For many of us, August is the beginning of the end. Of summer! Here in Boston, MA (zone 5b) the profusion of blooms belays a secret. Fall is just around the corner. Late summer can be high-time for flowers, if you strategically choose late bloomers and long bloomers. Below is a not in anyway exhaustive list of my favorite ‘native’ and ‘native-ish’ perennials beloved by bees in temperate East Coast USA.
Gaillardia x gradiflora reward bees from June to September in my neck of the woods. They are some of the first ‘summer’ flowers to bloom and keep blooming, prolifically, without deadheading for eons. Besides the sunflowers, which do not bloom as long, they are the most visited flowers in the garden. Sweat bees and bumble bees both get their fill from the gaillardia.
When pollinators find something they like, that they can really sink their uh…teeth? tongue? into, they want to stay a while and get a lot of it. That’s why it is good to plant largeish clumps of the same flower- about 3-5 feet wide. Or flowers that are prolific. Rudbekia hirta and Helianthus maximiliani both fit those bills. Rudbekia species (both hirta and fulgida) both look best when planted as a big ole clump, and for doing so you and the bees will be rewarded with months of bright happy yellow flowers. Rudbekia also tend to last longer (at least in my yard) than coneflower species. Helianthus are prolific vertically (many flowers coming off a shoot, like hollyhocks) and horizontally (you can divide them practically every year). I see the most Monarchs on the coneflowers and sunflowers this time of year.
Phaseolus coccineus, the scarlet runner bean, is a native to Central America. My intention for this guys was purely as a bean crop, and thus it trellises (like a bully) up alongside my Waltham Butternut. But my bean-set has been mediocre at best, apparently it is a very heavy feeder. But beans or no beans the flowers are prolific, and have been going on for a long time now. I will for sure plant these again, but maybe not in the garden- maybe twining up my deck railing. Bilateral flowers like beans are great for supporting bumble bee populations. Bumbles are often the only pollinators strong enough to nudge in there to reach the pollen and nectar inside. Bumble bees and Miner Bees also have long tongues, which are crucial for getting in there. While bumble bees will happily forage at most of your flowers, they will have little competition at some of these more difficult to reach pollen and nectar sources. Hummingbirds love these too, but I haven’t seen any this year! Other great bilateral flowers this time of year that help bumbles are obediant plant (Physostegia virginiana, Monarda species (the bee balms/bergamots- I grow Mondara fistulosa & Monarda didyma)
Asters are always a safe bet. Their delicate petals and easy to access pollen are a good choice for every bug in your garden. I grow Showy-Top Aster and New England Aster finds it’s way into beds in drifts and nooks. Goldenrod is a classic late summer to fall flower often heavy with pollen. Asters and Goldenrods are super important pollen sources that can carry bees through winter. But as they are not quite all out in August I will mention them more in a later post.
The most important thing to note when wanting to grow pollinator-supportive flowers is to choose a variety of flower types and colors that are native or nearly native to your region. By selecting a variety, you’ll ensure no bee or bug is neglected. By selecting plants from your ecoregion, not only will they be more likely to thrive, the fauna that lives in your neck of the woods are adapted to succeed on those pollen and nectar sources.