Carolyn Singer: Planning for pollinators |

Carolyn Singer: Planning for pollinators

A honeybee and a native bee pollinnate a squash blossom.
Photo by Carolyn Singer |

The current buzz in my garden can be heard as you approach the fenced edible garden, long before you open the gate. It is a seasonal buzz, an ode to autumn.

The sweet autumn clematis (Clematis paniculata) on the fence fights its way to the top rank during the summer, braving hops, a climbing rose, and even a bit of Virginia creeper. A strong vine, it can overtake the most formidable of vines in its path.

Its powerful fragrance, lasting for weeks in September, draws the honeybees, now wrapping up a long summer of pollination. I frequently pause to appreciate the work the honeybees accomplish. A few years ago a swarm established a nest in a hollow in the huge black oak behind my house. They don’t have far to go to find a wealth of pollen and nectar.

I never take the presence of the honeybees and native bees for granted. Gardening season after gardening season has passed with an abundance of crops made possible by the wealth of pollinators in my landscape. Not too far from my garden, a Colfax friend hand pollinates her summer squash to ensure a harvest. Bees are scarce in her region.

On the East Coast, in Summerville S.C. (ironically called “Flowertown”), a recent tragedy in early September killed millions of honeybees. At Flowertown Bee Hive & Supply alone, 46 hives were destroyed with more than 3 million honeybees killed by the aerial spraying in the morning for the mosquito carrying the Zika virus. The highly visible loss did not account for the effect on native bees and other invaluable pollinators.

Yet the story did not get the widespread coverage it should have. We all eat. And we have a shared responsibility for contributing to a healthy environment.

On a positive note, pollinator gardens have been attracting widespread attention, from the seed mixes promising a wealth of plants to attract pollinators, to innumerable garden articles inspiring an awareness of these precious and irreplaceable invertebrates. The Xerces Society ( leads the way in educating all of us.

Our native plants will do the most to attract native bees. It has been estimated by the Xerces Society that each native attracts fourteen times as many native bees as a non-native plant. Those same native bees may find their way to your edible garden, ensuring crops for this season.

On Sept. 29, the local Redbud chapter of CNPS (CA Native Plant Society) will present a program about native pollinators at the Madelyn Helling Library, 7 p.m. Member Nancy Gilbert will be showing slides certain to inspire you to plant more natives. She is always a wealth of information.

Most of our natives bloom in the spring and early summer months. If you add non-natives, as most introduced pollinator gardens do, you will be providing a steady supply of pollen and nectar for months. Focus on those perennials that belong to one of two families: Asteraceae (Compositae) or Lamiaceae (Labiatae). Common to the second family are the oreganos, rosemary, thyme, germander, sage and other salvias. Oh yes, and Lamium!

In my garden, my favorite fall-blooming perennials in the family Asteraceae include Maryland golden aster, a common wildflower in the eastern United States, and goldenrod. The aster (Chrysopsis mariana) begins bloom in late August, continuing into October. Bright golden-yellow flowers are abundant on four to five-foot stalks.

With the evidence that pollinators are attracted to large stands of the same species, I have allowed the asters to self-sow. Easy from seed (though definitely not a pest) this attractive cluster is now about thirty square feet.

Joining the glow of gold among my tall perennials in September is a form of goldenrod (Solidago) I was given many years ago by a gardening friend who had a wonderful garden at a Victorian house in Grass Valley. This late bloomer does not flower as long as the Maryland golden aster, but provides a good supply of pollen in September.

Let’s all keep those bees well fed! If we are going to eat, they need to be healthy and active.

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom,” and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally. Send your gardening questions and comments to Check out her website at

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