Autumn Flowers for the Bees

July to early August is not too late to think about autumn fodder for your bees. Especially if your apiary is in a rural area, there is a late summer’s “dearth” around the corner, when the surrounding landscape will offer nearly no floral resources. 

In contrast, the gardens, shrubbery, and ornamental trees in towns or concentrated residential areas provide a much greater possibility for bees to do their final stocking up before winter. Wherever you may be located, you can plan ahead or do some quick catch-up to refresh spent summer beds and provide bees with what they need.

The following is a list of some of the fall-blooming plants from Alyssum to Zinnia that I like to have in the garden. Some are annuals, some perennials. Some continue their bloom from summer into fall; some keep blooming into winter in warmer years. This roster is not complete (what plant list ever is?) but gives a good set of possibilities for your garden.

Alyssum – hardy annual in Pacific NW, it grows well as fall bloom and filler, winter cover in white or violet

Artichoke – resist eating your whole crop of artichokes:  let a few gorgeous flowers bloom as great bee-fodder & dew-collectors

Aster, China, and native Washington species – annual, simple open-face flower. Sown outdoors end of June, or in greenhouse later for late August through October bloom

Borage – annual, just about year-round bloom; new plants germinate throughout summer and offer good quality nectar all day long; a favorite of honey bees

Calendula – hardy perennial used as annual, blooms just about year-round, especially if you dead-head; reseeds readily and abundantly

Coreopsis – several annual and perennial species bloom from spring through fall; good cheer for all bees

Cosmos – annual; starts bloom midsummer if sown early May; blooms until frost/snow

Crocus* Crocus sativus (saffron crocus) and C. speciosus (fall crocus), bloom September through November. Please do not confuse the latter with the toxic “autumn crocus,” Colchicum speciousum

Dahlia – blooms mid to late summer into fall, by variety; plant old fashioned, nonhyrid species with open face, accessible to bees: for example, orchette dahlias are fragrant and have good quality nectar

Erysimum, Winter Joy – perennial, just about year-round bloom, especially for bumbles and other native bees

Gaillardia – herbaceous perennial, blooms early summer through fall 

Globe Gilia Gilia capitata, annual Washington native blooms midsummer through fall   

                Goldenrod – perennial, mid-August into fall bloom, attracts bees, wasps, hoverflies

Heather – perennial summer heather blooms through September; winter heather overlaps, beginning its bloom in late autumn

Hyssop – perennial shrub, sun or part shade; some varieties bloom June – December

Joe Pye Weed – herbaceous perennial up to 7 ft tall, blooms June until frost; leave dry hollow stems standing as nesting sites for native solitary bees

Larkspur, Wild – herbaceous perennial to 4 ft tall; fall-sown seeds bloom in June, succession of seedlings bloom through summer into fall for hummingbirds, bumbles, other native bees

Lavender, Spanish – evergreen shrub, flushes of bloom May-June and late summer into fall for bees and butterflies

Leek – herbaceous perennial if not harvested: leave some of your crop for flowers to serve all pollinators; some leek flowers open in July, some bloom end of summer into fall

Marigold – annual, sow in spring for summer bloom or July for autumn bloom: old fashioned, open-face varieties

Rapini – “broccoli raab” annual, a bee favorite; successively sown crops bloom at all seasons but hottest summer months

Rosemary – perennial shrub, blooms as early as February through the summer and into fall, its blue flowers are always a favorite of honey bees

Rudbeckia – all types, annual and perennial bloom late summer through fall

Sedum, Autumn Joy – perennial succulent: blooms through fall, super resource for bees

Sunflowers, Autumn – many late-summer varieties bloom through fall, especially multiflora types; I sow seeds in late May, early June for various types to bloom in series

Zinnia – annual, blooms late July from seeds sown late May, through fall until long hard frost

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