While the chickens ran around one evening, I planted some new plants in the pollinator bed: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy,’ Zauschneria ‘UC Hybrid,’ Gaillardia ‘Golden Halo,’ and an ornamental Oregano called ‘Brittany Show.’ Additionally, I replaced the dead sorrel and Agastache foeniculum (Hyssop) in the herb bed with Stevia and Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’ (‘Golden Jubilee’ Hyssop).
Our bees are having a hard time this fall. When Sarah and I inspected hives in July, we thought we were in for a bumper crop of honey. When I started going out in early September, however, I discovered a different story. Most of our hives don’t seem to have enough stores to get through winter.
Many beekeepers in our area are experiencing the same phenomenon. The consensus is that our mild winter and cool summer pushed the plants that comprise our summer nectar flow to bloom much earlier, and that our lack of usual rainfall reduced nectar production. The bees accordingly were up to their roofs in honey back in July, then started using their stores as summer wore on (US Honey Report September 2013).
While ‘Fall is for planting’ might have begun as a marketing ploy for nurseries to encourage sales during a slow time, it is a great time to plant. And, it’s an especially great time to plant fall bloomers for the bees. Here’s a list of plants I see humming with activity in my travels. They do well in USDA Zone 9b, but many will perform in other zones, too (click on the link to find your zone).
- Agastache species: Both the herb (A. foeniculum or Hyssop) and ornamental species (especially A. mexicana and A. aurantiaca cultivars & hybrids) attract bees, but the ornamental species bloom all summer and fall for us. I’m not sure how bees get to the nectar, because the flowers are long, but they must.
- Alyssum: An annual that takes care of itself. Bees hit it when there’s not much else happening, like now.
- Baccharis pilularis & cultivars/Coyote Brush: A California native not necessarily attractive enough for a small garden, but good for hot slopes and farther-away spots.
- Basil: It’s hard to let basil go to flower, because the leaves become spicy and bitter, but if you do, the bees will come in droves. I like to cut basil back on rotation: I cut a few plants back for me, and leave others in flower. Then I return and cut back the ones in bloom, and leave the ones I’ve been harvesting to flower and so on.
- Borage: Always a favorite, whenever it is blooming. Ours reseeds itself all year long, and blooms whenever it’s ready till late fall.
- Caryopteris x clandonensis cultivars, such as ‘Dark Knight’ and ‘Blue Mist’/Bluebeard: This is a woody, deciduous perennial/sub-shrub that most folks around here don’t appreciate. That’s too bad, because it is one of the best fall bloomers for bees.
- Cuphea hyssopifolia/Mexican Heather: This one surprised me, but I have seen bees on it throughout the year, especially in fall. This plant has faded from the nursery scene around here because it freezes most winters, but I have some clients who still have it, and it’s a keeper.
- Gaillardia grandiflora cultivars/Blanket Flower: A bee favorite, but not always a long-lived perennial, especially if it gets too much water. ‘Oranges & Lemons’ often blooms year-round for us. Gaillardia is worth it, even if it’s short-lived.
- Lavandula stoechas & varieties/Spanish Lavender: Reblooms for us about now, and much appreciated by bees, who generally love lavender.
- Loquat: This might be a winter bloomer, but ours is blooming now this year.
- Nepeta x faasseni and cultivars/Catmint: Follows up its summer bloom with a lesser show through fall.
- Origanum vulgare/Oregano: The edible oreganos, both Greek and Italian, bloom about mid-summer through fall. Italian oregano in particular gets rangy and the bees’ activity on it never really slows, so I always struggle to decide when to cut it back. This year, I cut it back in stages (see Basil above). It’s already reblooming.
- Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Irene’/’Irene’ Trailing Rosemary: A trailing form that stays flatter, and seems to bloom most of the year.
- Salvia chiapensis/Chiapas Sage: For us, blooms nearly year-round, until it gets very cold. In fall, it is much visited.
- Salvia ‘Hot Lips’/’Hot Lips’ Sage: Another year-round favorite, till it gets cold. You’ll also see hummingbirds and various native bees on this one.
- Sedum spectabile cultivars: Definitely a bee favorite. I only wish it had secondary blooms and bloomed longer.
- Thymus/Thyme: Another herb that blooms summer and early fall, or longer, depending on how much water you give it. English thyme seems to bloom longest, and the creeping or groundcover cultivars will throw a smaller second bloom in fall.
- Trichostema lanatum & cultivars/Woolly Blue Curls: A California native that blooms in the pollinator bed nearly all year, till it gets very cold. I have read that the honey from Trichostema crystallizes quickly.
- Vitex agnus-caste/Chaste Tree: Begins blooming in later summer and continues into early fall. It really does turn into a tree if you don’t prune it hard every year, but even then it gets large. Luckily, there are some smaller selections, such as ‘Amiguita.’