Fall brings new beginnings for many of us. It’s the best time to plant trees and shrubs, as well as the perennials you picked up during the summer months. But did you also know fall is a time of nectar flow?
During the fall, our local and migratory pollinators ready themselves to hibernate or migrate. During this time, fall blooming flowers are most important. Fall isn’t the time to pack up gardening for the year; many view the autumn season as the place to begin. And this is certainly true for the pollinators.
Nectar flow is when one or more major nectar sources are blooming. The term typically is a reference for beekeepers for their hives, but the flow also benefits other pollinators as they tank up to spend winter in hives and nests or begin their lengthy trip south.
Prior to winter, pollinators collect large amounts of nectar for winter food. Consider native plants first when creating a pollinator habitat. Non-natives do provide complimentary benefits, but the native plants host many more benefits since they co-evolved with bees, butterflies, and other wildlife.
Got Goldenrod? – After all these years, people still want to blame goldenrod (Solidago spp.) for their fall-season allergies. But in truth, goldenrod isn’t to blame; it’s ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) blooming at the same time. Goldenrods are considered one of the most important late-season pollinator plants. The average sugar concentration in the nectar of some goldenrod species is 33 percent. Solidago canadensis, native to much of the country, is favored by honey bees, native bees, butterflies, moths, solitary wasps, fireflies, and soldier beetles. Plus, goldenrod is tolerant of deer, drought, and clay soil.
Ironweed (Vernonia spp.) – Attracting numerous types of butterflies and bees, ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) is a short-lived perennial, but worth replanting. This tall, upright plant is usually found in moist areas, but I have mine growing in a bed with no supplemental watering. And ironweed is tolerant of deer, clay soil, and wet soil
Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) – Mountain mint is a bee magnet. This native is happiest on the woodland’s edge. I have mine growing on the west side of the house, getting some afternoon shade from the pine trees across the street. Mountain mint is one of the best nectar sources for native butterflies such as the hairstreak, and is also beneficial to an amazing parade of honey and native bees, solitary wasps, flies, and soldier beetles. Although not deer proof, it is tolerant of drought.
Lantana camara ‘Miss Huff’ – I grow ‘Miss Huff’ in the Bee Better Teaching garden and at the NC State Fair Demonstration garden. There are others on the market, such as ‘Sonset’ and ‘Chapel Hill Yellow’, that can be reliably hardy like ‘Miss Huff’, but ‘Miss Huff’ dons my favorite colors. The butterflies visit in droves, plus lantana is deer and drought tolerant.
Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’ – These perennial mums are very happy in Triangle gardens—happy being code for spreading like hot butter on warm toast. It’s best to cut them back by half by the fourth of July to keep the size manageable, but they are easy to pull up in unwanted places. Visited by a few of the smaller butterflies and native bees, these mums are also tolerant of rabbit and deer.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) – Most will agree, when in bloom, spiderwort is a worthy garden plant, particularly in the spring. During the summer, it can flop and generally look bad, with no blooms. Come fall, though, she perks right up and blooms again. While spiderwort is without nectar, the pollen content is significant for a number of bees and pollen-feeding flies such as syrphids. Plus, spiderwort is tolerant of clay soil and the soil under a black walnut tree.
So this fall, begin again if you haven’t already, and plant fall pollinating plants to give our birds, bees, and butterflies a helping hand as they head into winter.
Helen Yoest is the executive director of Bee Better, an area non-profit 501(C)(3) designing and educating area homeowners about building better backyards for birds, bees, and butterflies.