Fall Gardening Tips:
Keeping Your Garden Thriving and Bee Friendly
Written by: Christy Erickson
In the fall, old bumblebee colonies die and new queens find places to hibernate, such as a hole in the ground, a compost heap, or under piles of fallen leaves. Meanwhile, late-flying species, like the common carder bumblebee and the solitary ivy bee, may visit your garden’s flowers, and honeybees will pop out to feed on warm, sunny days. If you want to keep your garden a haven for bees, there are some steps you can take this fall to equip your garden for the particular needs of different species and to prepare your garden for the spring.
Providing Shelter, Nesting, and Food
Building a log pile or stumpery provides shelter for foraging bees and provides a nesting site for solitary bees and bumblebees. After you assemble the log pile, loosely fill empty spaces with twigs, moss, and leaves, but leave open spaces for nesting places. In your yard, leave a patch of grass to grow long near the garden, as some species prefer the ground for nesting. Bumblebees in particular like using old mouse holes, bird boxes, or thickets of grass to nest in.
While bees need pollen and nectar year-round, they especially need them in fall, as they store up to survive winter hibernation. Be sure to grow a hearty selection of late-flowering nectar plants, including asters, colchicum, Japanese anemones, salvias, lemon balm, basil, borage, and sedum. Plants that are excellent sources of both pollen and nectar include Calendula, Japanese Anemone, Nise hyssop, and clovers.
Keeping Your Garden a Beautiful Food Source
Be sure to include plants that make your garden visually appealing in every season, such as hydrangeas, pagoda dogwoods, and Ninebarks. However, be careful about which hydrangeas you select, as some produce sterile flowers, and thus don’t feed the bees. The best hydrangeas for bees are lacetop, oak-leaved, and rough-leaf. Pagoda dogwoods have clusters of white flowers in the spring and burgundy-red foliage and blue-black berries in the fall. In the winter, their unique horizontal branching pattern catches snow, showcasing the winter wonderland.
Ninebark is a valuable nectar source for many pollinators, including native bees. Toward the end of spring, white flowers bloom, which give way to fruits of a dark glossy-red color. As winter begins, the fruits fade to a rosy tan. Once the fruit is gone, you’re left with the plant’s distinctive bark. As the plant ages, the bark exfoliates loosely and shreds in narrow strips, leaving layers of different colors exposed. Winter gives you a chance to really appreciate and admire the plant’s unique bark.
Planting New Plants in the Fall
The best time to plant spring-flowering bulbs is in the fall. This timing is best because the bulbs have ample time to grow roots during winter and come up early in the spring, and it also ensures your garden features a good supply of pollen and nectar for queen bumblebees emerging from hibernation. Crocus, snake’s head fritillary, alliums, and grape hyacinth are great sources of food for bees in the spring. Be sure to purchase bulbs from a reputable source. “Remember, second-rate bulbs produce second-rate flowers or don’t sprout at all,” says The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Plant the bulbs after the heat of summer has passed but before the ground freezes. Check when the first fall frost will be in your area by using The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s frost date calculator. Plant the bulbs abundantly soon after purchasing them by selecting a site with plenty of sun and well-drained soil at a depth of three times the width of the bulb. Before planting, work a few inches of compost into the soil. Placement and spacing should be random for a more natural appearance. After planting, add low-nitrogen fertilizer, generously water them, and apply mulch. Don’t forget to add protection from rodents.
Although spring and summer have passed, that doesn’t mean fall brings an end to gardening. Now is a great time to add shelter and nesting sites for bees in your garden and yard. You can also plant your spring-blooming bulbs and add some plants – such as hydrangeas, pagoda dogwoods, and Ninebarks – that provide food for bees and are visually appealing throughout the seasons. Once you get your garden squared away, spruce up your front porch with some fun fall decorating ideas to welcome autumn. Soon enough, you’re neighbors will be asking you for fall gardening tips.