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From The Ground Up: Make sure your fall garden has plenty of pollinator plants

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By Becki Lynch, Iowa State University Extension

It’s hard to believe our summer season is winding down. As we move into late August and September many gardeners, myself included, are ready to throw in the trowel. But hang on a little longer because this time of year is doubly important for pollinators to have a wide variety of nectar on which to feed. They’re nearing the end of their season, and need lots of nutrients (sugar) to overwinter.

Monarchs that will be migrating thousands of miles will need good nectar sources along the way to successfully arrive at their over-wintering sites in Mexico.

But not just Monarchs need to prepare for winter. Butterflies that are non-migratory also need nourishment. These butterfly species will spend winter in various life stages. Some butterflies over-winter as eggs. The adult butterflies that lay the eggs need an extra nutritional boost at the end of the season to lay large numbers of healthy eggs that can withstand the winter. So keep those flowers blooming or even consider planting some additional late-blooming flowers that can provide a nutritional boost for these butterflies.

And what about bees? Bees overwinter in one of the four stages – egg, larva, pupa and adult, just as butterflies. And in some cases all of the adults except the queen die, with the queen laying a new population of bees in the spring. Therefore, it’s also important for them to have plenty of nectar on hand to make sure they are healthy and robust for the next year. If your local population of pollinators overwinters well, spring will bring good numbers of pollinators back into your garden and property.

Here are a few fall pollinator favorites:

All asters, but a particular favorite of mine is the Smooth Aster (Aster laevis), which has deep blue blooms, is easy to grow in full sun, and has one of the latest bloom seasons.

Goldenrod is another native well known for its bright yellow/gold blooms in fall and it doesn’t cause allergies to flare up.

Joe Pye Weed’s broad pink/purple blooms begin in August and last through September. This is one of the tallest fall blooming natives.

And let’s not forget some non-natives that are spectacular pollinator attractors. My favorite is “Autumn Joy” Sedum, which grows in a mound about 2 feet high, with deep pink blooms. They are always covered with bees and butterflies from late August on.

The last one to mention is the annual, Lantana. Always loved by pollinators, it continues to bloom throughout the season until frost, thus providing a steady supply of nectar for both migrating and native pollinators.

What do you have in your garden in the fall? Take a look around, and begin to plan what you’d like to plant for next year. The fall planting season will be here very soon.

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