Pollinator Plants for Summer and Fall


The phrase “In the springtime, everyone is a gardener,” has been attributed to writer Elizabeth Lawrence (1904-1985), and indeed, many of us don’t want to travel in the spring to see other gardens for fear of missing something in our own.

But what about gardening for the rest of the year? Spring is fleeting; yet, we seem to give up in the summer heat even though the flowers of summer and fall are very long-lasting.

One of the very best things about gardening in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina, area is our ability to garden year-round; and I’m not just talking about winter, another under-utilized season. We are missing out on fantastic summer- and fall-blooming perennials. And many of these are on sale in the summer!

Gardeners tend to buy plants that look showy, and especially when they’re in bloom. In doing so, if most of us buy plants when they are in bloom, and I’m guilty of that, and only go to the garden centers in the spring, we are destined to only have a spring garden. We are missing out on what summer and fall plants have to offer, especially for our pollinators.

Even if you don’t want to be in your garden during a high sun of summer, we are blessed with cooler mornings and evenings, making it worth venturing out.

Pollinator Plants for Summer and Fall

Make a trip to your local garden centers in summer to pick up some of these plants. Here’s a shortlist of what tends to be available.

Anise hyssop (Agastache) — There are several colors of hyssop to choose from—various pinks, purples, oranges, and yellows. You can satisfy your color craving while providing pollen and nectar for the honeybee and hummingbird nectar.

Milkweed (Asclepias) — Without milkweed, monarch butterflies can’t reproduce as it’s the host plant for their caterpillars.

Aster (Aster) — These daisy-like perennials add great color in late summer and fall. Just when other flowers are fading, asters put on a show. And they attract bee and butterfly pollinators.

Tickseed (Coreopsis) — At one time yellow dominated the plant’s color range, then there was a color break and now we can find coreopsis in reds, too. The first of these is aptly named, ‘Red Shift’. No matter the color, coreopsis is the host butterfly plant of the dainty sulfur butterfly and also provides nectar and pollen for bees.

Coneflower (Echinacea) — I like the ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ series, mainly because they are dependable perennials. It is my understanding they are still grown from seed, not tissue culture, resulting in a reliable perennial in a colorful mix of hot colors.

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) — This native is popular with both bees and butterflies, and it’s a host plant for 47 different caterpillars which provide for nesting birds.

Helenium (Helenium) — The late season garden lights up with these flowers. ‘Mardi Gras’ is a favorite for bees. The color also says fall.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) — These are good from summer through fall, both as nectar and pollen plus seed for the yellow finch. Leave some seed heads for the seeds, and cut some back to get more flowers to re-bloom.

Sedum (Sedum) — One of my favorites is an oldie, ‘Autumn Joy’. It’s a magnet for bees and butterflies.

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.

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