Favourite Insect Friendly Flowers and Plants – October

Please read the introductory page in the Real Botany of Desire for the background to why I’m listing the observed insect friendly flowers that bloom during this month, and which seem to be the most popular with the groups of insects which frequent our garden. My top 3 favourite insect friendly flowers this month are native Wild Ivy – Hedera helix, Eryngium alpinum and many Aster species and cultivars …

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… Many of September’s flowers continue into early October, so please see that month’s folder for more good plants …

If reading my introductory page is a click too far, then briefly, there’s a huge issue with loss of wild flowers as agriculture intensifies and mono-cultures prevail. This impacts on all the insects which rely on flowers as food sources. But all flowers aren’t equal in their appeal to insects, or particular groups of insects, (e.g. Honeybees, Bumblebees, Hover flies, Moths, Butterflies) and many nursery bred plants have been designed to be attractive to our senses, not insects. Some flowers are useful as both pollen and nectar sources (P,N) whereas others just seem to provide one of these insect foodstuffs, and I’ll try to include this information with the images. So this simple record is to help gardeners think about this issue, and maybe plant more flowers to help our very diverse native insect groups. I’ve found that many of the best plants seem to be some of our native wild flowers which can in other respects have real garden merit. Equally there are many plants from the other side of the globe which are preferentially favoured over native flowers at certain times of the year – there is no simple easy guide to their relative appeal. The positive spin offs from incorporating more insect friendly flowers in our gardens apart from the appeal of seeing the insects themselves will be better pollination of our crops, and more varied wildlife in our gardens, since insects are at the bottom of many animal food chains.

It’s certainly not exhaustive, and if you know other flowers which have equal appeal, which aren’t listed here, do please let me know, and I’ll trial them up here as well. This work started a couple of years before my blog began in March 2011, but previous to that I’d produced the UK’s first DVD-ROM guide to Garden Moths ” In A Different Light”. This project attempts to widen that work in a more general way.

By the end of October, the numbers of insects will be starting to decline in a normal year. However in early October on a sunny warm day, there may be more insects in the garden than at any other time of the year. And if we get more years like 2011 (the mildest autumn on record in our part of Wales) we may have to get used to flowers and insects being much more numerous in the last 3 months of the year. Many flowers which have bloomed in previous months will keep going through October and even November if frosts don’t materialise, and so will be around for those insects still about. But bumblebee colonies will be close to dying out, with the newly emerged mated queens finding spots to hibernate, and then begin new colonies in the spring. All the insects still around means some dragonflies, bats, and in 2012 even swallows on 4/10/12, may still be active.

Finally as I mention elsewhere, the actual number of flowers of a single plant type growing together, and their position in the garden (e.g.sun or shade), can also impact hugely on how favoured the flowers are by your garden’s insect population – probably because sun and warmth can affect nectar and pollen production and release.

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… We grow masses of this stunning Saxifrage fortunei rubrifolia, which flowers for weeks in October. But like many Saxigrages (and Hydrangeas which are in the same plant family), in spite of producing thousandsof these little flowers, very few insects other than one or two species of fly, ever seem to visit them. 15/10/12 …

… We grow many more Asters than we did 3 years ago, since they seem to enjoy our wet climate, and are brilliant late season flowers for us in a reasonable autumn, and many insects – Bumblebees, Honeybees, flies, moths and butterflies seem to enjoy them. They can get a bit soggy in a poor autumn, though. 5/10/09 …

… Fly on Aster. 10/12 …

… Most of our Buddleia davidii have finished flowering by October, but this self sown cultivar flowers after all our others, and so is still attracting late season flies and butterflies like this Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae, in the middle of the month … if the sun shines

… We love Persicaria vaccinifolia as a late season flower. Its a great plant for tubs or pots, requiring minimal watering, and once the flowers finish, turns a lovely bronze colour for the winter, before the leaves are eventually shed. And it’s really popular with huge numbers of flies, late season moths, a few Bumblebee species and even Honeybees. Clouds of insects carpet the plants in early October …

