bee forage wild bees and native bees

What blooms in your September garden?

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.

Later bloomers

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

Honey bee in squash blossom.

This honey bee just climbed from a squash blossom. Squash pollen is large and sticky. © Rusty Burlew.

Halictus (Seladonia) on smartweed.

This Halictus bee (subgenus Seladonia) is on a smartweed. © Rusty Burlew.

Pacific tree frog on dahlia.

Pacific tree frog on dahlia. The dahlias were a gift from Ellen Gehling. © Rusty Burlew.

The furry leafcutting bee is a frequent September garden visitor.

Megachile perihirta, the furry leafcutting bee on dahlia. © Rusty Burlew.

Sphecodes bee on Alyssum.

Sphecodes cuckoo bee on Alyssum. © Rusty Burlew.

Lygus bug on dahlia center.

Lygus bug on dahlia center. © Rusty Burlew.

A mating pair of Lasioglossum bees.

A mating pair of Lasioglossum bees (subgenus Dialictus) on Alyssum. © Rusty Burlew.

Bumble bee on scarlet runner bean.

A bumble bee on a scarlet runner bean flower. © Rusty Burlew.

Halictus rubicundus male on hollyhock.

Halictus rubicundus male on a mountain hollyhock flower. © Rusty Burlew.

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  • Hello, here in Vermont (USA) the predominant fall flower is goldenrod. This is very prolific and grows along highways, open meadows and any where it can. Also, asters and chicory are blooming well.

    As a side note, a Pollinator Committee was formed over a year ago, made up of Vermont state agencies, Vt. Apiary Inspector, Vermont Beekeepers Association, farmers and others. One of the results is that the Vt. Transportation Dept. agreed to reduce the mowing along highways and medians, line of site/curves being the exception. Many acres of wildflowers were allowed to flourish and bloom. For once the state listened. Win win, more flowers, less mowing, $$$$ saved. How about other states?

  • Rusty,

    Here in SW Illinois, in the City of O’Fallon, our O’Fallon Community Garden (OFCG) Apiary bees have several plants to choose from: Some sunflowers remain, dahlia bloom has just started, we have a Pollinator Garden, a subset of the OFCG, that contains native plants which will continue to bloom until November, Russian Sage is still booming, and two major weed pollen producers now blooming, that impact many people, are ragweed and goldenrod. This should keep the bees in our community busy until the fall chill arrives in November.

    • I’m jealous. My community garden is 600m from my house and they refused to let me have a beehive on the grounds. But to be fair one of the park’s groundskeepers is apparently allergic…

  • Hi Rusty, the bumbles are really enjoying the cosmos and my few zinnias (I need to plant more). Also the bees are constant at the purple salvia/sage, which is reblooming after I deadheaded it. They like my butterfly bush and the tomato flowers too. I live in NE Ohio, and I really enjoy your posts and your FANTASTIC pictures!

  • I live in Naperville, IL which is Greater Chicago and in addition to many flowering plants that people plant in their suburban yards we’re also less than a mile from a large prairie preserve, which, at this time of the year and into early October is just yellow with goldenrods. I’d say in September that’s probably 80% of what the “girls” bring in nectar and probably in pollen as well. The outside of the hive (painted white) is actually somewhat yellow this time of year, at least by the entrance and on the front walls. And have I mentioned the smell of goldenrod nectar before it becomes honey?! I’ve been keeping bees (just one hive) for the third year now, so by now it’s not a surprise for me but the first year when this strange smell started coming from the hive I panicked and thought that my bees were dying and rotting inside. This really unpleasant smell could be overwhelming and you sense it from twenty feet or more. The actual honey from goldenrod nectar, while still has some of that sharp, distinct tone, is actually quite good.

  • Guara (whirling butterfly) and lavender are big attractors in my yard. I usually cut them back at the end of July, and by the first of September they bloom again. Both are full of honey bees.

  • Don’t forget nasturtiums! They bloom prolifically and everybody loves them including the hummingbirds. I have several patches in the front yard (we got rid of the lawn first thing after buying our property) and the nasturtiums self seed. They come back year after year on their own and require little if any care at all. My bees adore them.

  • Garlic chives are in full flower in my Colorado garden right now, and my bees are all over it. Also cilantro flowers, sunflowers, sedum of several varieties, and Russian sage. Planted some buckwheat in a now empty bed and hoping to get some flowering before first frost.

  • In WNC, Asheville, the bees are all over the goldenrod, aster just started blooming, passionflower still going strong, Crepe Myrtle still attracting the honey bees, butterflies on the Zinnias, Russian Sage, Jewelweed, bull thistle, and autumn sedum. How could we do a seed swap with each other?

