Pollination is an essential part of the web of life, and nowhere is it a more essential than when growing our food. Honeybees and bumblebees (and to a lesser extent, native bees) are key to a successful vegetable harvest. And it’s especially important in urban and suburban areas—where honeybee hives may be few and far between—that we make an effort to feed them by planting flowers.
The Importance of Spring to Fall Flowers
By planting a succession of flowers to bloom from early spring to fall in our yards and near the vegetable garden, we help to build the honeybee population and keep them around for the whole growing season. This is of particular importance from mid-summer into fall when the majority of the pollinator-dependent veggies are in flower. We can get this done with a nice mix of annuals, perennials and culinary herbs.
Vegetables that Need Bees for Pollination
Watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant, hot peppers and gourds all must have bees to pollinate them. Tomatoes, while self-pollinating, will have better fruit and seed set (important to gardeners who collect their own heirloom tomato seeds) when their flowers are vibrated by visiting bees.
'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild population in its Indiana habitat. Grow this special native cultivar to add unexpected color and an interesting conversation starter to your pollinator garden. A 2021 High Country Gardens Introduction.
Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. Featuring five varieties of Asters for an array of colors and varying heights, this collection will refresh the garden with late season flowers, just as summer’s blooms begin to fade. Collection of 5 plants. (Symphyotrichum)
One of the first asters to bloom, Monch Frikart's Aster (Aster x frikartii Monch) flowers from mid-summer into fall, with lavender-purple petals surrounding golden-yellow centers. This easy to grow hybrid is mildew resistant. Once established, Asters are drought-tolerant, vigorous, long-lived perennials that provide an important source of and late-season food for pollinators.
Honeysong Pink New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-anglie) announces fall with an abundance of lovely pink, golden-centered flowers. Standing tall, it is a perfect solution for adding height to the back of the perennial border. A pollinator favorite, this easy to grow native cultivar will bloom from late summer well into fall, filling the garden with late season color and visiting pollinators.
Turkish speedwell is one of our showiest blue flowered groundcovers native to the mountains of Turkey. Spreading stems of evergreen foliage root as they spread across the soil and cover themselves with bright blue flowers in late spring.
Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many Asters, it will brighten the garden with dense foliage and sweet pink flowers. A favorite of butterflies, this native cultivar is essential for late-season blooms in the pollinator garden.
Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ (May Night Sage) blooms prolifically with deep purple-blue flowers. It is an outstanding perennial with excellent cold hardiness, vigor, and tolerance of heavy clay soils. Blooming in late spring with a profusion of flower spikes, it reblooms later in the summer when deadheaded.
1" tall x 18" wide. Pink Chintz Thyme (Thymus Pink Chintz) is a tight, low growing creeping thyme with thick stems of woolly green foliage that blooms in mid-spring with a profusion of salmon-pink flowers.
As a landscaper, I make perennials the focus of my plantings. Perennials come back from their roots year after year and often re-seed themselves, thus minimizing the amount of replanting that needs to be done each year. Some of my favorite bee-attracting ornamental perennials include:
Growing your own herbs alongside and in with your vegetables is a “no brainer.” Culinary herbs have fantastic bee attracting flowers and provide anti-oxidant rich seasonings to cook with your vegetable harvest. And many of these herbs will also help to attract beneficial predatory insects that help reduce the populations and damage caused by injurious insect pests like spider mites and aphids.
The easiest way to use annuals that are especially valuable at attracting bees, is to plant one of our seed mixes that have been specially formulated to do the job, such as honey bee mix with a mix of annual and perennial seeds. Just seed the mix into one of your raised beds or dig up an adjacent patch of soil next to your vegetables and sow in the spring.
The key is to plant flowers, lots of flowers that bloom over a long time in the growing season to complete the web of life in your yard and garden. That first juicy tomato of the season will tell you it is worth the effort.