… and a single tub or half barrel can produce thousands of individual flowers …

… Still flowering into October, and attracting now just a few small Bumblebee species, and some flies (below), is the strongly coloured and taller Persicaria amplexicaulis var. pendula …

… The white flower clusters of Lysimachia clethroides have now straightened from their goose neck form earlier in August, but they still attract lots of flies, moths and butterflies into early October …

… Eryngium alpinum has been one of the more successful Eryngium species which we have trialled, and is a popular nectar flower for the late season butterflies …

… and the pollen appeals to many of the flies still about on sunny days …

…. Most Geranium cultivars (Cranesbills) have largely finished flowering, but Geranium procurrens, a vigorous trailing species from the Himalayas, remains a mass of flowers through October, and of all the Geraniums we grow, it is one of those with the widest insect appeal – to flies, Bumblebees, solitary bees, butterflies, day flying moths, like the Silver Y,  and Honeybees …

… The lovely Stork’s bill, Erodium maescavii, flowers on into October, its’ sixth month of flowering, and still attracts small numbers of flies and occasionally bees and Bumblebees …

… Japanese anemones, Anemone japonica, continue to be covered in flies through October, and occasionally get Bumblebee visits …

… We don’t find it easy to grow Achilleas in our wet soil, but they are popular with late season flies …

… Annual Borage, Borago officinalis, in white or blue forms is one of the most popular late season Bumblebee flowers for smaller species, right through until frosts kill it off …

… And the related Echium ‘Blue Bedder’- an annual we’ve grown for the first time in 2012, continues to flower profusely into October, but now without the same appeal of the Borage flowers …

… Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, a perennial sunflower, not only lights up the garden in October, but has proved to be one of the top 3 or 4 flowers for fly and Bumblebee appeal. As a new plant for 2012, we’ll aim to bulk it up and try to find some more areas where we can work it into planting schemes for the years ahead …

… Although the flowers of Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ deepen and intensify in colour, their huge insect appeal has now largely finished, although this Bumblebee was clearly still finding some nectar …

… Even after rain the flowers of many Dahlia cultivars, like the ‘Bishop of Auckland’ above, and Dahlia merckii below, are very attractive to Bumblebees and flies …

… Annual Cosmos, like other daisy type flowers, continues to produce new blooms until the first frosts, and these are visited by many different flies and occasionally Bumblebees …

… A few flowers are still produced on the native Welsh poppy, Meconopsis cambrica, throughout the garden, and you can see it still has pollen of interest to huge numbers of flies …

… The masses of native Sea Campion, Silene uniflora, which we grow still get insect visits, but now just a few flies and Bumblebees all these flowers – nothing like the numbers it receives earlier in the year in May and June when flowering begins …

… Yet another insect friendly native flower which is still producing the odd flower into October. Flavium glaucum, the Yellow-Horned Poppy, is always attracting flies to the pollen in its big golden blooms …

… Another perennial which flowers profusely for nearly 6 months is Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’. Through the year it has attracted flies, Bumblebees, many butterflies and here in October this lingering immigrant, day feeding Silver Y moth …

… I’ve included this image of a couple of flies on Cyclamen hederifolium flowers. We have masses of these in the garden in October, but its very rare to see any insects on the flowers at all. I therefore hand pollinate to ensure good seed set. So not really a favoured Welsh Insect Friendly Flower …

… Another new flower for us in 2012 are these Allium tuberosum, which we acquired from another garden as Garlic Chives. They flower really late with us in September and October, and seem to be very attractive to flies, Bumblebees and butterflies. We hope that they’ll thrive in our wet conditions, since they add a nice burst of white flowers late in the season …

… Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’ is a very pretty late flowering and strongly scented shrub, which is unusual in that its scent also appeals to many insects’ senses. Lots of flies and moths visit its clusters of small white flowers …

… One of the last Hydrangeas to flower with us is the gorgeously coloured species, Hydrangea villosa, and it’s visited by a wide variety of flies as well as the occasional pollen collecting Honeybee …

… The tiny white flowers of the shrub Ageratina ligustrina have struggled to open before the frosts arrive in the last 2 poor years, and we then have to move the flowers inside for some greenhouse winter protection – the only flowers in our garden that get cosseted in this way. But they are attractive late season flowers for moths, butterflies and many flies.

