Fall is an important time for the bees. It is their last opportunity to build up nectar and pollen stores before Winter. Here are the most nutritious fall bee flowers (for both honey bees and native bees) that you can plant in your own yard. Grow them and you will help the butterflies too. Lucky for us they are also beautiful flowers, so plant away!
Fall Flowers the Bees Will Love
Anemone or Windflower (Anemone x hybrid) There are many anemones, for this list I am just including the fall-blooming anemones. A beautiful flower in soft pink or white that grow to about 3′ high. I am mad about a white one, ‘Honorine Jobert”–just beautiful. They thrive in light to partial shade but will tolerate full sun, as long as there’s enough moisture. Site plants in moist, humus-rich soil, but avoid overly wet conditions. Most are hardy in zones 4 to 7.
Aster (Aster) Asters are the last flower to bloom in my garden before the killing frost. I love their charm and their toughness. Bees love them too, as do butterflies. They come in a range of colors from blue, purple, pink, yellow, and white. Asters differ in size and form, ranging from the six-inch-high Aster alpinus to the towering seven-foot A. tataricus. Here is a short list of some popular ones.
- New England asters (A. novae-angliae) Despite the name, they are actually native through much of the country. They prefer moist soil and sun. Zones 3 to 8.
- Aster frikartii 2.5-3′ high with lavender-blue flowers. In the mild-winter western U.S., it blooms practically year-round if you remove spent flowers. Needs winter protection in zones 5-6.
- Smooth Aster (Aster laevis) The only aster with smooth leaves. Pale blue-lavender blooms and about 3′. Extremely hardy, may even bloom into November. Zones 4-8.
For more “natural” gardens, consider:
- White wood aster (A. divaricatus) is a native of eastern North American forests. Blooms well in dry shade–brightening dark corners. Great deep purple stems. Zones 3 to 9.
- Heath aster (A. ericoides) is native through much of the United States. Tiny flowers in white, pink or lavender bloom in great profusion on dense, bushy plants to three feet. Tolerates some drought. Plant in a sunny spot. Zones 4 to 9.
Bluebeard or Blue Mist (Caryopteris clandonensis) I can’t say enough good things about this long-blooming shrub. First, the color of these flowers is incredible–a shade of blue that almost seems to glow. Silver green leaves. It is drought resistant, rabbit resistant, and beloved by bees, beneficial insects, and butterflies. Caryopteris looks great in flower gardens, shrub borders, and in masses. Height ranges from 2′-4′, depending on the variety. Zones 5 to 9.
Bush Clover (Lespedeza thunbergii) This shrub recently appeared on my radar–now it is on my short list to plant. Not commonly grown, but it needs to be. Pollinators goes nuts over these long-blooming purple-pink flowers. Also available in white. Has a branching, weeping habit, so it would look great against a wall, or over a hill. Drought tolerant and tolerant of a range of soils. Since it is in the pea family, the plant will send nitrogen into the soil and the plants around it. Best in full sun, will tolerate partial shade. Make sure it has enough room; its height will be about 3-4′, width will reach 6-8′. Zones 4-9.
Coneflower (Rudbeckia) Coneflower is a common name for many flowers–not all of them are great for bees. In addition this coneflower’s Latin name, Rudbeckia, may bring to mind other Rudbeckias such as Black-Eyed Susans (which are often on bee flower lists, but in my experience don’t offer much food for the bees.) No, here I am intending to recommend the very tall (6′-8′), yellow coneflowers such as Rudbeckia laciniata, Rudbeckia nitida, and Rudbeckia maxima. They offer great pollen and some nectar. Butterflies, beneficial insects, and birds all love these flowers. Grow in average soil in full sun. Zones 5-9
Goldenrod (Solidago) Goldenrod can be a tough sell, because many see it as a weed. Or they associate their autumn allergies with goldenrod (unlikely). But this plant has a lot going for it. It looks great next to other fall blooming plants, is a cheery yellow color, grows well in dry soil, and is a nutritious food for the bees. Goldenrod honey is dark, flavorful, and high in antioxidants. There are over 100 varieties found in North America; seek out the ones that grow well in your climate. If you think the taller varieties look too weedy, try the dwarf varieties in your garden, such as Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’. Zones 4-9.
Perennial Sunflower (Helianthus) Yellow daisy-like flowers that are smaller than their annual cousins, but tall like annual sunflowers. Seeing these at the back of a border give drama to a garden and may just be the antidote for the grumpy gardener. Rich yellow flowers with dark green leaves. Starts blooming in late summer, continues through the fall. Look for different varieties such as, Helianthus angustifolius ‘Mellow-Yellow’, Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, Helianthus maximillani, and Helianthus angustifolius (Swamp sunflower) (this one is a good choice for poor soils). Plant in full sun with some compost added. Tolerant of many soil types but does not like drought. Zones 4-9.
Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’) Last on the list, but certainly not least. The Sedum Genus has about 400 species. Many of them offer modest amounts of nectar and pollen. But without a doubt ‘Autumn Joy’ is the bee favorite. Plant it and watch the honey bees come. It begins as soft pink to coral in color, becomes more vibrant, then ages to a deeper rust color later in the fall. Looks great with other perennials and grasses. Full sun. Zones 3-9.
What is your favorite Fall bee flower?