  • Rusty, thanks, great idea. I have a new dahlia and didn’t realize why the bees ignored it!
    We use garlic chives a LOT! Love them and so do the bees. They will spread without planting. They are flowering madly now, but I’m told onion chives flower in spring.

  • Rusty,

    Great photo of the honey bee covered with pollen. Must have been a young forager she still seems to have all her hair. Here in the mountains of Western Virginia, several varieties of golden rod, wingstem, and golden crownbeard are like a sea of yellow in the fields, along fence lines and the roadway edges. We used to have a lot of ironweed but for some reason not much this year. Russian sage bloomed all summer and is still going. Our chicory is just finished with its bloom and the asters haven’t started yet. The butterflies, the various swallowtails, and fritillaries are still with us but so far we have only spotted 3 monarchs passing.

    Still waiting for your “coffee table” book! Great photos as usual.

  • I’m happy to hear about Vermont’s efforts on behalf of pollinators, but I wonder about the wisdom of encouraging bees to the sides of highways. I hear of people worrying about wildlife getting hit on highways because someone (like me) throws an apple core or a peach pit out the car window that attracts them close to traffic, but what about bees being enticed to the sides of highways with hundreds of 65 mph + cars and trucks blasting along just a few feet away? I find bees in my radiator. Do we know what the mortality rate for bees is near highways?

  • Rusty,

    50 miles outside Chicago. Around my yard is Sedum and asters. I live from 1/2 miles to 3 miles to Forest Preserves. All total have about three hundred acres of parries. This year we have unlimited amounts of goldenrod

  • I’m in north Georgia. This year in my vegetable garden I planted tomatillos for the first time. They are huge with lots of blooms and the honey bees love them. I was really surprised. Single petal tall marigolds are also one of their favorites.

  • Hi Rusty! Here in Western South Dakota, I have lots of goldenrod, my salvia is reblooming, and the asters are just beginning! Tall sedums are just beginning and like you mentioned the squash, cucumbers & tomatoes are still going strong despite there has been a frost warning not far from me for last night. 37 degrees at the Rapid City airport last night! Won’t be long now!

  • My garden is filled with sedums, Joe Pye-Weed, lilies, feverfew, sunflower, black-eyes Susan, marigolds, catnip, basil, larger rudabeckia, asters just beginning to blossom, hyssop, zinnias, marigolds, mums, geraniums, Russian sage, returning dianthus, hollyhocks, and a couple of plants whose names I can never remember. I have patches of golden rod and wild asters. Our cool and rainy spring and summer slowed the growth and blooms on many of my bee-friendly plants. Bumble bees, honey bees, smaller bees, butterflies, teeny toads, and hummingbirds all hover and cluster–all kinds of life making themselves at home in the garden.

  • Hi Rusty,

    Here in my NW California garden, the pollinators are enjoying buckwheat, gomphrena, leonotis, blue asters, salvia uliginosa, and gaillardias, just to name a few. We’re lucky in that there will be pollinator food here pretty much 12 months of the year, even though we aren’t as able to predict what will be blooming when!

  • Just west of O’Fallon, Illinois, in Chesterfield, Missouri, we replicate the active flowers found on Jim’s list above. In addition, I have a large hillside covered with Garlic Chives. Before I kept bees, the Garlic Chives made me crazy and I tried to rid my land of them over and over. Once I saw that the blossoms on the chives were covered with my honey bees…so many that a person can hear their happy-humming sounds pretty loudly…I became a huge fan.. Garlic Chives seem to be great for late summer

  • Hi Rusty!

    You may have to cut me off on this subject.

    In my garden the dahlias are definitely the favored forage by bees and other pollinators in September, though the sunflowers and anise hyssop are also very popular. This year I planted my tubers of the open center varieties (nearly all singles), but additionally I grew them from seed that I saved from last year and also seed that I purchased for Dahlia coccinea x ‘Species Mixed’ (purchased from Swallowtail Seeds). The ones that I grew from seed have the same range of colors, but a more “wildflower” type appearance. I think they are my new favorites, and I can save the tubers from myfavorites for planting next year.

    I did a bit of a sunflower experiment this year, and chose 4 varieties that I knew produced pollen and were also branching varieties, so they produce flowers over a longer period of time. The big winners were Autumn Beauty and The Birds and the Bees (Renee’s Seeds). Both of these varieties produce flowering branches at each leaf axil, and Autumn Beauty was the first to flower.

    Another plant that is blooming now and very popular with the honey bees in my yard is Verbesina alternifolia, wingstem. It is a Midwest native, a very tall perennial topped with small yellow composite flowers. Also there is Cleome, lilac chaste tree, and Caryopteris.

    The natives that are blooming now and visited by bees and others are goldenrod and a couple of species of asters. And then there is the invasive Japanese knotweed.

