There are several key factors when choosing food sources for pollinators and bees. We have carefully chosen native, non hybrid plants that flower at different times throughout the active season. Grouping plants that bloom at different times will allow for a consistency of food which is so important to all pollinators.
SLENDER MOUNTAIN MINT (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium)
A very fragrant, mint like aroma, emitted from all parts of the plant. A white blooming flower from July to September ranging in height from 2 – 3 feet and spreading 2 – 3 feet. This easy to grow perennial grows in full sun and tolerates a wide range of conditions from : drought, erosion, clay soil, dry soil and shallow rocky soil. This plant is recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bees.
TALL SUNFLOWER (Helianthus giganteus)
A showy, golden perennial growing from 3 to 10 feet and spreading 18 to 24 inches. Usually blooming from September to October and seeds ripening October to November. This is a dual plant having a special value for a wide range of native bees. Approximately, 25 types of moth feed on this sunflower. Once seeds have set, various types of songbirds eat the ripe sunflower seeds. This plant favors moist soils, river banks, ditches and marshes.
BLAZING STAR (Liatris spicata)
This purple flower is a special value to native bees and hummingbirds. You will see it growing wild in open meadows in full sun blooming from July to August. It tolerates drought and clay soils. It reaches heights of 2 to 4 feet and spreads from .75 to 1.5 feet.
WILD LUPIN (Lupinus perennis)
This is a bumblebee favorite. A crucial plant for bumblebee queens as the bloom time for the lupin coincides with the emergence of the queens. These plants provide much needed nectar and pollen to hungry bumblebees as they start nest building. The Lupin is also the larval plant for caterpillars of some of the skippers and some moths.
This beautiful, blue flowering plant is the only native lupine to Ontario. Due to habitat loss and fire suppression, this plant has experienced population declines of 90% since 1900. Surprisingly, they are somewhat tolerant to urban pollution.
Growing in full to partial sun, they will attain heights of 1 – 2 feet and spread 1 – 2 feet. They prefer sandy to slightly dry soil. Plant immediately to their forever home – THEY HATE TO BE TRANSPLANTED.
JOE PYE WEED (Eupatorium maculatum)
FIELD THISTLE (Cirsium discolor)
Native thistles, the Cirsium family, are so reliant on insect pollination that they offer great rewards to pollinators. They produce abundant amounts of pollen and nectar since without insect pollination only 10% of their seeds would be fertile.
Over 200 species of bees, butterflies and pollinators visit native thistles throughout North America. In fact, thistles are one of the most visited plants by butterflies. Bumble bees are highly attracted to them and one bumble bee specializes in just thistles. Surprisingly, even the leaves are important to native insects. Some moths and butterfly larva will specifically feed on thistle plant matter. Hummingbirds are drawn to the high sugar content of thistle sap.
THE GOLDENRODS AND ASTERS
The newest data from pollination experts is that the landscape is deficit of late fall nectar producing plants. Basically, migrating pollinators are not finding enough food to fuel their journey. Also, prehibernating bumble bee queens and non migratory bees need late fall nectar to prepare for our cold Ontario winters.
The 2 groups of plants that address this late fall nectar issue are ASTERS and GOLDENRODS.
HEATH ASTER (Symphotrichum ericoides)
This aster grows in full sun preferring dry to average, well drained soils. It tolerates drought and grows well in poor soils. This plant will attain heights of 1 – 3 feet and spreads 2 – 3 feet. Blooming time is August to September and is a crucial fall nectar source for Monarchs on their fall migration to Mexico. It is a special value plant for pollinators, honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies. It is also a larval plant for some butterflies.
NEW ENGLAND ASTER (Symphotrichum novo-angliae)
This aster prefers moist to average soils consisting of loam or clay. It will grow in full to partial sun and bloom from August to September. It will reach heights of 3 – 6 feet and spreads 2 – 3 feet. This aster is also a critical fall nectar source for Monarchs on their fall migration to Mexico. It is attractive to bees, bumblebees and butterflies. Also a larval plant for some butterflies.
SKY BLUE ASTER (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense)
Though a native aster to the Southern Ontario landscape, it is disappearing. Some counties still have abundant wild populations of this beautiful aster but many counties are lacking. Blooming from August to September it reaches heights of 2 – 3 feet and spreads 1.5 – 2 feet. It thrives on full sun conditions and is very tolerant of dry sites and drought.
From our research, the best fit goldenrod for late nectar production is the Canada goldenrod or late goldenrod. Solidago altissima blooms and produces nectar from September through till late October. Some years, it will even produce nectar till early December, weather permitting. It is a terrific choice for naturalization projects but we feel it may not be the best candidate for your cultivated garden. Canada goldenrod can be quite aggressive.
