08 Oct Feeding pollinators in the fall
People have a tendency to think about bees and pollinators in the spring and summer – points in time when there is often an abundance of food choices for our pollinators. But now, as we enter the tail-end of the growing season, our attention is being drawn elsewhere. Even those of us that care about cultivating flowering plants are tempted to move on. The idea of cleaning up flower beds and gardens is more on our minds than encouraging more blooms or leaving cover for beneficial insects.
But, if we clean it all up and ignore late season flowers – what do our pollinators do for sustenance and where do they go for shelter? Not just now – but for the rest of the year until spring is here again?
Asters to the rescue
I put myself together to collect eggs at the farm yesterday afternoon, stepped out the door, and noticed a small reddish pink aster plant we let do its thing in a neglected corner of our lawn by the house. Then, I looked at the purple aster in the perennial bed nearby. I observed all of the Thousand-flower Aster that have volunteered in places we have not “cleaned up.” In fact, those little white flowers are often part of the reason we decide to let areas on the farm go “wild” in the late summer. We even let the area around our mailbox go when we saw how many of these plants were there this year.
I suspect the mail carriers may not be the biggest fans of this – though they said nothing about it when I was outside taking pictures as they drove up. They probably wondered what kind of an oddball I was to be outside taking close-up pictures of little white flowers. But, that (as they say) is another story.
This year has been much drier than the past five or so years, so it has been friendlier to many of our aster plants. Very few of the New England asters we planted some years ago are still in their original place (though I suspect some of their progeny are what populate our grounds now). We got a nice soaking rain in September and that was all these plants needed to give us a glorious bloom.
Sometimes letting go works best
Our human brains often desire order and neatness, which is one of the reasons people get anxious to clean up perennial beds. We tire of the plantings that have been overrun by grasses and other, even less desirable (to us) plants. Many of the plants we have cultivated are past their peak and they don’t bring us the same sense of satisfaction a neatly trimmed flower bed might.
Even I, a person who wants to do whatever I can to support pollinators, would like to have a few places on the farm that doesn’t look like we’ve done nothing to maintain appearances. After all, we do care at least a little about how our farm looks. We also believe that you can have a planting that looks good to us AND is friendly to a wide range of beneficial critters.
But, sometimes, the best answer is to let it go.
You see, the pollinators don’t see the world the same way we do. What looks like a tangled mess to us is a beautiful buffet or a penthouse suite to some of them. It’s a place where our bumbling human feet and bodies don’t go, making it the perfect refuge for them.
We also need to remember that pollinators come in all shapes and sizes. They often don’t need the big, easy to see, blooms that humans might prefer to see in their gardens. Sometimes, they just want a bunch of little white flowers. White flowers on a plant that many humans think is a weed.
I guess it makes sense that we might think some of the plants in wild areas are weeds. Plants like the Thousand-flower Aster often have aggressive root systems, crowding out the competition, and they seem pretty happy to grow most anywhere. If you have some cultivated plants in your flower bed, you might not be as happy to see them because the flowers you selected can’t compete.
But the pollinators? They love those plants.
So, we learn to love them too.