Plants to attract pollinators

Contents

What are pollinators and why do we need them?

What are pollinators?
Pollinators are animals that move pollen from male structures (anthers) of flowers to the female structure (stigma) of the same plant species. Movement of pollen (analogous to sperm) to a flower’s stigma results in fertilization of the flower’s eggs. An adequately fertilized flower will produce seeds and the fruit surrounding seeds, ensuring that a new generation of plants can be grown.
Pollination is mutually beneficial to plants and to pollinators. Pollination results in the production of seeds and is necessary for many plants to reproduce. Meanwhile, pollinators receive nectar and/or pollen rewards from the flowers that they visit. Sugary nectar provides pollinators with carbohydrates while pollen offers proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and necessary phytochemicals. See for a recent review of bee nutritional needs.
Examples of pollinators
Honey bees often come to mind first when people think of pollinators. However, many different animals, including other insects (other bee species, butterflies, beetles, flies), some birds and some bats are pollinators. Indeed, there are an estimated 300,000 species of flowering plants worldwide that require animal pollinators . This tremendous floral variety supports a corresponding diversity of pollinators, and the vast majority of these pollinators are insects. For example, while there are only about 1,000 vertebrate pollinator species, it’s estimated that there are at least 16,000 different species of bees world-wide .
Pollinators are necessary for three-quarters of our major food crops
Not every species of plant requires animal-mediated pollination services. For example, wheat is wind-pollinated. However, the majority of crops that we like most to eat and provide most of our nutrition (fruits, vegetables, and nuts) use animal-mediated pollination . Without pollinators, our diets would be severely limited, and it would be more difficult to acquire the variety of vitamins and minerals that we need to stay healthy.
Healthy pollinators and healthy ecosystems
Outside of agricultural systems, approximately 80-95% of the plant species found in natural habitats require animal-mediated pollination . Plants are the foundation of terrestrial food chains. The foliage and/or fruits and nuts that plants make are eaten by herbivores which in turn are hunted by predators. Furthermore, plants provide shelter and nesting habitat for many different animal species. Thus, in order to maintain the diversity of our natural ecosystems, we need healthy pollinator populations to ensure that the next generation of plants will be produced.
Vaudo, A. D, Tooker, J.F., Grozinger, C.M. and H.M. Patch. “Bee nutrition and floral resource restoration.” Current Opinion in Insect Science 10:133-141 (2015).
Ollerton J, Winfree R, Tarrant S: How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos 2011, 120(3):321-326.
Danforth BN, Sipes S, Fang J, Brady SG: The history of early bee diversification based on five genes plus morphology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2006, 103(41):15118-15123.
Klein, A-M, et al. “The importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops”. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274 (1608): 303-313.
Eilers, E.J. et al. “Contribution of Pollinator-Mediated Crops to Nutrients in the Human Food Supply” PLoS One 6(6): e21363. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021363

As the weather warms and days lengthen, your attention may be turning to that forgotten patch of your backyard. This week we’ve asked our experts to share the science behind gardening. So grab a trowel and your green thumbs, and dig in.

Whether you live in an urban apartment or a rural homestead, your outdoor area is more than just a private space. Ecologically, a garden is another jigsaw piece in the landscape.

Whatever their size, gardens can contribute to natural functions and processes in the local area, such as regulating water drainage, buffering the damaging effects of strong winds, or providing food and shelter for native wildlife.

Many wildlife species survive in urban areas, but their presence and persistence depend on how specific their food and shelter needs are, how they respond to disturbances, and the quality and quantity of other green spaces in the landscape.

For larger animals, such as birds and mammals, a home garden could become a stepping stone across an otherwise hostile urban landscape. For smaller animals, such as insects, it could be the centre of their home range.

In urban areas, where space is often limited, gardening with pollinators in mind is a simple way to encourage biodiversity in the backyard. And, depending on the surrounding landscape, habitat for pollinators will also be habitat for other animals.

Butterflies are important pollinators in backyards. John Tann/Flickr, CC BY

Flowers are just the first step

Flowers produce sugar (nectar) and protein (pollen), the main diet for many adult insects and birds. Unlike other insect groups, native bee larvae develop almost exclusively on pollen collected by their parents, so flowers are essential to grow native bee populations.

There is no single best combination of flowers for wild bees. Many “plants for pollinators” lists available online are based on local experiences and rarely apply to all geographic regions. A general rule of thumb for a pollinator garden is one that produces flowers for most of the year and is built on diversity – monocultures of any single flower type or colour will suit only a very small number of generalist species.

