As I walked through our Minnesota wildlife garden one late September day, I was happy to see so many bees and a straggler monarch butterfly that fluttered in for a pre-migration meal.
Later, I also spied a hummingbird enticed by our fresh array of flowers.
These precious pollinators were stocking up on nectar for migration and hibernation. As I watched them dance from flower to flower, a moment of realization came over me…
The monarch was fluttering between tropical milkweed flowers and two patches of zinnias. The hummingbird was most interested in our coral porterweed, and the bees couldn’t get enough of the red and yellow collarette dahlias.
All 3 of these important pollinators were enamored by our numerous patches of verbena bonariensis. This was the first year we’d cut it back, and the blooms are still full of sweet nectar, as evidenced by the bounty of bumble bees hanging from each flower head.
Have you noticed that all of the aforementioned plants are annuals (depending on your region) or non-native plants?
An advantage of including non-invasive annual plants to your landscape is that many of them bloom until first frost. These flowers are a welcome sight for late migrators and bees stocking up before hibernation.
Another advantage to adding annual plants is that many of them bloom the entire season. This means they’re pollinator-ready 24/7 during garden season.
Most native perennials have a specific bloom period, and that doesn’t always coincide with the pollinators travel itinerary….especially with extreme weather patterns becoming more frequent!
Many of our native plants are currently providing seeds for hungry birds like goldfinches. There are still fading flowers on some, but the majority are finished producing nectar.
October bees and butterflies can still stock up on nectar before settling down for a long winter’s nap. The more energy reserves they have, the likelier they’ll survive until next spring. And in case you’ve been living on a deserted island without your smartphone…we need all the pollinators we can get!
Proponents of native-only gardening argue that non-native plants will be passed over by pollinators and can’t support the ecosystem. Based on years of gardening experience and talking to other gardeners , I have found this to be false in many instances.
Before I’m attacked by the natives, I’m not here to promote pulling out all your native plants and going on an exotic garden adventure. In fact, our garden has many late-season natives that we grow and love. (asters, Boltonia asteroides, asters, gaillardia, Conoclinium coelestinum, goldenrod, etc.)
Here are some of the annual flowers that are still putting out nectar filled blooms for our remaining pollinators and late monarchs passing through:
1. Tropical Milkweed (click link for more info)
A scientist once suggested to me that by planting this, the monarchs could potentially stay too late and freeze to death. They could be confused by seeing viable milkweed and lay eggs on it. Even with viable milkweed, the monarchs finish utilizing tropical as a host plant by the first couple days of September. This still gives them plenty of time to finish metamorphosis and migrate south.
However, I still have many monarchs using tropical milkweed for nectar through September…this suggests that milkweed viability is not a cue for migration in cold weather climates. No frozen monarchs in seven years is proof enough for me.
I do suggest that northerners raise migration monarchs indoors when the low temps go below 55°, because cold temps slow down metamorphosis.
Some have suggested that too many monarchs don’t finish the migration to Mexico because of tropical milkweed in places like Florida and Texas. I think the solution to this is fairly simple…
If you grow tropical milkweed in these places, cut it back to the ground so it can’t be used by monarchs over winter. If you’re not willing to do that, than don’t plant it. Simple enough?