Ask a Specialist Answer
What can I plant mid-summer to feed pollinators and beneficial insects into the fall?
As we enter the time of mid-summer bounty, the pollinators and beneficial insects are busy sipping up the nectar and pollen from your flowering plants. Nectar provides energy, and pollen is high in protein. If you are managing bees, you’ll want to research specific mixes of flowering plants that provide a good balance of both nectar and pollen. If you are a farmer who wants to make sure your farm’s beneficial pollinators have plenty to eat, you have a variety of options. Nature provides a diverse assortment of plants that flower from early spring into the fall, ensuring a good food supply for pollinators all season long.
Your first option is to ensure you have plenty of perennial and native plants on your acreage. Buffer strips of native prairie flowers and grasses are a functional and beautiful addition to larger acreages; perimeter buffers work well on smaller plots. Native flowering plants and perennials not only feed pollinators throughout the season, but also hold soil from erosion and buffer your land from neighboring farm chemicals. These plants also are easy to maintain and tolerate a wide range of climatic conditions.
Establishing native prairie and perennials can take a few years. A good resource to help you in this endeavor is the Organic Broadcaster story “Native prairie plantings can be established without using herbicides” by Harriet Behar. You can find it on our website.
A shorter term option to feed your pollinators is to plant annual flowering cover crops on your land that will grow fast, while improving soil and feeding wildlife, but winterkill to be easily tilled in when spring comes. Diversity of cropping not only feeds your pollinators, but cover crops are a great source of green manure and biomass for your soil. All of the following crops will die over winter and be ready for spring tillage.
Calendula – For small to medium acreages, this useful flower is easy to grow, and blooms its pretty head off all season long. When the flowers die, it can be mowed, then will come back and flower as many as three times during the growing season.
Sunflowers – There are many single stem and branching varieties with various grow times, some as fast as 60 days. You can seed them in July and enjoy them in September until the frost. Sunflower heads make a great bird feast during winter, while holding soil from erosion. Note: don’t leave over winter in a field you’d like to plant early because the thick stems will take some time to break down after spring tillage.
Buckwheat – Buckwheat is a wonderful warm season cover crop. The flowers attract many different beneficial insects and birds. It germinates well and canopies quickly to suppress weeds as it matures in 70-90 days. Buckwheat is also reported to extract soil phosphorus.
Phacelia – Another wonderful cover crop for large or small acreages, this flower is highly frost tolerant and loaded with pollen, or protein. It germinates in 5-10 days, grows fast for weed suppression, and has excellent ability to accumulate and recycle excess nitrates and calcium. Plant phacelia with overwintering crimson clover for a cocktail that will not only feed pollinators during the end of the season (phacelia), and also fix nitrogen and feed pollinators in spring (crimson clover).
Cowpea – A heat-loving legume, the cowpea or black-eyed pea not only suppresses weeds and sources nitrogen in the heat of the summer, it has “extrafloral nectaries” on petioles and leaflets that beneficial insects love to eat. Cowpeas can be planted with sorghum Sudangrass, which they’ll climb. The two together create a lot of biomass. Make sure to plant cowpeas in July at the latest, as they are not frost tolerant and require 60-90 days to mature.
Posted: Feb 2018
Answer By: Jennifer Nelson