Native plants are an ideal option for attracting native pollinator insects and birds, but many garden exotics, especially herbs, fruit and vegetable plants, are just as popular. Modern hybrid varieties should be chosen carefully, as some are bred for commercial fruit or flower traits (like size or colour), but the flowers lack the nectar or scent cues that attract pollinators looking for food.

Native plants can attract birds, such as this New Holland honeyeater. Cazz/Flickr

Build it and they will come

The structure and design of a garden can determine what wildlife species will visit or make a home. Vertical structure, built from multiple layers of different plant heights, provides more spaces for wildlife to co-exist. Small plants and shrubs provide good shelter for insects and very small birds, while larger trees will attract visits from more mobile birds and mammals.

Large trees with rough or shedding bark that creates lots of cracks and crevices are excellent shelter for insects and small lizards. Trees that produce resins and sap flows, such as conifers, acacias and eucalypts, are also useful for some native bee and wasp species that use resin to seal their nest cells.

Insect hotels can provide homes for insects that usually nest in dead wood. But only a small proportion of the world’s bee species are wood-nesters. About 75% of bee species dig their nests into the ground, usually in sandy, uncompacted soil, preferably on a slope that won’t get waterlogged.

Insect hotels attract wood-nesting insects. Insect hotel image from www..com

It can be difficult to build all of this into small gardens, but many pollinator insects will have home ranges of a few hundred metres, while birds and mammals can travel much further. So landscape composition can also influence the wildlife potential of an individual garden. A high proportion of paved areas can reduce the number of wild bees or native birds in the neighbourhood. Highly manicured green spaces can also have a negative effect on wild bee species.

Disrupting the food chain

Like any ecosystem, gardens involve an intricate web of life, from the soil microbes underground to the birds in the trees. It’s easy to grab the spray bottle to kill off the dandelions and blow down the flies, but what are the knock-on effects?

Many of the animals and plants we think of as a backyard nuisance often provide services we don’t see. For example, many native wasp and fly species (even blowflies!) are pollinators as adults. And as larvae, they control many of the insect pests we see on our plants, or decompose organic wastes. Small reptiles, like geckoes and skinks, mostly feed on small insects that annoy us, like mosquitoes and midges.

Plants we think of as lawn weeds, particularly dandelions and clover, are a favourite food source for native bees and hoverflies. Aphids and scale insects also produce a sugary substance called honeydew as they suck on plants, which is an important sugar source for some beneficial insects like wasps, bees, ants and hoverflies.

Aphids produce sugars which are an important food source for other insects. ron_n_beths pics/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Limiting synthetic chemical use is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to enhance wildlife in gardens. Insecticides can kill beneficial insects, or affect them indirectly by disrupting their metabolism or reproductive cycles. Overuse of herbicides removes important food resources, like dandelions, that pollinators rely on if other flowers are scarce.

There is also the potential for chemicals to work in combination and have a greater impact.

Managing gardens as ecosystems

Many wildlife don’t like regular disturbances, which is why urban areas can be intimidating environments for animals. It can be hard to balance human needs with the habitat needs of wildlife. Many actions that minimise risks for humans can have the opposite effect for wildlife.

For example, pollinators generally prefer open grassy areas to dark forested areas. In urban environments, grassed areas are often mown regularly for human recreational and safety needs. This affects the availability of flowers for pollinators and also affects the persistence of these plant species. Mowing less often and outside peak flowering times can make a big difference for plants and pollinators.

Leaving a few weeds in the lawn can be a good thing for pollinators. tuchodi/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Similarly, large old trees are homes to myriad animals. Unless they pose a very real risk of danger to human lives, pruning overhanging branches can be better for the local ecosystem than removing the whole tree.

Wildlife are rarely deterred by fences, so it is likely that most of the animals you see in your yard are also using your neighbours’ yards. Managing gardens as a collective landscape, rather than individual gardens, can keep wildlife happy while also enhancing neighbourhood communication.

Plants For Pollinators: Learn About Pollinator Friendly Plants

What is a pollinator garden? In simple terms, a pollinator garden is one that attracts bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds or other beneficial creatures that transfer pollen from flower to flower, or in some cases, within flowers.

