by Steve Castorani - Co-owner of American Beauties Native Plants
We are all aware of the importance of planting for wildlife. Let’s continue to do our part to help our pollinator friends find the resources they need year-round.
In late winter and early spring, consider early blooming trees like Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), and Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.). These plants are often in bloom, providing nectar and pollen when we are still shuttered indoors. These trees serve a dual purpose as they also act as a larval food source for many butterflies.
An early blooming shrub to consider is Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). It is a shrub that thrives in the understory of our moist eastern woodlands. More importantly, it is the larval food source for the Spicebush Swallowtail, (Papilio troilus Linnaeus).
As the seasons progress, there are more plants and flowers, which mean there are many more sources of nectar and pollen. Because there are so many plants to choose from, I am just going to mention a couple of the most highly rated selections for you to consider.
Our most highly rated nectar plant is Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum). This well-loved plant is enjoyed by insects and humans alike. Growing 2-3’ tall and spreading quickly (aggressively), this broad-leaved Pycnanthemum has lustrous foliage and silvery bracts with flowers ranging in color from white to pink to purple. The foliage is very aromatic with a spearmint fragrance. Mountain mint booms in mid-summer through to early fall. The abundant nectar supply and accessible nectaries attract pollinators from tiny to large, from sweat bees to flies to skippers, butterflies and wasps. It is a larval host plant for the Gray Hairstreak Butterfly, as well. The strong root systems make a tough soil stabilizer that is great for slopes and streambanks.
For late summer, Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium dubium or syn. Eutrochium dubium – recent name change). Is fabulous for the garden or a container. Covered in dusty pink blooms in late July through September, Joe Pye grows 3’-4’ high and spreads slowly to 3’ wide over a few years. This is also one of the top-rated perennials for pollinators, especially butterflies, bees and wasps. Joe Pye is a favorite of the Tiger Swallowtail.
It is equally important to plant late blooming varieties to help extend the season for bees and butterflies. Two of my favorite plants are the many varieties of Asters and Goldenrods (Solidago ssp.).
Aromatic Aster (Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies' (syn. Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies') is an intensely floriferous, low-growing selection of aromatic aster. It forms a bushy habit of 2’ tall by 2’ wide and is covered with 1” blue-lavender flowers beginning in late summer through to fall. I find it covered in pollinators for many weeks in late September and October.
Another great selection to include in your fall garden is Goldenrod or autumn goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata 'Golden Fleece'). Golden Fleece Goldenrod puts on a stunning show of sprays of golden yellow flowers from mid-August through September. It has semievergreen heart-shaped leaves, makes an excellent groundcover, and is a bee and butterfly charmer! Hairstreaks, sulphurs and skippers are particularly attracted to goldenrod. Monarch butterflies also visit it during their autumn migration.
So, when looking to add pollinator friendly plants to your garden, remember to think in terms of a calendar year. Having plants bloom in every season will be rewarding for you, but more importantly for all our pollinator friends too!