    Collector of deer resistant pollinator plants in Western Washington

  • Hi Rusty,

    My perennial sunflowers ‘Lemon Queen’ is just coming into its own and will flower for about a month – even longer if you dead head. You can divide them every year to get more plants which is a bonus.

    (Bristol, United Kingdom)

  • In San Diego my bees are thankful for all the rosemary I planted. The ground cover and bushes are just covered with bees and it doesn’t take much water to grow rosemary!

  • Heptacodium miconiodes, Seven Son Tree is in full bloom now and full of of many types of bees. I’m in northwest Washington. Hardy fucshias are also in full bloom now.

  • You take the most beautiful pictures! Ohio, we have goldenrod, asters, buckwheat. Some late blooming queen anne’s lace, mostly fall weedies. The bees are collecting some kind of white pollen and it creates a white stripe down their back like a skunk.

  • Patterson’s curse is high on the list for my bees. They love it and it lasts for the entire summer and part of the fall. And yes it is invasive.

  • Jim,

    When you say “two major weed pollen producers now blooming, that impact many people, are ragweed and goldenrod.” is that intended to mean that goldenrod is a problem for people?

    This is a widely held misconception. Because goldenrod is showy, it gets the blame for inconspicuous greeny-brown ragweed. Goldenrod’s pollen is heavy and sticky, requiring insect transfer, and so, not implicated in seasonal allergies. Try shaking some off an open bloom onto your hand. Ragweed’s is small, dry and light, and can rely on wind pollination. In sixty years of walking fields I have never seen any pollinator on ragweed. To my knowledge, ragweed doesn’t produce nectar worth a hoot. It wouldn’t need to, whereas goldenrod is THE reliable Fall nectar for migrating Monarchs and bees’ winter stores.

    I have four or five friends in the Native Cut-Flower business, and all use goldenrod in bouquets and displays. They are constantly reassuring clients that it won’t provoke sneezing fits and red eyes among the guests or the bridal party.

    Here? Oh, our Red Clover is still blooming, the Burdock and Chicory are just finishing, and the Goldenrod is just opening. Later we’ll have New England and White Asters in purple and snowy drifts around the field margins.

    Best wishes to all your colonies, wild and harbored, plentiful good fall forage.

    Shady Grove Farm
    Corinth, Kentucky

  • ‘Just west of St. Louis in Chesterfield, MO, we are big on goldenrod and autumn sedum right now. My herb garden which is sort of wild and packed right now with lots of little basil, thyme, lemon balm, etc., blossoms is visited daily by my honey bees. I let a hunk of arugula go to seed with little tiny yello blossoms and the bees seem to love it. The home run hitter is garlic chives. I’m lucky to have about 5 acres…and, a part of one hill is packed with dainty, lovely blossoms from garlic chives. In the past, I worked like a crazy person trying to eradicate the rather aggressive herb – we don’t eat it. But once I started bee-keeping, I was shocked to see how much they LOVE those blossoms. They are packed with bees and when you stand close, you can hear the happy buzzing we all have learned to love.

  • Hi Rusty; we have an invasive plant, Japanese barberry, that grows up one side of our long driveway, It is a difficult plant to deal with as it grows to over 6 feet tall and nearly is impossible to eradicate. It tends to crowd out milkweed which is important for monarch butterflies. The only good thing about the plant is that when it blooms in early September it is alive with bees of all types. I love to hear the buzzing when I walk down the drive.

  • Eastern Kansas here:

    I was under the impression that honeybees only like certain types of goldenrod and the one we have in Eastern Kansas they don’t like? I tend to agree with this, as we have lots of it and I have yet to see a honeybee on any flowers. There are lots of other insects that do like this variety, mostly a longer, black, beetle-looking bug, but no honeybees. Too bad because we have bunches of it.

    They are, however, loving the Vitek bush. I’m not sure what that is exactly, the closest thing I got when I googled it was “Texas Lilac.” Could this be the same bush as your California Lilac? Mine is over 8 feet tall and all the pollinators seem to love it as it’s covered with bees of many types and butterflies.

  • In the Wenatchee area of North Central Washington, there is a September bloom of a native plant called snow or snowy buckwheat. There is a lot of it and honeybees are building comb and making honey. Last year I had medium supers fill up in the first two weeks of September!

  • My bees in town here in IDAHO FALLS, ID are enjoying the last of the lavender people and the city have planted. Russian sage is real popular here and that is a good fall forage plant as is the last of the daisies, black eyed Susans and sunflowers. Town is good for flowering plants till the first hard frost here.

    The rural country yields a mild honey flow due to the rabbit brush (Ericameria nauseosa) and sage brush.

    Looking around today, I realized that there is quite a bit still blooming, like borage in my garden. Bees love it. I may get a second harvest this year! I noticed that the wet honey supers still in my garage doesn’t get much attention from the girls when the garage door is open. Years past the would be given attention within a minute or two. Good sign that there is still a lot to forage on.