Planting a pollinator garden is more important than you may realize, and even a small garden can make a huge difference as pollinators have suffered greatly from loss of habitat, misuse of chemicals and spread of invasive plant and animal species. Many pollinators have disappeared and others are endangered. Read on to learn about a few of the many pollinator friendly plants.

Plants that Attract Pollinators

Native plants are the best plant pollinators, as native plants and pollinators have evolved together to adapt to your local soil, climate and growing season. Often, non-native plants don’t provide adequate nectar for pollinators.

A call to your local Cooperative Extension Office will provide valuable information about native plants in your area. Online organizations such as Pollinator Partnership, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center or the Xerces Society are valuable resources too.

To give you an idea of the many possibilities, here is a list of pollinator plants that are native to many areas of the United States:

  • Bee balm
  • Columbine
  • Goldenrod
  • Penstemon
  • Sunflower
  • Blanket flower
  • Yarrow
  • Chokecherry
  • Black-eyed Susans
  • Clover
  • Coneflower
  • Aster
  • Ironweed
  • Hyssop
  • Prairie willow
  • Lupine
  • Buckthorn
  • Joe Pye weed
  • Passion flower
  • Liatris
  • Borage
  • Thistle

Tips for Pollinators and Pollinator Plants

Bees are one of the most important pollinators. They are able to see ultraviolet colors and prefer flowers in shades of yellow, purple and blue. Bees are also attracted to plants with a sweet fragrance. Bees like a few dry, sunny, bare spots with well-drained soil. South-facing slopes are ideal.

Butterflies need sunny, open spaces, fresh water and shelter from the wind. As a general rule, butterflies are attracted to purple, white, pink, yellow, orange and red – and less to greens and blues.

Hummingbirds need open spaces that allow them to fly from one pollinator to another. They also need a safe place to perch and a few shady spots to rest. They like most nectar-rich, unscented, tube-shaped flowers, but are highly attracted to pink, orange and bright red.

Plant a variety of flowers so something is blooming in your pollinator garden throughout the growing season.

Plant large patches of pollinator plants, which makes it easier for pollinators to forage.

If monarch butterflies are native to your area, help them out by planting milkweed, which monarch caterpillars require for nutrition.

Avoid insecticides. They are created to kill insects, and that’s exactly what they’ll do. Be careful with natural or organic insecticides, which can also be harmful to pollinators.

Be patient if you don’t notice a lot of pollinators; it takes time for pollinators to locate your garden, especially if your garden is located a distance away from wild lands.

A pollinator garden is a garden that is planted predominately with flowers that provide nectar or pollen for a wide range of pollinating insects.

  • Include a range of flower types, shapes and sizes

  • Plant your pollinator garden in a sunny site

  • Create shelter from prevailing cold wind

  • Group flowers of the same kind in large drifts

  • Plan for a succession of flowers throughout the whole growing season

  • Minimise or avoid the use of pesticides

More about these Ideas…

A pollinator garden is a garden that is planted predominately with flowers that provide nectar or pollen for a range of pollinating insects.

A pollinator garden can be any size. You might only have a balcony or a small yard but you can still plant pollinator-friendly flowers there.

You don’t have to be exclusive about this planting policy – there may be other flowers that you like to grow in your garden for various reasons – but the majority of flowers in a pollinator garden should be specifically chosen because they support pollinators.

In other parts of the world birds are often pollinators, but in Europe pollination is done by insects (or in some cases the wind).

Include a range of flower types, shapes and sizes.

Many pollinating insects can only exploit particular shapes or sizes of flowers. To support pollinator diversity you must cater for all shapes and sizes of insect mouthparts. Do this by planting a diversity of flower types. These planting lists will help you.

Plant your pollinator garden in a sunny site.

In our often dull and rainy climate insects need the sun’s warmth to help them stay active.

Create shelter from prevailing cold wind.

Use flowering hedges, or hedges of native hedgerow shrubs. These will create warm ‘micro-habitats’ within the garden. Hedges are better than fences at protecting gardens from wind.

Group flowers of the same kind in large drifts.

Many insects can only use particular types of flowers. By planting their favourite kinds of flowers together in large groups (‘drifts’) you make locating and exploiting that resource easier for them.

Plan for a succession of flowers throughout the whole growing season.

The climate of Britain and Ireland means that we have long growing seasons and some types of pollinating insects manage to breed two or more generations. But they need pollen or nectar from early spring until autumn in order to do this successfully.

Minimise or eliminate the use of pesticides.

