Winter Blooms for Busy Bees and Butterflies

Mark Peterson

Weather is extremely variable in South Texas. Besides frustrating humans, the fickle forecast can really confuse pollinators. But you can help them survive the shifts.

Weather is extremely variable in South Texas. One minute you’re bundled up in a parka and the next you’re dressed down in a t-shirt and shorts. But we’re not the only ones who get discombobulated with the weather. Insects do too.

In fact, any day with sunshine and temperatures above 60 degrees, you may find a few wobbly bees or butterflies awaken from dormancy to start searching for a meal. You — or actually your landscape — can help our fuzzy pollinator friends weather the wacky weather.

Make sure you have some of these plants around during the winter.

Annuals

Alyssum: This cool season bedding plant is a bee favorite. Alyssum, aka sweet alyssum, comes in white, purple and pink varieties. ‘White Stream’ is a heat-tolerant variety and a Texas Superstar.

Sweet peas: This vining plant produces sweet-smelling flowers in red, pink, blue, white and lavender. Use a tomato cage for maximum effect.

Stocks: Another sweet smelling annual that will attract both bees and butterflies. Stocks come in purple, pink, red, white and yellow colors and will bloom into April.

Violas: Violas are one of my favorite winter annuals. Technically, pansies are violas, but I’m referring to smaller selections like ‘Johnny-jump-ups’ and near-solid color varieties. Some call violas mini pansies, but I call them cute and versatile.

Perennials

Cherry or autumn sage: There are a multitude of Salvia species and pollinators love them all. Both cherry sage and mealy blue sage will bloom sporadically during the winter.

Firecracker fern: Russelia equisetiformis provide a smattering of red tubular flowers that are particularly attractive to butterflies, but bees like them too.

Mexican honeysuckle: This relative of the shrimp plant has orange flowers and does well in sun and shade.

Mistflower: Again, several different mistflower species to choose from for pollinators, but Gregg’s mistflower should produce sporadic blooms during the winter.

Rosemary: Warm, sunny days encourage rosemary to bloom in early February. Endures hot sun and poor soil with little watering once established.

Wright’s skullcap: Another native that is overlooked and will produce blue flowers during the winter.

Trees and Shrubs

Agarita: Agarita is one of those native shrubs that should be in every landscape in San Antonio, but sadly it is not. It’s drought tolerant, shade tolerant, deer tolerant and produces flowers early in the spring for bees and butterflies.

Citrus: One of the best bets for hungry bees in January and February are citrus — Changsha tangerine, Satsuma mandarin, Meyer improved lemon, Mexican lime — which begin repeated flowering during the winter through late spring. Studies from the UK indicate citrus pollen may be medicinal to bees.

Loquat: That delightful fragrance in the air during the month of January is loquat or Chinese plum, one of the few species that really flowers during the winter. Because loquat can become invasive, only use one or two individual trees rather than using it as a hedge.

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