Late Summer Nectar

A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden feasts on annual Cleome, which flowers exuberantly for several months each summer in full sun and reseeds itself each year.

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I had an interesting chat with a local beekeeper on Saturday morning.  We were both at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden.  He was there as a part of the annual August Butterfly Count, and I was there wishing I was joining them.  I had my to-do list and a schedule to keep, but we spent a few minutes discussing some of the most generous and reliable nectar plants growing in that part of the garden.

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A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly feeds on Verbena bonariensis in the Iris border of the WBG.  This South American native Verbena is a pollinator magnet, feeding many species from late spring until frost.  It is hardy in our area and also reseeds.

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I am absolutely delighted to learn that the team counted 25 different species of butterflies on Saturday morning in and around the Botanical garden.

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Pollinators find plentiful nectar in annual Zinnias, even after the petals fall.  Zinnas withstand full sun, heat and drought, lasting until frost.

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Whether you have bee hives to feed or simply want to support the wild pollinators in your area, planting late summer nectar plants in your pots and borders proves a win-win for you as the gardener and for the hungry creatures in search of a reliable buffet.

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This sunny spot in our Forest Garden supports many species of pollinators and birds.  Black-eyed Susans are just opening beneath this mixed planting of fennel, Verbena bonariensis and butterfly bush.

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Some beekeepers rent out their hives, moving them from place to place to take advantage of seasonal bloom.  The hives might be in an apple orchard for a few weeks, then in a peach orchard or near an agricultural field.  The bees follow the path of seasonal flowers.

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An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys Agastache ‘Rosey Posey’ at the Heath family gardens at their Bulb Shop.  This native herb has been developed into many colorful cultivars and is very attractive to bees, butterflies and other pollinators.  Agastache is one of my top picks for a long season of bloom and high quality nectar.

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A beekeeper who wants to keep their hives at home must plan for that succession of bloom nearby so the bees are fed on local nectar year round.  That includes late summer, fall and winter when flowers grow more scarce.

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Many pollinators feast on the rich nectar of Buddleia, butterfly bush.  Newer hybrids are smaller than the species and many are sterile.  I started this one by sticking a pruned branch into the soil a few springs ago.  They are very easy to root from stem cuttings.  Butterfly bush is drought tolerant, grows in full or partial sun and blooms non-stop until late autumn.

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We are always delighted to watch butterflies, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths and many sorts of bees and wasps feasting in our garden.  We get just as much pleasure from watching a cloud of goldfinches rise up from the upper perennial beds as we draw near, or listening to the songbirds calling to one another as they glide from shrub to tree.  I saw a cardinal balancing on the swaying stem of a tall Verbena bonariensis on Friday, clearly finding something there tasty to eat.

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Goldfinches and other birds find as much joy here as the pollinators. After the nectar lovers enjoy the flowers, birds follow along to enjoy the seeds, especially Rudbeckia seeds.

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Selecting plants that will bloom reliably through the heat and dry spells of July and August rewards the gardener with ongoing color and garden interest.  Choosing nectar rich plants that prove both colorful and highly attractive to wildlife keeps the garden alive with flight and song.

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Tubular flowers, like these from Hosta ‘Fire Island’ please hummingbirds.  The Coleus, growing in the background, produces spikes of flowers loved by pollinators and hummingbirds, too,

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A diversity of plant species attracts a diversity of animal species.   By growing a diverse combination of trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous annual and perennial flowering plants, including herbs, it is possible to provide nectar rich plants throughout the year.  A reliable food source is key to attracting wildlife and encouraging them to raise their young in the garden.

Cultivating such a wide variety of plants is as much about ‘selecting’ as it is about ‘allowing.’  Many of the plant species growing in our garden were planted by a previous owner, or simply appeared; wild sown, and we chose to allow them to grow.  A few were gifts from gardening friends.  There are many sources for plant material at little or no cost.

When a plant doesn’t perform well or fit into the overall garden scheme, it should be removed to make room for something better.

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Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, grows into a large shrub or small tree. Planted near windows, they invite bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to feed near the house, where you can observe them in comfort.  These bloom continuously from mid-spring until late fall, and produce tasty seeds to tempt birds through the winter.

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It may take a few years of close observation to develop a useful list of late summer nectar plants appropriate for your own climate.  What blooms happily in one area may prematurely shrivel and fry in another.