If insect pests such as aphids become a problem there are well-known organic methods to control them. In a nature-friendly garden such pests are rarely a problem anyway, as they tend to be controlled by birds and other natural predators.

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Last updated 14 November 2015. © Marc Carlton 2006 – 2015. Terms of Use.

by Tara Mitchell

The landscape has long been shaped by economics. Marketing tells us which plants are weeds and which are desirable, which insects are pests to be eradicated and which are worthy of saving. While all insects are declining, those chosen to be saved are those that are most visible and that also bring economic benefit: the pollinators. Now, plants such as milkweed, once defined as a weed, are widely promoted. Yet, nature is complex. If we plant only for pollinators, we potentially reduce diversity, disrupt naturally existing plant communities, and don’t provide for the variety of other insects that have important, though less visible, roles.

In a world that is becoming increasingly urbanized, the goal of restoring pollinators becomes more and more challenging. If we plant for pollinators, will they come? Living in a highly urban area, I decided to find out for myself. What pollinators were finding their way to my garden? And what about all those other bugs? In the process of learning about the pollinators, I discovered the equally complex world of the non-pollinators, and realized the unique role that all insects play in sustaining the larger system.

Politics behind the Pollinator Garden

Pollinator Gardens are a recent concept. Reminiscent of the Victory Gardens promoted by the government during World War I and II, the Pollinator Garden effort is intended to help cover food shortages, only this time, for insects. The goal of the effort is to provide sufficient food (nectar and pollen) to reverse the decline of pollinators, bees in particular, and to provide habitat (milkweed) for monarch butterflies.

A European honeybee feeds on New England Aster.

Bees, both the European honey bee and native bees, are not only essential for the reproduction of many flowering plants, but are also responsible for pollinating billions of dollars’ worth of agricultural crops. Monarch butterflies, although not economically important pollinators, are also a focus of the Pollinator Garden effort due to their popularity and their highly visible and drastic decline (around 90% over 20 years).

Pollinator decline is attributed primarily to loss of habitat and to the use of pesticides. For bees, the Varroa mite and Colony Collapse Disorder are also causes of decline. Habitat loss is due not only to the conversion of prairie and meadow to cropland but also to the use of herbicides that eradicate wildflowers in the agricultural and ornamental landscape. Roundup Ready® crops (crops genetically engineered to be resistant to Roundup®, a non-selective herbicide produced by Monsanto) are of particular concern: weeds, such as milkweed, that once grew in and adjacent to crops and that provided food and habitat for bees and butterflies are now eradicated by broadcast spraying. Neonicotinoids, systemic insecticides, are applied as seed coatings as well as foliar sprays, resulting in bee exposure due to dust drift during planting and to residue in nectar and pollen. Neonicotinoids are also highly soluble in water and therefore have the potential to spread off-site.

Roadside and utility rights-of-ways are ideal for providing food and habitat for pollinators and other insects.

In response to the alarming decline of pollinators, the US government took action. In 2008, the US Farm Bill made funding available for research on bees and mandated that conservation programs support habitat restoration and management for pollinators. In 2015, the Obama Administration released National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Through public-private partnerships, the primary goals of the strategy are to reduce honeybee colony losses, increase populations of the eastern monarch butterfly, and to restore or enhance seven million acres of land for pollinators over the next five years. Educating the public and promoting the idea of pollinator conservation as a national responsibility are also key components: from planting Window Boxes for Pollinators to Monarch Waystations, every citizen can contribute. Specific to insecticides, the Strategy’s focus is on reducing the risk of bee exposure (rather than restricting use of insecticides) and continuing to assess effects on bees.

Public-private partnerships are central to the Strategy. However, with agrochemical companies providing millions of dollars in funding as partners to government, universities, and nonprofit organizations, there are concerns about industry’s influence on the outcomes of research and on regulations and policy. The goal of increasing and sustaining pollinator populations through land restoration means, in real terms, successful establishment and long term management of millions of acres of seeded and planted wildflowers. Even with successful restoration of seven million acres of wildflowers, without protecting existing lands from rapidly expanding agricultural and urban development, there may continue to be overall losses of habitat.

Atlantis fritillary (Speyeria atlantis) feeding on milkweed nectar. Common milkweed is a food source for many insects, as well as a host for monarch larvae.