RIGID GOLDENROD (Solidago rigida)
This plant has been recently reassigned to the Oligoneuron class. The new name is now Oligoneuron rigida. This is one of the more attractive goldenrods with a unique appearance and felty leaves. It is acknowledged that rigid goldenrod is one of the most important grassland plants. It is visited by, at least, 40 species of insects. Butterflies, bees and flies are all visitors and it is a favorite of the Monarch butterfly.
This plant grows in full sun in moist to slightly dry conditions. It is drought resistant. It is not particular about soil and will have a tendency to ‘flop’ if the soil is too fertile or wet. It attains heights of 30 – 48 inches and spreads 16 – 24 inches. Bloom time is September.
BIG BLUESTEM GRASS (Andropogan gerardii)
The figworts are a family of plants that have been hugely ignored by the gardening community. Gardeners are unimpressed by the non showy flowers and weedy look of the plant. If you are truly interested in planting high nectar producing plants for our starving pollinators, then the figworts are a necessity.
The figwort family is the most prolific nectar producers in the plant world. Interestingly, this is a well known plant. In the 1880’s, late figwort was known as Simpson’s honey plant and was specifically planted for honey production in North America. Beekeepers claimed a single acre of Simpson’s honey plant produced 400 – 800 pounds per acre.
Figwort has special mention by pollinator ecologists for its nectar value. Though figwort is highly desirable to the honeybee, it is also very attractive to native bees, flies, solitary wasps, hummingbirds and butterflies. This is a native species to Ontario though it is almost gone from the landscape with only 2 counties having wild populations.
LATE FIGWORT (Scrophularia marilandico)
Though this plant has tiny, non showy blossoms it produces nectar from July to October. It thrives in full to partial sun in varied soil conditions, even soggy soil. This makes it a wonderful addition to any rain garden. Give it room; it reaches heights of 3 – 8 feet and spreads 3 – 6 feet.
EARLY FIGWORT (Scrophularia lanceolata)
This is the perfect compliment to late figwort with it blooming from May to July. It enjoys the same growing conditions as its cousin, late figwort, so they may be interplanted with one another.
The attributes of the Agastache family of plants has been well known in beekeeping circles. Honey bees are very attentive to these flowers. This is quite a large family of aromatic perennials with confusing common names of hyssops and hummingbird mints. The actual name has Greek origins meaning ‘very much’ and ‘spike’ referring to the abundant flower spikes and flowers.
They are a wonderful plant for the pollinator garden! They are drought resistant and able to grow in poor nutrient soils. An absolute magnet for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other insects since the Agastache flowers are outstanding in their ability to tolerate heat and early frosts. Actually, the bloom time is from June till September, which is truly remarkable.
Plants that persist in nectar production throughout the month of August are of special importance for pollinators. Traditionally, August is Ontario’s drought month and plants, like Agastache, are crucial for insects. The Agastache plant group are rated in the top 20 Ontario plants for feeding pollinators.
The horticultural industry has created many cultivars but beware. True, native Agastache will self seed but not cultivars. Never forget, symbiotic relationships have developed over long periods of time between pollinators and native plants – not cultivars or hybrids.
ANISE HYSSOP (Agastache foeniculum)
This is the most aromatic of all Agastache reminding us of the scent of black licorice. Beautiful lavender flowers persisting most of the summer. Anise hyssop requires full sun, no shade.
A very versatile plant growing in clay, loam or rocky soils. It will grow in almost any soil as long as it is well drained. This is the shortest of our Agastaches attaining heights of 2 – 4 feet and widths of 1.5 – 3 feet.
GIANT PURPLE HYSSOP (Agastache scrophulaeriafolia)
This hyssop is rare in the environment. It is sensitive to competition so this plant requires soil disturbance to persist in an area. In fact, this plant requires less sun and tolerates part shade. It also prefers wetter soils as long as they are well drained.
Giant Purple is a tall plant attaining heights of 3 – 6 feet and widths of 1.5 – 2 feet. Though less aromatic than anise hyssop, it still is a magnet for all pollinators and insects. The flowers are a softer, pale purple and the stems stay erect in the winter adding to the plant appeal by offering winter seed food to small song birds.
GIANT YELLOW HYSSOP (Agastache nepetoides)
Though not impressive in flower, it is all about the plant appeal. Light yellow flowers persistently produce nectar from July till September. A tall, upright plant acquiring heights of 4 – 7 feet with little branching and reaching widths of 1 – 3 feet.
Giant yellow can grow in average to dry soils. It is a good candidate for stony soils.
Unfortunately, this plant is rare in the Ontario landscape.