Or, there may not be enough hot sunny days to bring a particular plant to its full potential.

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Canna flowers thrill both humans and nectar lovers. They bloom reliably over a long season.  These heat lovers grow in full to partial sun, but like moist soil.  Many insects, including larvae of some moths, attack their leaves.  They may be a bit too messy for some gardeners to enjoy them.

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As our summers heat up, and precipitation patterns grow more erratic, we discover that popular plants may not do as well here as they once did.  A drive around town shows many commercially landscaped spaces looking derelict in mid-August.

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Lantana is one of my top picks for attracting pollinators. It blooms continuously from mid-spring until frost in full sun. It keeps pumping out flowers even during dry spells. Lantana develops woody stems and deep roots. Some varieties prove hardy and return bigger and better each year here in Zone 7.  It is native in warmer areas of the Southeastern United States, but is also considered invasive along the Gulf Coast.

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Our pollinators’ lives depend on a steady supply of nectar rich flowers.  Their lives depend on it, and future generations of them depend on habitat, host plants, and a steady food supply.  If you want to have a more active role in supporting the butterflies observed frequenting your area, spend some time poking around https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org

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This established stand of Lantana in our front garden breaks my resolve to control it every year. There used to be roses and Iris here, and I planted out lots of annuals this spring. Once things heat up, the Lantana and morning glory vines just get ahead of me, but the butterflies flock here on hot afternoons.

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From the main page, click on ‘Regional Species Checklists.’ In the box on the left of the screen, click under region.  Choose your country, and then as menus appear keep choosing your own state, local, etc. until you land on the list of butterflies observed in your own area. 

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As you then click on any species name, you’ll learn about host plants required for its larvae to mature and nectar plants that feed the adults.  By providing nectar plants, you invite the adults.  Also providing host plants, allows you to support that species as it lays eggs in your garden for its next generation.  

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Fennel, an edible herb, serves as a host plant for swallowtails and its flowers attract many different types of pollinators. Parsley, a biennial, is another swallowtail host plant that produces similar flowers in its second year. Both produce seeds for the birds.

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Some gardeners prefer a professional, groomed appearance to their yards.  There is mulched space between carefully trimmed individual plants.  The plan is serene and green, with large blocks of a single plant species and few flowers.  That style might invite compliments from neighbors, but doesn’t necessarily invite wildlife or nurture species diversity.

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There are hundreds of different types of Salvia available.  Some are hardy in our area, some need warmer winters. All delight pollinators and hummingbirds while blooming in difficult conditions over many months.

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Butterflies, bees, wasps, and birds need a richer landscape that provides for their basic needs of shelter, water, secure movement and diverse food sources.  They’ll also seek out the native plants that sustain them and their young.

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Cutleaf coneflower, native Rudbeckia laciniata, draws in many different pollinators. Each plant grows to 6′ or more tall and wide, producing many flowers over a long season. it is just getting started in our garden, but will bloom from now until frost. Bees and wasps love it.

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The mulch in a wildlife friendly garden quickly disappears as plants grow together, coming and going as the season progresses.  There is a rich diversity of species with native trees, shrubs and perennials mixed in among the gardener’s choice of non-native plant species.

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Crape myrtle isn’t a native plant in Virginia, but it naturalizes here and is widely grown in our coastal region. It feeds pollinators and birds while brightening up the summer garden. Keep in mind that many butterflies use native trees as host plants. Allowing native hardwood trees to colonize is a way to support our butterfly and moth populations.  Many other insects shelter in hardwood trees.

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The list of late summer nectar plants offered here isn’t exhaustive.  But it is a good core list that offers choice and variety for gardeners in our region.  I hope you will perhaps find an idea here of something you’d like to try as you grow the buffet for pollinators in your area.

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Native mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, blooms over a long season in late summer and fall.  This easy native perennials spreads itself around and requires very little from the gardener.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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When allowed to bloom, Coleus provides abundant nectar and attracts many pollinators.

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Basil attracts many pollinators when allowed to bloom.  Goldfinches love its seeds.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is one of many pollinators attracted to native purple Coneflowers.  All of the Echinacea cultivars bloom over a long period during the hottest, driest part of summer.

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A bumblebee enjoys native Monarda fistulosa.  There are many types of Monarda available that perennialize here, blooming over many weeks. 

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Tiger Swallowtail on Monarda.

