During the last few years I’ve worked hard at collecting late-flowering plants. In spring and early summer, nectar and pollen plants abound, but late summer and autumn can be a problem for pollinators. This year, I decided to take an inventory of what was blooming this first week of September.
Dahlias steal the pollinator show
The most obvious patch of flowers, big and bold and brimming with bees, is the dahlias. They are lush this year, and tall. So tall, in fact, I feel like I’m watching sunflowers, stretching on tip toes for a better view. The secret of dahlias, one I learned from beekeeper Ellen Gehling, is they have to be singles with open centers. Like a floral Fort Knox, an inbred dahlia with multiple layers of petals prevents the bees from reaching the central disk where the nectar and pollen reside.
Right now my dahlia patch is alive with honey bees, bumbles, leafcutting bees, Ceratina, and butterflies galore. And did I mention tree frogs? The patch shudders with life, and even when the air is still, the flowers sway and bend under the weight of wildlife.
Other blooms in my September garden
Many of my plants have a second bloom, and right now the California lilac is once again attracting pollinators. The second bloom is nothing like the first, of course. This spring, the bush near my kitchen flowered profusely for six weeks attracting honey bees, bumbles, Osmia, Andrena, Lasioglossum, and Halictus. And now it blossoms again in a lesser, but equally important, way. Other second bloomers include all three species of Agastache I planted earlier this year.
Red raspberries are having a second round, too, and I see both honey bees and bumble bees tending the blossoms. Poppies, which began weeks ago, are still opening almost daily and so are Siberian wallflower, Clarkia, Phacelia, blanket flower, zinnias, and of course tomatoes. I can hear the bumbles buzz-pollinating the tomatoes, working their way down the row and up the trellis.
Blooming for the first time this year are Autumn Joy sedum, cosmos, oregano, Joe-pye weed, mountain hollyhock, lemon balm, Russian sage, alyssum, cucumbers, yellow squash, yellow beans, and scarlet runner beans. Also flowering are bishop’s flower, corn poppy, and sunflowers. The cosmos attracts honey bees and lots of leafcutting bees. The fragrant alyssum is favored by Ceratina, Lasioglossum, and bright red Sphecodes. The mountain hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis), a gift from Naomi Price, seems to be doing well in its new location and is attracting Halictus bees.
A few late weeds are also highly attractive to bees, including smart weed and bird’s foot trefoil. I’ve seen honey bees on both, but also a variety of smaller bees including Halictus, Lasioglossum, and Ceratina.
Worth the wait
To me, the profusion of late summer plants is definitely worth the effort. As forage becomes less available in the wild, the population of bees seems to hover near my garden. Like water circling the drain, the bees move ever closer to the center of the action.
Needless to say, when your flowers bloom—or if they bloom at all—is dependent on local climate and weather. So, as they say, your results may vary. Still, if you have some favorite September pollinator plants, I’d love to hear about them. Be sure to say where you live.
Honey Bee Suite
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