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August can be a tough month for bees with few native plants still in flower. Urban gardens are therefore important in helping to provide a vital food source. Luckily 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 to ensure late summer colour, which is also great for the bees.
Many garden plants that are important for all our local pollinators in late summer originate from North America, where they grow in prairie habitats and have evolved to flower late in the summer and autumn, avoiding the extreme heat experienced earlier in the 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 species bonariensis and hastata.
Helenium flower with Honeybee
Probably the most attractive of all the North American plants grown in gardens for bees are the Heleniums. 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:
Top plants for August
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 Volucella zonaria – Britain’s largest hoverfly, a hornet mimic.
Echinacea - Another North American plant known as the cone 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 bumble bees but are also great for butterflies.
Eryngium or sea holly
Eryngium - also known as sea holly. These plants, some of which are native to the UK, do well in hot dry conditions as they are adapted to live in very poor free-draining sandy soils along coastal dunes. The silvery blue flowers look like miniature teasel flowers and are attractive to a wide range of bee species. The highly decorative seed heads are also great for dry flower arranging.
Globe Thistle feeding a Bumblebee
Echinops - Globe Thistle. These plants come in varieties such as ‘ritro’ which is quite small and grows to about 4 feet. Its wild counterpart can reach 6 feet when mature. The striking blue flowers are popular with bumble bees and honey bees and butterflies.
Devils's Bit Scabious
Scabious - Field scabious will be largely over by August but the small scabious and Devils Bit scabious flower continues 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 rigida flower
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 3 varieties mentioned here have a long flowering period and are attractive to honeybees.
Rudbeckia - Yet 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 are popular sources of forage with a wide range of bees at this time of the year. Bishop of LLangdaff is attractive despite being red – a colour the bees do not see.
Cosmos – these annuals are very attractive to bees in late summer and into autumn and will flower as late as November if regularly deadheaded.
Zinnea - these annuals, like Cosmos, are very popular particularly with bumble bees.
Eupatorium or Joe pie weed - Like many North American plants this hardy perennial is a magnet for all kinds of pollinating insects
Agastachi black adder - 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 our 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!)
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