With the infrequent rains and hot temperatures in late September, my garden is finished for the most part. That may be why I noticed, in my rush out the door to yet another of my daughter’s soccer games, butterflies and bees hovering around one of the few things still blooming, my blue malva. That got me to thinking: early fall is a crucial time for pollinators. For butterflies flying south, it is fuel up time and for honey bees, it is the last chance to store away honey. I’ve been looking at low maintenance, drought tolerant perennials that bloom in fall to add to my collection and with this in mind, here are five.
Joe-Pye Weed may be my favorite of all that I found. Don’t let the name turn you off, like it almost did me. The leaves are vibrant green, with a purple stem lending visual interest for longer than just its bloom time. Pale pink-purple flowers bloom in mid-summer and last through fall.
Goldenrod is a flower that gets a bad rap, often getting blamed for fall allergies when it is really ragweed that deserves all the disdain. With over one hundred cultivated species it will be easy for me to find one to fit in my landscape. The flowers range from white to a brilliant sunshine yellow. While it is native it can quickly spread throughout your flowerbed through rhizomes if left unchecked. To avoid this, be sure to choose a hybridized type from your local nursery.
Russian Sage is again another plant where the silvery green foliage is just as beautiful as the tall purple flowers. Tolerant of dry conditions, only needing watered while getting established, and its resistance to deer makes it a favorite of many gardeners.
Sedum is one of those plants I wonder where it has been all my life. Sedums come in many different colors, sizes, and forms. Not all are cold hardy in our region so I’ll be buying from a reputable grower nearby to make sure I get a variety that is. What may be most appealing to me though is that they are also called stonecrop, because only stones need less care and live longer.
Maximilian sunflower will soon be finding a home in my garden. I love the cheerful yellow flowers that last from August to frost. It seems too good to be true that they spread but are easily controlled through plant division. Since they are multi-branched and make good cut flowers, they may also be gracing my kitchen table.
My list could keep going as there are certainly a lot of gorgeous fall blooming plants, but I don’t want to overwhelm myself or you with too many at once. Through the Pollinator Partnership you can access an ecoregional planting guide by entering your zip code at http://pollinator.org/guides. Another resource I found helpful was the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia found at www.bgh.com. Delaware County has an enthusiastic group of Master Gardeners through Ohio State University Extension who are available for plant advice for free! Call 740-844-2030 or stop by at 149 North Sandusky Street in downtown Delaware.
If you are looking for other ways to help pollinators Delaware SWCD is holding a common milkweed pod collection, in cooperation with the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative, until Oct. 31. For more details or other current program offerings please visit our webpage at www.delawareswcd.org.
Susan Kuba is the fiscal services coordinator for the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District.