Fall and Winter Blooms for Year-Round Habitat

Bird with Red Berry in mouth

Sep 1, 2017
by Kellen Watson, Daily Acts

One of the cornerstones of a well-planned garden is choosing plants for year-round blooms and seeds. Not only do new buds popping at unexpected times of year make each season more exciting for us at garden lovers, but they also provide critical habitat for wildlife at a time of year that can be food scarce for wild creatures. Because of our relatively mild climate, many of our pollinators and other wildlife don’t hibernate or migrate long distance and need to keep eating all winter to get enough calories to keep warm. Plus, like many of our other species, pest insects also stick out the winter so growing plants to attract beneficial insects in fall and winter can keep your pest insect populations down come gardening season.

One thing I like to do when planning a garden is put together a list of my favorite plants into a spreadsheet, and then highlight the months of the year that they bloom. If I see a big gap, when not much is blooming, I seek out a few good habitat plants that bloom at that time of year. It’s often September – December that are real blank spots.Robert Kourik and Damien McAnany have a great chart available for a $9.95 download, which lists bloom times for 191 insectary plants and the insects they attract.

Here are few of my favorite Fall and Winter Blooms

California Aster (Symphyotrichum chilense): June – November – This pretty little purple flower blooms profusely from late summer until frost, and then dies back to the ground only to re-emerge in spring. Well-liked by our native moths and butterflies as a nectar source. Looks good with CA Fuschia.

California Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia californica): January – April – This vine is the sole food source for the beautiful black and blue Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. It sets very interesting pipe shaped flowers in late winter to early spring and likes to grow in partial shade and/or near moisture. Slow to get growing, but then really catches up at year 3. Be patient.

California Fuschia (Epilobium canum): August – October – This beauty is covered in red firecracker like flowers that are a hummingbird favorite. Can be found in low growing and taller varieties. Select Mattole and Everette’s Choice are personal favorite varieties.

Coyote Brush (Baccharis pilularis): September – January – This underappreciated native shrub is not super showy but is a great low maintenance, evergreen slope stabilizer. Provides cover for birds and you’ll see more native insects on this than just about anything else.

Giant Hyssop (Agastache spp.): July – November – Showy flowers and smells great! Dies back at frost, but will be a favorite while it’s out. Then you’ll get to forget and remember it again every year!

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.): July – November – Several species are native to California and produce golden plumes of flowers that are fantastic for insects. Seeds are often eaten by birds too, so don’t deadhead them.

Manzanita (Arctostaphylus spp.): January – May – Gorgeous architectural red branches and evergreen leaves make this a great landscape anchor. Urn shaped flowers are favorites for insects and hummingbirds, and the berries are edible too. Be careful not to overwater.

Red Buckwheat (Eriogonum grande var. rubescens): April – October – Loves rocky soil and no care. Large, dark pink umbrella shaped flower heads are very popular with little native beneficial insects.

Rosemary (Rosemarinus officianalis): January – May – This classic Mediterranean herb smells great and is super popular with bees in the early part of the year.

Sage (Salvia spp.): May – December – Plant all the sages. Just all of them. They’re fantastic.

Fall and Winter Berries/Seeds

California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa): Very important habitat for all kinds of birds and butterflies. Likes to be near water (rain gardens, creeks, graywater) and does get big, but if you have the right space it’s gorgeous!

Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica): This native shrub is an exceptional pollinator plant in the spring, and then birds go nuts for the berries! Evergreen and pretty in the landscape.

Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens): The seed heads on this native grass are a nice fatty winter food source.

Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana): An adaptable native tree that grows along creeks in the wild. One of the best habitat plants, and the berries and flowers can be made into medicinal syrups, tinctures, and wines.

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia): The pretty red berries on this native shrub are one of the best mid-winter food sources for birds. Evergreen and adaptable.

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