In spring and summer, bees and other pollinators find enough flowers to reward them with nectar and pollen for their important work. 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 the lean season for the beneficial insects begins in autumn. Growing a good mix of flowering plants as a nectar-rich food source in your garden or on your balcony can improve the chances of these beneficial insects surviving during the colder months. Here we present 7 of the most beautiful autumn flowers that bees, bumblebees and other pollinators love to fly to.
What autumn flowers like bees and bumblebees?
Many insects are still looking for food in late summer. It is therefore a good idea to feed them nectar-rich, late-flowering plants. Choose single, open flowers where you can see the central part of the flower – where the 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 hibernate earlier in mild winters, and bumblebee queens occasionally start nesting in autumn instead of hibernating, creating a “winter colony”. In order to give the pollinators the best possible chance of survival, it is therefore important to plant flowers from late winter to autumn – all year round if possible.
Some of the insects that you can attract to your garden include: the field bumblebee and earth bumblebee, honey bees, hover flies, painted ladies, the great fire butterfly as well as the swallowtail and lemon butterfly.
Asters are typical autumn flowers
Flowering period: July – October
Asters belong to the sunflower family and usually bloom in late summer and autumn. 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 can also handle partial shade or shade quite well. The colorful autumn flowers can also be grown well in pots and window boxes. Remove withered flowers regularly to make them look good and produce more flowers. After flowering, prune the asters severely in late autumn.
A particularly beautiful species from the aster family is Aster dumosus, still known as the pillow aster. It grows quickly and reaches a height of 20 to 50 cm. These compact growing asters are ideal for window boxes. The recommended varieties of Aster dumosus include the dark pink blooming ‘rose gnomes’, the white blooming ‘Apollo’, the ‘blue lagoon’ with blue-violet flowers and the pink blooming ‘Herbstgruß vom Bresserhof’.
Open-flowering dahlias are particularly bee-friendly autumn flowers
Flowering period: June – September / October
Dahlias come in many different shapes, including flamboyant cactus, water lily, and pompom varieties. All of these varieties have tightly double flowers that look spectacular, but they provide little food for bees and other pollinators because the insects cannot get to the central part of the flower, where nectar and pollen are located.
In contrast, open-flowered varieties of dahlia 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 flowering dahlias for you to consider
- the Dahlia ‘Bishop of York’ bears bright yellow single flowers all summer long, which contrast with the green-purple foliage.
- the Dahlia ‘Bishop of Auckland’ bears velvety, carmine-red single flowers on almost black stems that contrast with the dark green-red leaves.
- the Dahlia ‘Topmix Rosa’ bears pretty, single pink flowers with a yellow center that contrast with dark green foliage. The flowers last all summer and well into autumn.
For best results, grow dahlias in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil. Regularly remove the withered flowers and fertilize with a fertilizer rich in potash to extend the flowering time. 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.
Common heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Flowering period: July – November
Calluna vulgaris, also known as common heather, is a bushy dwarf shrub that grows in moist, but well-drained, acidic soil in a sunny to partially shaded spot. The stems are covered with tiny green leaves and flower spikes. Its flowers are a magnet for bees. Cut off old panicles as they begin to wilt to encourage new growth.
The most beautiful Calluna varieties that bees appreciate in autumn include:
- Calluna vulgaris ‘Dark beauty’ has bright red flowers. The flowering period extends from around September to mid-October.
- ‘Tib’ bears beautiful purple flowers from August through October. The leaves turn from dark green to bronze in winter.
- ‘Alicia’ flowers with white buds from early September to early December.
- ‘Robert Chapman’ has golden yellow leaves that turn copper brown in winter. Common heather bears purple, bell-shaped flowers from July to October.
- ‘Spring Torch’ also has a very long flowering period – from August to November. The plant has purple-pink flowers.
Japanese anemone (Anemone japonica)
Flowering period: August – October
Japanese anemones are a breathtaking sight in late summer and early fall. The semi-double flowers in delicate pink or white float on tall stems above attractive foliage.
Autumn anemones thrive in the sun or partial shade and can also cope with dry soil. The autumn flowers are easy to plant in pots.
After flowering, cut them back and remove dead leaves and stems in March. Mulch annually in spring or fall. The Asian beauties are rhizome-forming and have a tendency to spread widely in the garden. So split larger tufts every couple of years to keep them under control. The best time to do this is in autumn or spring.
Autumn anemone varieties that are among the most beautiful late summer and autumn perennials are:
- Anemone tomentosa ,Serenade’ (pink flowers)
- Anemone japonica ‘Prince Heinrich’ (purple pink)
- Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert‚ (White)
- Anemone japonica ‘Queen Charlotte’ (light purple-pink)
High fatty hens (Hylotelephium)
Flowering period: July – October
Stonecrop (Hylotelephium) are perennial perennials from the thick-leaf family that produce small, star-shaped flowers from summer to autumn. They are sometimes included in the Sedum genus.
Seducers do best in a sunny spot in well-drained soil. They look best in the front part of a bed, but also look good in pots.
- Purple sedum ‘Purple Emperor’ grown for their 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 lush, light green leaves and contrasting salmon-pink summer flowers that turn orange-red in autumn. Like most sedums, it is a valuable source of nectar for pollinators, especially butterflies.
- Magnificent fat leaf ‘Carl’ (Hylotelephium spectabile) makes flat, bright pink flower heads on upright stems in autumn.
Argentine verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
Flowering period: July – October
The Argentine Verbena (Verbena bonariensis) is a unique plant that is valued by lovers of the prairie gardens, as well as butterflies and pollinators. The tall stems gracefully protrude above many other companion plants and reach heights of up to 2 m. During the summer months and well into October they carry bright purple clusters of flowers. If you are looking for elegance and style in autumn flowers for bees, Verbena bonariensis is a must.
Plant Verbena bonariensis in moist, but well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered spot. Let the flowers stand to allow the birds to form seed pods, and prune the plant in mild regions before it sprouts again in spring (in colder regions the plants may not survive winter). When the plants are happy with their location, they will self-sow, but you can also propagate them by cuttings.
The low-growing variety is particularly popular with hobby gardeners Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’. With a maximum height of 60 cm, ‘Lollipop’ is suitable for smaller gardens and containers as well as for the front part of borders.
Plant spring onions
A great way to help the bees in the spring is to plant bulbs in the fall. Early bloomers provide the bees with a source of pollen and nectar when there is little else in bloom.
By planting flower bulbs in pots, you can ensure that you don’t miss their colorful blooms, especially if they are along the sidewalk, next to the front door or on the patio. Choosing varieties that are both high in nectar and pollen is a livelihood for the first bumblebees, some of which wake up from hibernation as early as February. Plant spring flowers that will bloom for a long time, such as early-blooming crocuses (from February to March) and primroses (from February to May). By combining flower bulbs, you not only create eye-catching pots, but also attract different pollinators.