  • Caryopteris is a big hit with the bumble bees this year. Had bifarius, huntii, griseocollis, and nevadensis in there this week. The first three years it was a honey bee magnet. I am seeing them in the zauschneria, which is the hummingbird plant, so kind of interesting. Snowy Buckwheat and Rabbitbrush are the two main wildflowers blooming now. I have sundrops and some Wyoming primrose, which has huge yellow flowers. Got to watch a “leafcutter” bee cut some holes in the petals and carry them home! She was amazingly quick and efficient. Of course I didn’t have my camera.

    The gaillardia and some woolly sunflowers are still hanging on and the megachilids especially, seem to like them. We have a very messy fireweed patch where the honey bees and brown-belted bumble bees search the tops, while the Agapostemon femoratus patrol for females along the bottom. Caught a coelioxys there a couple days ago. Cutleaf/Richardson’s penstemon still going, as is the agastache. There is a zippy anthophora that likes those. Oddly, the lavender I cut back so it would bloom again, still hasn’t put up any buds. We too have garlic chives, thought I would have sworn they bloomed a lot earlier in previous years. There is still some creeping thyme blooming, but not as much as about a month ago when I counted at least 8-10 brown-belted bumble bee males all over it.

  • I’m in Victoria, Australia & spring has just started. In late summer however we have Banksias, a few Eucalyptus species, Cassinia, Ocimum basilicum or winter basil, borage & ivy (unfortunately…) to name a few.

  • Here on Long Island a fall favorite for pollen has been Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album). Its leaves are high in protein so perhaps it belongs in the vegetable garden for us and the bees? They are also all over my Autumn Clematis.

    Can’t help wondering will all the hives in Florida be lost. Bet those in Houston were. My heart breaks for all hurricane victims (I lost my house in Sandy and don’t live on the water anymore). What can we do to help the beekeeping communities in these places?

  • In addition to most of the above, here in our garden in Southern Tennessee, we have: brugmansia, partridge pea, purple heart, coreopsis, abelia and lantana, all being visited by various pollinators. By far, the most oft foraged on are the sedum, seven sons and partridge pea. Pollen is being brought into the hives by the bucket, so hopefully lots of winter bees in the making.

    Looking forward to hearing you talk at the Georgia conference, October 6 and 7.

  • Haven’t seen anyone mention ivy. We hava a bunch nearby here in Seattle. Sounds like a swarm covering those tiny blossoms. They are also on our lemon trees. Mike

  • There is a lot still blooming in my September garden in Southern Union County, NC. Mountain Mint, Tansy, Joe Pye, Cosmos, Iron Weed, Garlic Chives, Cat mint, Mexican Sunflower & Zinnia. Different species of Golden Rod has been blooming since late July. Slender lespedeza has spread nicely this year and is blooming along with Dogbane. Just starting to open is Maryland Aster and my last show of the season is Swamp Sunflower (it is not blooming yet). My bees are bringing in nectar like crazy!!

  • In Southern Rhode Island, in the home garden in September I have Autumn Joy Sedum, various branching sunflowers, Alyssum, New England Asters, Zinnias, White Snakeroot,Joe Pye weed, and some crazy 8 ft tall tiny flowered plant in the Asteraceae family a neighbor gave me years ago, all blooming and attracting different wild bees as well as honey bees. At the farm where I work it’s goldenrod, asters, & buckwheat right now, all buzzing with all kinds of bees.

  • Hi beekeepers, in addition to some of the plants already listed, here in central Arkansas we have Sweet Autumn Clematis, which is a vine with cross shaped flowers about 1 inch diameter. Excellent nectar and pollen and the honey is light and very floral. And to Debbie from Ohio, the pollen is white.

  • Sweet autumn clematis is a prolific late fall bloomer that my bees (and other pollinators love)! It’s fast growing and disease resistant.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I’m in southwest Ohio south of Dayton. I have a native sunflower plant that doesn’t bloom until late in the summer and it’s covered with bees still. It backs one of my hives. I also have lots of the dahlias you mentioned. Just as you said, they are huge and prolific. My Joe-pye weed is dying off but was busy until late in August.

    • Suzy,

      It’s funny, I have a big joe-pye weed right next to one of my hives and it’s covered in bumble bees. At least someone likes it!

  • I know this conversation is from last year, but I thought I would add another plant that I haven’t seen mentioned yet. My bees are all over the Japanese anemones that begin blooming in late August and bloom until frost. I have it in several shades of pink, dark and light, and white. It spreads generously, but it is not invasive. I let it become a thick bed, as I do my echinaceas. Then, I never have to weed it, and it is glorious to look at.
    I live in the southwestern corner of New Hampshire.

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