Overwintering Series: Planting for Pollinators

There’s a reason for the term busy bee! Bees forage for pollen and nectar all spring and summer in order to produce brood and store enough honey to survive the winter, often literally working themselves to death. The good news? You can avoid this while also adding color and beauty to your late summer garden!

Providing late-blooming flowers can immensely help honeybees with food scarcity they may encounter in late fall. Although you always have the option to feed your bees if they don’t produce enough honey, fresh nectar is a far healthier choice than sugar water, which is tough for bees to digest. (We'll be going over when and if to feed in a later installment.) For now, just remember that it's always better to plant than to feed when possible.

Here are some planting for pollinator tips:

1. Variety is key

By growing a variety of plants that bloom from early spring until late fall, you will provide a consistent nectar flow for your bees to produce as much honey as possible before going into winter. Try to grow a variety of flower sizes to appeal to all different pollinators in your area. Even if it's too late to plant flowers in your area, you can still plant a variety of cover crops. Cover crops protect your soil and are great for foraging pollinators. In the Northwest, these include legumes such as vetch, clover and field peas. Mustard plants and buckwheat are also great options!

2. Let the weeds grow free

Late season planting for pollinators can be easier than you think. Letting “weeds” like clovers or dandelions grow provides a great food sources for bees. In the Pacific Northwest, milkweed and yarrow weeds are plentiful and we have no intention of yanking them! Also, letting spring greens and herbs go to seed is an great and easy option. Finally, you could plant a second round of classic flowers like sunflowers.


3. Invest in a living roof

Not only does our Langstroth Living Roof add a beautiful, lush finish to your hive, but it can be a great resource for pollinators! Place it atop your hive and plant sedum or any other type of plant. We choose sedum because it’s a hardy, succulent plant that’s particularly good for bees because it blooms in the fall. Not looking to give your hive a face lift? You don't have to put the living roof on a hive. It could go anywhere in your garden for increased pollination power.  Bees from your hive may not forage right on top of their home, but other pollinators will. Attracting these other pollinators will help the plants your bees do forage on to flourish. Isn't the circle of pollination beautiful?

4. Take advantage of resources!

There are a ton of resources for figuring out exactly what to harvest and when. The Xerces Society has a great website with lists of what, and when, to plant for early and late seasons in different regions of the country. These lists are also in Xerces’ Attracting Native Pollinators book.

Happy planting!

Be sure to stay tuned for next week’s story on honey harvest dos and don'ts and remember to subscribe to our Vimeo or Youtube channels to watch the entire overwintering series.


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