… The small flowers of Actea ‘Brunette’ seem to be very popular with flies, and even a tiny unknown day flying moth, even though the young plant has very few flower spikes on it.

… Still flowering into October, Eupatorium maculatum ‘Atropurpureum’ is another late season flower which appeals to butterflies, and flies …

… Native Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, is now into its sixth month of flowering, and still gets visits from many flies, moths and Bumblebees, and notice this Bumblebee, like many early in the year specimens, is also carrying a significant mite burden …

… There are also still quite a lot of flowers on self sown Marjoram and Oregano plants around the garden, and as in September these are an attractive flower for many flies and bees …

… Late season single roses are also popular with many flies in sunny weather in October, as pollen sources, including Rose ‘Grouse’ above, and Rosa rugosa ‘Frau Dagmar Hartopp’ below …

… Wild native ivy flowers, Hedera helix, may not seem much to our eyes, or have much of a detectable scent, but they are highly valued late season nectar sources for moths, butterflies, flies, wasps and bees in mild conditions …

…  In early October 2012, our ivy and ‘Kiftsgate’ rose covered tall spruce stump caught some midday sunshine and the flowers were swarming with hundreds of flies and the odd Honeybee. There are over a dozen flies in this image of just a few of the hundreds of ivy flowers on this large plant. It’s difficult for a still image to capture the extraordinary activity focused on this one part of the garden. Like many gardeners we cut ivy down in our early days of managing Gelli Uchaf, but now we value its late season nectar and pollen source for native insect life, and leave it alone in a few wilder spots in the garden.

Thanks for reading. And do browse around the rest of the Blog Pages….

Our garden at Gelli Uchaf opens most of the year, when we’re around, by appointment, for charity under the National Garden Scheme. Please see the Garden Overview page for visiting details, or by clicking here. 

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Last updated 23/01/2013

2 thoughts on “Favourite Insect Friendly Flowers and Plants – October

  1. Hi, up in Aberdeen (my garden anyway) it has been an amazingly good year for all bees, hoverflies and butterflies, cannot ever remember seeing the shear numbers before. Just finished looking at your plant selection for September and October, one i would add is Caryopteris Dark Knight which are still in full bloom up here and attracting huge numbers of all the pollinators. Another one which is just starting to turn after being in flower from May is lamium beacon silver which has been a solid performer.

    • Hello Dave,
      Thanks for the comment. Interesting that its been so good a year for you – I haven’t updated my insect friendly flowers pages for a long while – I’m pretty certain that I mention Lamium maculatum – at least some forms, (NOT ‘Whie Nancy though), for earlier in the year, and indeed as you say they’ve been going until very recently here. 2016 has been an odd year here, as my garden views pages record – where you can look at rainfall and light levels for each month ( as recorded by our PV). It’s the very odd combination of warm, grey, but not very wet weather with maybe 10% less light than usual which seems to have affected much plant growth, and maybe insects? Or are we suffering from the extraordinary wet winter months here which were truly record breaking? I’m sure you too have a look at the Met Office monthly data churn out, which demonstrates clearly that different parts of the UK can experience vastly different relative weather extremes in the same season or year.
      I’m not familiar with the Caryopteris, so will look it up and see if it might be useful for us, though we’re rapidly running out of space! But thanks for the recommendation,
      best wishes
      Julian

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