Organic gardener growing food and flowers, lovin' pollinators and birds.

Add these 3 pollinator-friendly plants to your autumn garden

Keep the pollinators and migrating butterflies in mind when planning next year's garden. 

Monarch butterflies in particular need fall-blooming plants that are nectar rich and will help fuel their journey to the overwintering grounds in Mexico. Lots of other pollinators will also benefit from the late-season buffet, such as bumble bees and native bees.

Plus, autumn is a great time to add perennials to your garden. The soil is already warm and the fall rains help acclimate the plants to the new garden spots. 

Below are three perennials that grow enthusiastically in my Northeast U.S. garden. (Sometimes if they are too happy, they will spread into other garden beds as well. One way to minimize this is by removing spent flowers before they go to seed, also known as deadheading.)

More than 10 monarch butterflies enjoyed the Liatris scariosa in bloom in September.

Liatris scariosa or Liatris ligulistylis

When it comes to attracting monarch butterflies, this plant is a magnet! In my region I grow the Northern version of this plant (Liatris scariosa) that produces thistle-like purple flowers on 2 to 3 feet tall plants, but gardeners in the mid-west may opt for Ligulistylis, which can grow 5 feet tall. Both plants provide late-season food for the migrating monarch butterflies. 

Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae or Symphyotrichum cordifolium

These brightly colorful flowers of the New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) can grow as high as 5 feet tall; a "chop" in June will help create bushier, compact plants later in the season. The daisy-like flowers come in dark purple, violet, pink and deep pink, and will attract butterflies and bees.

The smaller aster flowers of Heart-Leaved asters (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) and Arrow-Leaved asters (Symphyotrichum urophyllum) will be more attractive to bumblebees and native bees. These tiny blossoms create the impression of larger drifts of light-blue or white flowers.

Both varieties will reseed and spread throughout the garden, sometimes a little aggressively, but are easy to remove if needed. I grow both in full and part sun.

Arrow-Leaved aster with goldenrod. 

Goldenrod (Solidago)

Often accused as being the source of allergies (it's actually ragweed that causes that issue), goldenrod entices bees, butterflies and wasps to visit its tiny yellow blooms filled with nectar. There are different varieties that will bloom at different times, and they do best in a sunny spot with well-draining soil. You'll want to look for a variety that spreads slowly without runners (such as Solidago speciosa), otherwise you will need a heavy hand to keep it from overtaking the garden.

Red-banded hairstreak on the goldenrod (you can see how small it is due to the detail of the goldenrod flowers).

These three perennials offer a food source for insects and a pop of color as the cooler season settles in. Consider pairing them with other plants and shrubs in your garden, such as blueberry bushes with leaves that turn red in the fall, annuals such as cosmos, or showy flowering plants like dahlias (which may or may not. need to be harvested and stored overwinter depending on your growing zone).

Originally published on 10/20/21.


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