom spring through early summer, but new reblooming hydrangeas can flower through the late summer and hang on into early fall, making this a standout plant for any garden.
? Maximilian sunflower: Summer’s end doesn’t mean sunflower season is over. This perennial sunflower grows 5 to 8 feet tall and produces 3-inch blooms in the fall.
Four Season Plants
Even if they don’t flower in fall, adding plants that look attractive year-round is a great way to keep the garden looking lush in the fall without adding work.
? Pagoda dogwood: After flowering in the spring, the berries on this petite tree attract birds during late summer before the leaves turn a striking red in fall.
? Ninebark: This summer-blooming shrub retains its rich foliage well into the fall, and while it comes in several colors, it’s the rich purple leaves that steal the show in the fall garden.
? Staghorn sumac: Native to North American woodland and swamp margins, this shrub or small tree boasts fiery foliage and berry-like fruit that attracts wildlife throughout the fall and early winter.
Pollinator gardens are a great way to help the bees, but they need fall flowers and foliage to serve pollinators year-round. Start with these great plants and research others native to your region so you can get started on your fall garden.
About the author
Christy Erickson is an amateur beekeeper and backyard gardener on a mission to educate people about the importance of bees. With the news of the shrinking bee populations, it’s important to remember that bees play an essential role in ensuring we all have fresh fruits and veggies to eat. For more information on what can be done, visit Saving Our Bees.