Ultimately, government and industry are banking heavily on the efforts of farmers, local governments, and citizens to reverse pollinator declines through a nationwide patchwork of wildflower plantings and by adopting pollinator-friendly practices. When there are subsidies and monetary incentives, such as those provided to farmers, there will be participation. In the realm of turf and ornamental landscaping, a multibillion-dollar industry that revolves around a cultural aesthetic of weed and insect free landscapes, achieving those goals will be an enormous challenge. The lawn itself, symbolic of order, prosperity, and patriotism, is the largest managed crop in the US and so deeply embedded in our history and culture that it will likely take generations before Americans allow their manicured carpets of green to descend into the unpredictable chaos of weedy pollinator patches. Milkweed and manicures are simply not compatible.

One Urban Meadow Garden

I began my own garden, not with the goal of creating a Pollinator Garden, but as a meadow garden of grasses and perennials to replace a tiny lawn that served no beneficial purpose. Like a meadow, natural processes and time determine the design. Seeds go where water, wind, or creatures carry them, most often into the crevices between soil and concrete where water collects. New plants of the more prolific self-seeders, such as butterfly milkweed, little bluestem, salvia, and lavender pop up here and there. Sometimes species disappear only to reappear in new locations.

Originally three plants, butterfly milkweed has since spread throughout the garden. Low growing and a prolific self-seeder, it thrives in poor soil to provide stunning color all summer.

Other than the initial planting, my contribution to the design and management is simply to remove undesired plants, particularly those with invasive tendencies such as black swallowwort and Tree of Heaven. Seedlings of desirable plants, I leave in place or transplant to fill in gaps and replace plants that are not thriving. And, like any gardener, I can’t resist periodically adding new species.

Set in an urban landscape, the ecology of the garden is limited by those conditions. It is small, surrounded by concrete, used for snow storage, and subject to salt, trash, cigarette butts, invasive plants, and dog deliveries. I don’t use pesticides, but some of my neighbors use both herbicides and insecticides. For an insect, perhaps my garden is an oasis in a desert of concrete, lawns, and chemical warfare.

Like any flower garden, my tiny meadow attracts pollinators. I often hear people refer to it as a Pollinator Garden. However, it is simply a minimally managed garden, never mulched, sprayed, or fertilized and rarely irrigated. I only weed and cut back vegetation, usually in the spring to allow as much plant material as possible to decompose and return to the soil. My garden hosts pollinators and non-pollinators, natives and non-natives, good bugs, bad bugs, and boring bugs.

I never paid particular attention to what insects were showing up until one day last summer when I learned about the European wool carder bee from three university research students hunting for the bees in my garden. The name itself stuck with me: a bee with a craft (little did I know).

The wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), from the Megachilidae family, is so named because the female cards fibers from hairy plants, such as those in the mint family (Lamiaceae), to make her nest. The male bees are territorial and will attack other bees, including bumblebees and honeybees, sometimes knocking them to the ground and sometimes lethally wounding them. The subject of the students’ research was whether the European wool carder bees, non-native bees, were contributing to the decline of the native bumblebees.

A male carpenter bee takes a moment to rest on Russian sage. Male carpenter bees have a white patch on their faces and are incapable of stinging.

Was this a bad bee doing pollinating good or simply a non-native bee competing with all the other bees? Was my garden host to other “bad bees”? I began to wonder who, exactly, was visiting my garden while I wasn’t paying attention. I decided to find out.

The Pollinators

When it came to the pollinators, I found the usual bees, the European honeybees (Apis mellifera) and the native bumblebees (Bombus species), both from the Apidae family of bees. Like honeybees, the native bumblebees are social, living in colonies. Also in this family, and previously unknown to me, was the eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica). Similar to bumblebees, only larger and with a hairless, shiny abdomen, they are important pollinators of open-faced flowers, such as phlox. These are solitary bees and create nests by tunneling in wood (hence the name) and are therefore often categorized as pests to be exterminated. Personally, I became rather fond of these large gentle bees that were completely unconcerned by my presence.

This green sweat bee is loaded up with pollen. Sweat bees seemed to have a preference for purple coneflower.

There were other bees more difficult to identify. Some, like the wool carder, were from the Megachilidae family, such as the mason and the leaf cutter bees. These native bees are solitary and create nests in narrow cavities. The mason bee uses mud to seal off the partitions in her nest, and the leaf-cutter uses cut leaves to line and seal her nest. And sure enough, I found their neat crescent cutouts on the leaves of my phlox and azalea.

