Fall color, migration and hibernation.

The trees are starting to turn colors. The quality of light has a different feel. Harvest equipment is an everyday sight on the roads or in the fields. My pantry and freezers are filling up with the bounty of the year. It must be fall! Even though the ‘first day of fall’ is officially the Autumn Equinox on September 22, all the signs of the season are upon us.

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Honeybee approaching a borage flower.

In my flower bed, I am taking note of blooms. I do the same in early spring as these are the times when color can seem lacking in perennial beds without some planning. Though I felt that there wasn’t much variety, this week I starting listing blooming plants in my garden journal and there is a surprising variety. My annuals are limited mostly to herbs: calendula, lavender and borage are going strong, as is my oregano which has been coming back for me the past 3 years at least. Zinnas are a focal point of the model pollinator garden and the Gazania, moss roses and snapdragons are still providing color. For perennials: Stiff Goldenrod has just begun to bloom (a non-aggressive species,) Royal Catchfly, Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, Wild Quinine and Butterflyweed are still showing off while Nepeta, Anise Hyssop, Chocolate Mint and most of my Echinacea have active blooms but are looking pretty tired. Autumn Joy Sedum and New England Asters are just getting started in my yard.

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Two bees, most likely Carpenter Bees, foraging together on a Blanketflower bloom. These bees are quite large.

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Unknown pollinator on Butterflyweed, a native milkweed critical for Monarch butterflies.

As is the case with many gardeners, I am always looking for more blooms throughout the year and in the fall garden it is of special importance for me as I make choices with pollinators in mind. The final yearly generation of Monarch butterflies is hatching this month and last. They are starting to make their way to Mexico where they will spend the winter. An abundance of blooms will ensure they have the fuel necessary to make the 2,000 mile trip. These same Monarchs will be laying eggs for the first generation of 2019 in the southern United States! Hummingbirds will also be migrating to Mexico and Central America, covering as many as 23 miles a day. They can use all the nectar they can get on this long trip. Most bees die in the winter leaving their brood as eggs or pupa to hatch or grow in the coming spring. Bumble bees are a bit different. They live in colonies, much like honeybees. Unlike honeybees, the entire colony dies as winter arrives with young queens the only survivors. Next years queens (already mated, ready to lay eggs early in spring) need to find a lot of nectar to bulk up before hibernating during our cold winters.

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Tricolor bumblebee on Anise Hyssop. Just look at all the pollen on it’s hind leg!

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Can you spot the Hummingbird? I had quite a time trying to catch a photo of this one. It alighted on our fence and several flowers but was moving again when I got close enough for a photo.

For pollinators and your own enjoyment consider planting a few more fall blooming perennials in the garden. The list above is a good start, but I know there are other lovely flowers to be found. For more information on Monarchs, Hummingbirds or our native bees see: Monarch Watch, Hummingbird Central and Xerces Society.

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