As discussed in our 'August in the Beehive' blog post, this month can be a tough one for bees, with not many plants in flower to provide the nectar and pollen that each colony needs.
August is the time when bees rely most heavily on urban gardens to sustain them. Fortunately, it’s also the time that we’re most likely to be out in our gardens tending to them and ensuring a succession of flowers for us and the bees to enjoy.
Many of the garden plants that are a good source of forage for our native bees in late summer originate from North America. They typically grow in prairie habitats, flowering in the late summer and autumn thus avoiding the extreme heat experienced earlier in their season. Some good examples include Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Solidago (Golden Rod) of which there are hundreds of varieties,Gallardia, Penstemons, Helianthus (annual and perennial sunflowers), Verbena – particularly the speciesbonariensis andhastata.
Heleniums are great late season nectar sources
Probably the most attractive of all the North American plants grown in UK gardens for bees are the Heleniums. Also known as sneezeworts, these late summer flowering perennials come in a variety of colours ranging from yellows, orange and intense reds. They are a magnet for bees and very easy to grow even on relatively poor soils. If Chelsea-chopped in June they can provide a succession of blooms from Late July right through to the first frosts of autumn.
Things we can do to prolong the flowering period of many plants include:
Deadheading – removal of the flowers as they begin to fade and before they can produce seed, which triggers the plant to keep growing replacement flowers.
Cut back herbaceous perennials that are past their best. Cutting back herbaceous plants like Catmint, Salvias, Hardy Geraniums, Eryngium and Bowles mauve Wallflower will encourage fresh new growth and a second flush of flowers a few weeks down the line.
Keep plants well-watered and top-dress them with some fish blood and bone meal and mulch with well-rotted garden compost or leaf mould. The additional nutrients will give them the support they need to keep flowering and produce a second flush of growth if they havebeen cut back hard. Mulching will help conserve moisture.
Successional sowings of your favourite annuals to ensure some are in flower all through the season.
Helleniums - these North American perennials are highly attractive not just to honey bees but also many of the small solitary bees of the Lassioglossum and Halictidae genus. They also attract the very large and magnificent Volucellazonaria – Britain’s largest hoverfly, a hornet mimic.
Echinacea - Another North American plant known as thecone flower for the large conical-shaped flower/seed heads produced. These flowers come in a wide range of colours from Blood red to orange, yellow and white. They attract mainly honey and bumblebees but are also great for butterflies.
Eryngium - also known as sea holly. These plants, some native to the UK, do well in hot, dry conditions as they are adapted to live invery poor free-draining sandy soils along coastal dunes. The silvery-blue flowers look like small teasel flowers and are attractive to a wide range of bee species. The highly decorative seed heads are alsogood for dry flower arranging.
Globe Thistles look great in any garden
Echinops - Globe Thistle. These plants come in varieties such as ‘ritro’ which is quite small and grows to about 4 feet. Its wild counterpart, on the other hand, can reach 6 feet when mature. The striking blue flowers are popular with bumblebees and honey bees as well as butterflies.
Scabious - Field scabious will be mostly over by August, but the small scabious and Devils Bit scabious flower continue to flower into September. Knautia Macedonia will often bloom right through to autumn too. These provide pollen and nectar for a wide variety of insects, including Scabious specialists like the Small Scabious Mining Bee.
Verbena - There is a wide range of Verbenas available in garden centres today.Avoid the highly showy and delicate bedding types but go for species types such as ‘rigida’ which is relatively low growing, ‘Vestata’ which is a medium height Verbena producing pyramid-like spikes of purple/pink flowers and the very common ‘bonariensis’ which can grow to 6 feet or more and seeds itself freely around the garden. They are hardy but short-lived perennials. All three varieties mentioned here have a long flowering period and are attractive to honey bees.
Rudbeckia - Another North American prairie plant popular in UK gardens. The bright yellow flowers of the very tall ‘maxima’ or shorter ‘fulgida are attractive to honey bees and short-tongued solitary species.
Dahlias - Simple open type Dahlias such as the many varieties of ‘bishops’ Dahlia arepopular sources of forage with a wide range of bees at this time of the year. Bishop of Llandaff is particularly attractive despite being red – a colour the bees do not see.
Agastachi black adder - The Giant Mexican Hyssop. Recent plant trials have named this plant as being the most attractive common garden plant to bees and other pollinators — certainly a big hit in my garden.
GoldenRod/Solidago- This North American plant often gets a bad rap as being an invasive weed of derelict ground but there are many species of Solidago nearly all of which are highly attractive to pollinators and many are neat clump forming types (and not the fast spreading Canadian Goldenrod most are familiar with!)