In spring and summer, bees and other pollinators find enough flowers to reward them for their important activity with nectar and pollen. The nectar provides the insects with energy to fly and prepares them for hibernation, while the pollen provides the bees’ larvae with the proteins they need to grow. But fall marks the beginning of the lean season for these beneficial insects. By growing a good mix of flowering plants in your garden or on your balcony as a nectar-rich food source, you can improve the chances of survival for these beneficial insects during the cold months. Here we present 7 of the most beautiful fall flowers that bees, bumblebees and other pollinators love to fly to.
Table of Contents
- Which autumn flowers do bees and bumblebees like?
- Planting spring bulbs
What fall flowers do bees and bumblebees like?
Many insects are still foraging in late summer. That’s why it’s a good idea to offer them nectar-rich, late-blooming plants for food. Choose single, open flowers where you can see the central part of the flower – where bees have access to nectar and pollen. Different species of bees are active at different times of the year. Most bees are most active from March to September, but some come out of hibernation earlier in mild winters, and bumblebee queens occasionally begin nesting in the fall , rather than hibernating, and establish a “winter colony.” Therefore, to give pollinators the best possible chance to survive, it is important to plant flowers from late winter through fall – all year round if possible.
Insects you can attract to your garden include the field bumblebee and ground bumblebee, honeybees, hoverflies, thistle butterflies, the large fire butterfly, and swallowtail and lemon butterflies.
Asters are typical autumn flowers
Flowering time: July – October
Asters belong to the composite family and usually bloom in late summer and fall. They are ideal for mixed beds with grasses and other perennials in the prairie garden. The bright, daisy-like flowers are a colorful eye-catcher and provide a rich source of nectar and pollen for late-flying insects. Many varieties also make good cut flowers.
Most asters do best in sunny locations, but others tolerate partial shade or shade quite well. These colorful fall flowers also grow well in containers and window boxes. Remove wilted blooms regularly to keep them looking good and producing more flowers. Cut the asters back sharply after flowering in late autumn.
A particularly beautiful species from the aster family is Aster dumosus, still known as cushion aster. It grows quickly and reaches a height of 20 to 50 cm. These compact-growing asters are ideal for balcony boxes. Recommended varieties of Aster dumosus include the dark pink-flowering ‘Rosenwichtel’, the white-flowering ‘Apollo’, the ‘Blaue Lagune’ with blue-violet flowers and the pink-flowering ‘Herbstgruß vom Bresserhof’.
Open-pollinated dahlias are especially bee-friendly fall flowers.
Flowering time: June – September / October
Dahlias come in many different shapes, including extravagant cactus, water lily and pompom varieties. All of these varieties have densely double flowers that look spectacular, but they offer little food to bees and other pollinators because the insects cannot reach the central part of the flower where nectar and pollen are found.
In contrast, open-pollinated dahlia varieties are fantastic for pollinators. Because they have fewer petals, bees, butterflies and other insects have easy access to pollen and nectar, and the flowers are no less beautiful.
Here are some beautiful open-flowered dahlias for you to consider
- Dahlia ‘Bishop of York’ bears bright yellow single flowers throughout the summer, contrasting with the green-purple foliage.
- The dahlia ‘Bishop of Auckland’ bears velvety, crimson single flowers on almost black stems that contrast with the dark green-red foliage.
- Dahlia ‘Topmix Rosa’ bears pretty, single pink flowers with yellow centers that contrast with dark green foliage. The blooms last throughout the summer and well into the fall.
For best results, grow dahlias in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil. Remove wilted flowers regularly and fertilize with a high-potash fertilizer to extend the blooming season. Dig up the tubers in the fall after the first frosts and store them in a cool, dry place until March before planting them out in late May.
Broom heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Flowering time: July – November
Calluna vulgaris, still known as broom heather, is a bushy dwarf shrub that grows in moist but well-drained acidic soil in a sunny to partial shade location. The stems are covered with tiny green leaves and flower spikes. Its flowers are a magnet for bees. Cut off old panicles when they begin to wilt to encourage new growth.
