August 23, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Right plants help bees with winter preparations

Pat Munts
 
PAT MUNTS Special to photo

A honey bee works on Russian sage flowers gathering nectar and pollen for winter stores. Special to
(Full-size photo)

To learn more

If you are interested in learning how to become a beekeeper, contact the Inland Empire Beekeepers Association for a schedule of winter classes at www.inlandbeemail.com/.

I’ve been having a bit of fun this summer. With the help of the Inland Empire Beekeepers Association I installed a honeybee hive in my yard this spring. It’s been quite a learning experience, but I now have a yard full of busy pollinators who are filling frames in the hive with honey. They are everywhere from early dawn until dusk.

As the summer winds down, my bees are busy packing in honey to keep themselves going through the winter. In the cold winter weather, they will bunch together and keep themselves warm with the energy from the honey’s sugars.

To gather the nectar they need to make their winter food supply, the bees need lots of late summer and early fall blooming flowers. As the gardener, I need to make sure I have as many on hand as I can. Here are a few of the bees’ favorites.

Asters

Long before I put in my hive, I knew the bees loved asters. They would crowd onto the plants, taking no notice of me or the fact I had to pull the plants out of the way to get into the vegetable garden. Because the asters are a large genera of plants, they will start blooming in early August and continue until well into the fall.

Sunflowers

Honeybees love the big flat disk flowers of the sunflowers. The center of the bloom with its hundreds of smaller florets makes it easy for the bees to get a feast of nectar and pollen. As they move from floret to floret, they pollinate the sunflower and help pollinate the seeds that the birds will feast on before winter sets in.

Autumn Joy sedum

The broad, flat, complex flowers of the Autumn Joy sedum are another favorite. This plant is one of the last to begin blooming in September. I’ve seen as many as three or four bees at a time feeding on the pink, red and white flowers. The plant will bloom right up to frost.

Catnip and catmints

Most catmints and catnip bloom in July, but if they are cut back hard after the first bloom, they often send up another batch of flowers that will bloom into early fall. Catmints like Walker’s Low aren’t as attractive to cats and make a good ground cover in sunny, dry areas.

Russian sage

Russian sage is almost the perfect plant for a late summer Inland Northwest garden. Not only is it very drought tolerant, deer resistant and attractive to bees, it is one of the few late summer blue-flowering perennials. It starts blooming a little ahead of the asters and lasts well into the fall.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod with its spikes of bright yellow flowers is a great companion for Russian sage. For the bees it is not only a source of nectar but a source of particularly high quality protein-rich pollen.

Pat Munts can be reached by e-mail at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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