Also in the Megachilidae family, and a frequent visitor in the early summer, was the giant resin bee (Megachile sculpturalis). This fairly large, long bee is native to Asia and lays eggs in existing cavities, such as carpenter bee tunnels, and, of course, uses resin and sap from trees to prepare the nest. It is not known how or whether these bees affect native bee populations.

A giant resin bee covered with pollen joins a honeybee feeding on Russian sage.

The Megachilidae family of bees can be distinguished from other bees in that the pollen carrying hairs are under the abdomen rather than on the hind legs. These are considered to be very efficient pollinators and some species, such as introduced alfalfa leaf cutter (M. rotundata) and the native orchard mason bee (Osmia lignara), are used commercially for crop pollination.

Another regular throughout the summer was the sweat bee in the Halictidae family, including the more easily identifiable green sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens). Like many of the native bees, these are solitary and nest in bare soils. They are called sweat bees because they are attracted to human perspiration. Like Apidae bees, sweat bees collect pollen on their hind legs.

The squash vine borer is a garden pest, but is a pollinator as well.

Bees and butterflies of course are not the only pollinators. Various beetles, flies, wasps, borers, and moths also contribute. One of my early discoveries was a fancy red-suited insect foraging on lavender and catmint. This somewhat bizarre-looking insect turned out, to my dismay, to be the squash vine borer (Melitta curcurbitae), a moth native to North America. True to its name, my zucchini were dead by mid-August. Although not a desirable insect to have if you have squash in your vegetable garden, it is a pollinator.

In late August, I discovered another interesting, even more colorful moth, the Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea). In its native area of Central and South America, the larvae make webs on the native Paradise Tree, a tree in the Simarouba family. Further north, they eat and create webs in tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), also in the Simaroubaceae family. Tree of heaven, originally from China, is considered invasive. The spread of this insect north is thought to be due to the prevalence of Ailanthus. Considering the never-ending supply of tree of heaven sprouts in my gardens, I consider the presence of this insect to be good news.

As for butterflies, sadly, I saw none.

The larvae of the Ailanthus webworm moth, native to Central and South American, feed on and create webs in Ailanthus altissima.

The Non-Pollinators

The plant-insect relationship is complex and dependent on many insects besides pollinators. Non-pollinating insects tend to feed on other insects and on the saps and foliage of plants. Because many of them damage foliage and may contribute to plant decline, they are often considered pests and eradicated. However, in a balanced ecosystem, these species keep plant and insect populations in check. Like pollinators, they are also an important source of food for larger insects, birds, reptiles, and other creatures up the food chain. Although these insects have less marketing appeal than monarchs and bees, they are an essential part of the system.

Non-pollinators were not daily visitors like the bees, but appeared for short periods of time. Some I saw only once. Most, I likely never saw. One that I did happen upon was the Ichneum wasp (Therion morio), a parasite of moth caterpillars, including the fall webworm and tiger moth. The wasp injects eggs into caterpillars using its egg-laying organ, which looks like a stinger. As a parasite for webworms, it is considered beneficial.

A blue dasher dragonfly perches on a garden trellis. Dragonflies and damselflies are ancient, agile aerial hunters that feed on small insects.

Toward the end of July, I saw two types of narrow-winged damselflies, the green fragile forktail and the familiar bluet, and a blue dasher dragonfly. Both damselflies and dragonflies are of the order Odonata and are aerial hunters, feeding on mosquitoes and small insects. They are typically found near water as they lay their eggs in water, yet the closest water body is a small brook about half a mile away. Apparently, adult dragonflies will travel a considerable distance from the water to feed. Perhaps, considering the variety of small insects in my garden, it is not surprising that I see these agile hunters.

In late summer, I glimpsed the brightly colored Candy Striped Leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea) on my phlox and basil. A native species in the Cicadellidae family, this sleek, red and blue striped insect feeds on the juices of leaves and stems. They have piercing-sucking mouthparts that allow them to take in large amounts of fluid. They expel the excess from their rear ends making a tiny “pop” sound. If you watch closely, you can see the little bullets of fluid being shot out. Not surprisingly, these insects are commonly called sharpshooters.

Not only is butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) an important source of nectar and pollen (common milkweed is preferred by monarchs for egg laying habitat), but it is a popular food source for non-pollinating insects as well. Every year a number of my plants are covered with orange Oleander aphids (Aphis nerii), non-native aphids from the Mediterranean. While not very good for the milkweed and certainly not appealing in the garden, aphids are a source of food for other insects, especially ladybugs.

