Good news – the list of pollinator-friendly plants for WNC is a very long one. Many are sun-loving, but some thrive in partial and even full shade. By adhering to the overarching principle of ‘right plant, right place’ and to the basic principles described in the previous blog post you can count on thriving plants that attract plenty of pollinators all year long. Here are just a few suggestions.
Fall is the most critical time of the year for bees, a time when nature offers little (beekeepers call it a ‘dearth’) yet pollinator needs are great. Bumble bees are raising queen, and the new queens, sole survivors of their nests, are looking for food and safe hibernation spots. Honeybees are often desperate for food to keep the colony alive during the winter. A large expanse of goldenrod (Solidago) and aster (Sympyotrichum) will be teeming with life from late summer until late October.
Add clumps of the lovely, native bunch grasses such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis). For wetter sites, ironweed (Vernonia) and Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium) are top bee and butterfly magnets. Late summer favorites include coneflower (Echinacea), sneezeweed (Helenium), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and all the mountain mints.
While native plants are always the best option since they co-evolved with the native pollinators, some non-natives are very welcome in the landscape, particularly almost all the culinary and medicinal herbs. Lavender, rosemary, thyme and mint, garlic and onions, and sage (Salvia) are all well loved by pollinators and easily grown without either fertilizers or pesticides. Some, especially the thymes and mints, can do double duty as living ground covers.
Remember that almost three quarters of all bee species nest in the ground and need access to bare or barely covered soil. Three inches of mulch is impenetrable. A little-used native ground cover to consider is green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum). It prefers a bit of shade and spreads easily, making a mat of deep green leaves with charming golden blooms for much of the year. Not native but worth considering are the bugleweeds (Ajuga) and pachysandra. One native species, Allegheny pachysandra, is a taller p. procumbens. Pachysandra likes shade, forms a low, dense maintenance-free ground cover with plenty of attractive, pollinator-friendly flowers and, unlike thick mulch, offers access for ground nesting and hibernating bees.
A mixed shrub border provides excellent pollinator habitat. Mixed shrub borders or wildflower borders along agricultural fields are helping to restore native bee populations, increase yields, and reduce dependence on commercially managed, migratory honeybee colonies.
Some of the shrubs that do best are blueberry, abelia, itea, clethra, hollies (deciduous and bushier ‘blues’), St. John’s wort (Hypericum), witch alder (Fothergilla), Carolina rose, beautyberry (Callicarpa), oakleaf hydrangea, and viburnum.
Not enough room in your yard for all these wonderful plants? Reduce the size of your lawn. Seriously. Each year, our country’s 63,000 square miles of lawns (about the size of Texas) use 90 million pounds of fertilizer, 78 million pounds of pesticides, consume roughly half our drinking water and is a food desert as far as pollinators are concerned. Factor in the toxic exhaust (11 times more pollution per hour than the average auto) created by 3 billion hours of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, and you can see how reducing lawn size by any amount is good not just for pollinators, but for all of us.
When it comes to pollinator-friendly plants, there is an overwhelming amount of information available. Some of the most valuable resources are:
http://www.xerces.org (best books plus free brochure, info, plant lists from The Xerces Society)
http://www.pollinator.org (excellent brochures, especially the free Planting Guide customized to your area)
http://growingsmallfarms.ces.ncsu.edu/(a wealth of info on the Pollinator Conservation page of this site by Chatham County Extension Agent, Debbie Roos)
Written by Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Diane Almond.