Fall is upon us and it’s my favorite time to hit the nurseries–and not just because it’s the best season to plant from a horticultural perspective. How badly the pink Oriental lily clashed with the orange Gaillardia is still fresh in my mind and the hole left by the winter battered Phormium remains obvious. I’m also fond of the end of season bargains. Add to the benefits that autumn rains make “watering in” unnecessary and the next thing I know…I’m driving home with no visibility in the rear view mirror and the seatbelt alarm telling me to strap in the 5 gallon shrub in the passenger seat.
This year I decided that while perusing the nursery tables, I’ll look out for plants that will attract bees and other pollinators to my garden. With the woes facing honeybees, we all ought to grow more plants from the Asteraceae (composite) and Lamiaceae (mint) families. The honeybees will benefit, as will native and non-native species of solitary bees like orchard mason bees and other pollinators. The longer I garden, the more I adore just taking a quiet moment among the flowers to watch and photograph the comings and goings of little winged things.
Beneficial insects like bees need sources of pollen for protein and the energizing sugar of nectar. Flowers in the composite family offer both pollen and nectar, while the mints provide sweet nectar. A selection of flowers from these and other plant families that overlap bloom times from early spring through late fall will create a garden haven for 6 legged denizens. Mixed beds with a dozen or more different flowering plants can provide diversity that appeals to a wide range of pollinators.
Plants that are a-buzz seasonally in my garden beds: Vaccinium ovatum (evergreen huckleberry); Helenium (sneezeweed); Sedum hybrids; Solidaster x ‘Lemoore’; Nepeta (catmint); Oreganum (oregano); Gaillardia; Echinops (globe thistle); Agastache and horehound. Swaths of native annuals are also keen for attracting and nurturing a population of beneficial insects. Have a look at UC Berkeley’s great website on Urban Bee gardens for an excellent list of plants to attract bees before you head off to the local nursery. The little winged ones will thank you.
UC Berkeley’s Urban Bee Garden Website http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/
©Colleen Miko, 2010.