Some of the most beautiful Calluna varieties that bees appreciate in the fall include:
- Calluna vulgaris ‘Dark beauty’ has bright red flowers. It blooms from about September to mid-October.
- ‘Tib’ bears beautiful purple flowers from August into October. Leaves turn from dark green to bronze in winter.
- ‘Alicia’ blooms with white buds from early September to early December.
- ‘Robert Chapman’ has golden yellow leaves that turn copper brown in winter. From July to October, the broom heather bears purple, bell-shaped flowers.
- ‘Spring Torch’ also has a very long blooming season – from August to November. The plant has purple-pink flowers.
Japanese autumn anemone (Anemone japonica)
Flowering time: August – October
Japanese anemones offer a stunning sight in late summer and early fall. The semi-double flowers of delicate pink or white float on tall stems above attractive foliage.
Autumn anemones do well in sun or partial shade and can handle dry soil. These fall flowers plant well in pots.
Cut them back after blooming and remove dead leaves and stems in March. Mulch annually in spring or fall. Asian beauties are rhizome-forming and have a tendency to spread heavily in the garden. So divide larger clumps every few years to keep them under control. The best time to do this is in the fall or spring.
Fall anemone varieties that are among the most beautiful late summer and fall perennials are:
- Anemone tomentosa ‘Serenade’ (pink flowers).
- Anemone japonica ‘Prince Henry’ (purple pink)
- Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’ (white)
- Anemone japonica ‘Queen Charlotte’ (light purple-pink)
Tall stonecrops (Hylotelephium)
Flowering time: July – October
Tall stonecrops (Hylotelephium) are perennials in the bigleaf family that produce small star-shaped flowers from summer to fall. They are sometimes included in the genus Sedum.
Fat hens do best in a sunny spot in well-drained soil. They look best in the front of a bed, but also do well in containers.
- Purple stonecrop ‘Purple Emperor’ is grown for its decorative foliage, which darkens as it matures. In summer, it forms masses of pink flower buds that open white. The flowers look beautiful in the winter garden with a touch of frost.
- Hylotelephium ‘Autumn Joy’ has succulent, light green leaves and contrasting salmon pink summer flowers that turn orange-red in fall. Like most sedums, it is a valuable nectar source for pollinators, especially butterflies.
- Magnificent buttercup ‘Carl’ (Hylotelephium spectabile) forms flat, bright pink flower heads on upright stems in fall.
Argentine verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Flowering time: July – October
Argentine verbena (Verbena bonariensis) is a unique plant that is prized by prairie garden enthusiasts as well as butterflies and pollinators. The tall stems rise gracefully above many other companion plants and grow up to 2 feet tall. They bear clusters of bright purple flowers throughout the summer months and well into October. If you’re looking for elegance and style in fall flowers for bees, Verbena bonariensis is a must.
Plant Verbena bonariensis in moist but well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered location. Leave the flowers to form seed heads for the birds, and cut the plant back in mild regions before it resprouts in spring (in colder regions, plants may not survive the winter). If the plants are happy with their location, they will self-seed, but you can also propagate them by cuttings.
Especially popular with amateur gardeners is the low-growing variety Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’. With a maximum height of 60 cm, ‘Lollipop’ is suitable for smaller gardens and containers, as well as for the front of borders.
Planting spring bulbs
A great way to help bees in the spring is to plant bulbs in the fall. Early bloomers provide bees with a source of pollen and nectar when little else is blooming.
By planting bulbs in containers, you can ensure that you don’t miss their colorful blooms, especially if they are placed along the walkway, next to the front door or on the patio. Choosing varieties that are rich in both nectar and pollen will provide a livelihood for the first bumblebees, some of which awaken from hibernation as early as February. Plant spring flowers that bloom over a long period of time, such as early-blooming crocuses (from February to March) and primroses (from February to May). By combining bulbs, you not only create eye-catching pots, but also attract a variety of pollinators.