attracting wild pollinators bee forage honey

Goldenrod: a fabulous feast for late-summer bee survival

Goldenrod is a valuable asset for beekeepers. It provides colonies with a late-season boost of pollen and a rich crop of honey.

Inside: Fall is a vital foraging season for insects that need to stock up for winter. Goldenrod is a great pollinator plant because it is hardy and loaded with both pollen and nectar.

Goldenrod is a plant that everyone knows, but no one can identify—or so it seems. All of the goldenrods belong to the genus Solidago, but they all look very different. The flowers, the leaves, and even the general silhouette of the plant can vary depending on where you live. The ones here on the west coast continue to baffle me.

But you can be sure of one thing: the bees love it. The one small patch of goldenrod I have is absolutely loaded with pollinators—mostly bumble bees, but also small native bees, flower flies, and butterflies. Sometimes, each inflorescence arches under the weight of five or six large bumbles scrambling over the flowers, packing everything they can hold. I never get tired of watching them.

The aster family is full of flowers bees love

Goldenrod belongs to the Asteraceae family, the very large plant family that includes dandelions and daisies, tansy and thistles, artichokes and sunflowers along with about 22,750 other species. Although most are herbaceous plants, some are shrubs, vines, and even trees.

About 100 species of goldenrod are native to North America. Since they flower late in the summer, they are an important source of both nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and some wasps. Nectar is most plentiful in years when there is abundant moisture before bloom time, and when bloom time remains warm and sunny. The honey is light to medium amber with a spicy taste.

Chose a variety that fits your garden

If you want to attract a variety of bees to your pollinator garden, goldenrod is a perfect choice. Use a tall species as a back border or a shorter species mixed in with Russian sage, purple Agastache, or blue asters. Goldenrod likes full sun but is not picky about the soil as long as it drains freely and does not remain wet.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Foraging bumble bees. All photos by Rusty Burlew
Bumble bee on goldenrod.
Sipping sweetness through a straw.

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15 Comments

  • I can confirm that honey bees love goldenrod; local beekeepers have 4 hives in our garden. The link is my flickr site where I have just uploaded some photos. If the link doesn’t work, search on flickr for titles bee 1, bee 2, bee 3 or bee 4

    • Hans,

      I don’t know why these rumors persist. Bees were on Earth many millions of years before humans, and somehow they muddled through with their crystallized honey. No one was around to replace it. In fact, since they evolved with crystallized honey, they know precisely how to handle it.

      What do I do when my own honey crystallizes? I use it for bee feed. I just take the lid off the jar, turn it on it’s side and lay it above the brood boxes. It will be gone in no time. Same thing with honey crystallized in the comb: I just arrange it directly over the brood nest, and next time I look, it’s gone.

      Also, beekeepers routinely feed their bees crystallized sugar in the form of fondant, candy boards, or sugar cakes. If the bees can handle crystallized sucrose, they can certainly handle crystallized honey.

      • Rusty,

        This is hugely helpful, thank you. We are writing from far away, from the Caucasus. We have bees as part of our kiwifruit orchard, but unfortunately there are very few experienced beekeepers left where we are working, so we are trying to learn as much as we can. We heard this from one of the beekeepers here, and also were puzzled. Thank you for helping to clarify.

        Thanks for your great site, it’s very useful!

        Hans

  • Hans,
    You can heat the crystalized honey in a pot of hot water and bring it back. Feeding sucrose is cheaper than feeding honey.

  • I wonder if I need a different species of Soldago–or else the other native plants I have are more enticing–because I don’t see much of anything in the goldenrod I planted! Interesting.

    • Peggy,

      Most bees seem to love goldenrod. Mine attracts many different species of bees as well as beetles, solitary wasps, and some flies.

  • Whenever I see something new in my garden, instead of weeding it, I wait to see what it becomes. I did this with a little weed three years ago. It grew so tall I could barely touch the top, then bloomed with huge spikes of golden flowers in late summer/early fall. Giant Goldenrod! I loved it, even though it was about 50x as tall as the rest of my hummingbird/bee/butterfly garden. The next year, there were three of them. The next year, 6. Now there is a patch of about a dozen and I need a stepladder to see the tops, which, probably due to my fertilizer, are branched out with many stalks that will become flowers. Last year, they were swarmed with bees and some kind of tiny butterfly. I’m pretty excited to see how many come this year. It’s amazing to see how much wildlife is thriving around my decision not to pull a little “weed.”

  • My goldenrod has dozens and dozens if bumble bees. Plus many many other types of bees and wasps. And a very surprising and large collection of flies.

  • Your blog is one of our go to sites for information. Winding up year 2 and so appreciate you and others that offer sound advice. We were recently told by a fellow beek that the bees only collect nectar from goldenrod when it’s 80 degrees or more. I can’t find anything to back this up. We have acres of goldenrod that the honey bees and other pollinators are visiting every day in the mountains of NC with temperatures around 50 in the am and 75 in the afternoon.

    Thanks for all your good advice. Ann

    • Hi Ann,

      Sometimes I wonder where/how/why people come up with “rules” that the pollinators themselves don’t know about. Bees, including honey bees, will forage on the flowers they like best as long as the air temperature is warm enough for them to fly. This is usually about 50 F and above, depending on the species of bee. Our goldenrod out west is covered with bees, even on days that are not even close to 50. So funny.

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