Trying to find plants that bloom in summer and fall can be a challenge. Not only do the honey bees have trouble finding forage, but even the native bees can come up short during the summer dearth. This is especially true in areas where native plants have largely been replaced with exotic species.
Last fall, Ellen Gehling, a beekeeper living here in Washington state, offered to send me a selection of open-centered dahlias which her bees love. I’ve never been a fan of big showy dahlias that look like garish dinner plates, but I had heard from other beekeepers that the simple, open-centered varieties were bee favorites. So “Yes!” I said. I was eager to try.
Tubers in the mail
Ellen sent a well-packed and labeled box of tubers along with detailed instructions about planting and growing. My husband built a raised bed just for the project, and I planted according to the instructions. Now, in the heat of August, I have a gorgeous display of flowers that the pollinators love. Not just bees, but also hover flies, skippers, and some solitary wasps have descended on the blooms. In fact, so many pollinators visit that the crab spiders have staked out their territory as well, taking advantage of anyone not paying attention.
For pollinators, the difference in dahlias has to do with the central disk. The central disk is where the pollen is produced and where the bees can access the nectar. Highly bred dahlias can have so many layers of florets that the pollinators cannot even find the central disk. Those varieties are of no interest to pollinators and are left alone in the garden.
I’m grateful to Ellen for showing me a new way to look at dahlias. Without her guidance and generosity, I would not have considered dahlias for my pollinator garden. Now they will be a regular feature.
Honey Bee Suite