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Native milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa is one of many Asclepias species that perform well in our climate.  Monarch butterflies use Asclepias as their only host plant.

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Monarch feeding on Asclepias syriaca at the Stonehouse Elementary native plant garden.

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Asclepias incarnata, milkweed.

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Clerodendrum trichotomum, Harlequin gloryblower, is a small tree which attracts many pollinators to its nectar rich flowers.  It gets its common name from the electric colors of its blue seeds a few weeks later. (below)

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A male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying the Joe Pye Weed.  This tough, native perennial feeds many sorts of bees and wasps alongside the butterflies.  The species grows quite tall, but there are shorter cultivars available.

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Alliums, like these garlic chives, are wonderful nectar plants. These edible herbs perennialize in our garden. You may also enjoy the flowers or the leaves in salads and other summer dishes.

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Most herbs, and certainly all of the types of mints, reliably feed pollinators. This Nepeta, cat mint,  blooms continually from mid-spring until frost.  If the flowers slow down, simply cut it back and let it regrow.

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‘Black and Blue’ Salvia is a special favorite of hummingbirds.

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Obedient plant and black eyed Susans are both native perennials, that quickly fill any open area with roots and seeds they drop. 

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Six on Saturday: Wildlife Friendly Perennials

Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, grows in full to partial sun.  It spreads a bit more each year.  There are other species of Rudbeckia equally attractive to pollinators that also produce tasty seeds for the songbirds.  Deer rarely touch a leaf, unless there is a severe drought and they need moisture.

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So many of us want to attract birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators to our gardens.  We want beautiful flowers and glowing, healthy foliage; but we don’t want to attract deer to feast in our yards.

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Monarda fistulosa loves full sun and spreads on many types of soil. Flower color varies from lavender to white.  Any species of Monarda, which is a perennial herb, feeds pollinators and is distasteful to deer.  Purple coneflower, Echinacea, is another native plant that blooms for much of the summer to attract butterflies, and delights goldfinches once it sets seed.  Once established, both are very drought tolerant.

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As I chat with fellow gardeners, I hear the same concerns over and again.  We want to be good stewards and support wildlife.  But we want to plant things the deer will leave alone!  No one wants to use expensive sprays and granules to protect their plants, and neither do we want to come out to admire it all and find it munched!

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Hellebores keep right on blooming through winter storms and freezing nights from January until May.  Every part of the plant is poisonous and grazers never touch them.  Pollinators find much needed pollen and nectar when little else is in bloom.

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As undeveloped lands shrink, all of the animals that once lived there look for new places to live and raise their young.  And that means that they learn to live among us in our neighborhoods and in the few remaining ‘wild’ places behind and between the developed parcels.

We have the added challenge in our neighborhood of backing up against protected wetlands and a National Park.  The deer and other wild things move freely from park to neighborhood, looking for a safe place to live where their needs can be met.

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Yellow flag Iris spreads in full to partial sun in moist soil.  It produces a lot of nectar, though it blooms for only a few weeks each spring.  All Iris support pollinators and are distasteful to grazers.  Plant a variety of different types of Iris to support pollinators over a longer period of time.

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I sometimes feel conflicted planting to attract some wildlife, while trying to exclude other species.  But as we all eventually learn, deer don’t share; they consume.   Deer will eat a plant to the point of killing it, then go looking for more.

I’ve spent many years searching for those particular bird and pollinator friendly plants that deer and other grazers won’t eat.  These are some of my favorites in our Zone 7b garden.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, just a few good picks that come to mind.

In general,  deer avoid herbs because of their essential oils, and avoid plants with tough, leathery leaves that feel unpleasant in their mouths.  Plants with poisonous leaves are a sure bet; and there are plenty that may be poisonous to eat, but perfectly safe for us to handle.

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A Silver Spotted Skipper enjoys Verbena bonariensis in our garden.  There are many species of  perennial Verbena, all of which attract pollinators and all of which are ignored by grazers. 

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These plants are easy to grow and easy to find, relatively inexpensive to buy, and forgiving of novice gardeners.  I hope they offer a bit of hope to those gardening, as we do, where the deer roam free and generations of rabbits raise their young in the side yard.

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Agastache, anise hyssop, is an herb related to mint.  Like other herbs, it has essential oils that make it distasteful to grazers.  Agastache often attracts even more pollinators than Lantana, which is saying a lot!  Its seeds feed birds once the flowers fade.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator.

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