Milkweed bugs and aphids feeding on butterfly milkweed. In the back, a ladybug hunts for aphids.

In mid-August, it was hard not to miss the bright red and black of the small eastern milkweed bug (Lygaeus kalmii). A native species, these feed on the seeds of milkweed plants, and apparently, like the monarchs, no predators feed on them due to the toxins in the milkweed. Some people kill these, as well as the aphids, to protect their milkweed. As butterfly milkweed spreads prolifically in my garden, despite these pests, I leave both the aphids and the milkweed bugs be.

More than just a Pollinator Garden

By summer’s end, I felt as if I had opened a door into a world of miniature cutters, transporters, miners, borers, sapsuckers, predators, life-givers, and life-takers. From sunup to sundown, individually and collectively, they go about their work, feeding and creating nests, and in the process, constructing and deconstructing the earth around us. They need not only food, but also materials and places to build their nests, whether bare soil, wood, resin, or plant parts.

Nor is it only the insects in the visible, sunny realms of the garden that we need to be conscious of; all those unknown, nameless creepy crawlers living in compost bins, or in the deep darkness of the soil, need food (plant material) so they can do their work of decomposing, of turning matter back into soil to support the plants that support the insects that support both the plants and all the creatures up the food chain, including us.

Whether a patchwork of Pollinator Gardens and Monarch Waystations will be sufficient to support the populations of insects necessary to sustain natural systems and our crops, only time will tell. However, by accepting a little untidiness in our landscapes and by allowing plants to follow their natural life cycles of blooming, seeding, and eventually decaying, we provide a place on earth for insects to live and thrive.

About the Author

Tara Mitchell is a landscape architect with Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Her focus is on ecological restoration, naturalistic landscape design, native seeding, and vegetation management. Tara may be reached at [email protected]

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How to build a pollinator garden


Tiger swallowtail butterfly on purple coneflower. Photo by Jim Hudgins/USFWS.

We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service know that pollinators are the engine that run healthy habitats. While we’ve been actively working to restore and conserve more than 1.3 million acres of land across the midwest, we need your help. Whether you have a few feet on your apartment balcony or several acres, you can make a difference. Follow this easy step-by-step guide to build your own pollinator garden and help ensure the future is filled with pollinators.

Planning your garden


Hummingbird clearwing moth visiting a wild bergamot flower. Photo by Rick Hansen/USFWS.

Careful planning is essential to creating a successful pollinator garden. Follow these easy steps to make sure you have everything covered before you make your investment.

Choosing your location

While flowering plants can grow in both shady and sunny locations, consider your audience. Butterflies and other pollinators like to bask in the sun and some of their favorite wildflowers grow best in full or partial sun with some protection from the wind.

Identifying soil type and sunlight

Take a look at your soil – is it sandy and well-drained or more clay-like and wet? You can turn over a test patch or check out the soil mapper for your county to learn more. Your soil type and the amount of sunlight it gets will help determine the kinds of plants you can grow.

Choosing your plants

Research which varieties of milkweed and wildflowers are native to your area and do well in your soil and sunlight conditions. Native plants are the ideal choice, because they require less maintenance and tend to be heartier. Find a nursery that specializes in native plants near you – they’ll be familiar with plants that are meant to thrive in your part of the country. It’s essential to choose plants that have not been treated with pesticides, insecticides or neonicotinoids. You’ll also want to focus on selecting perennials to ensure your plants come back each year and don’t require a lot of maintenance.

Remember to think about more than just the summer growing season. Pollinators need nectar early in the spring, throughout the summer and even into the fall. Choosing plants that bloom at different times will help you create a bright and colorful garden that both you and pollinators will love for months!

Seeds vs. plants

Once you’ve identified your plant species, you’ll need to decide whether to use seeds or start with small plants. While both are good options, your choice will depend on your timeline and budget. Seeds are more economical, especially for larger gardens, but will require more time. If you’re using seeds, plan on dispersing them the fall or late winter ahead of your summer growing season. This gives the seeds time to germinate. Nursery-started plants cost more, but will generally give you a quick return on your investment and bring pollinators into your yard during the same growing season.

Planting your garden


A pollinator habitat sign posted in a blooming pollinator garden. Photo by USDA.

When you’re ready to start planting, you’ll need your seeds or plants along with essentials like gardening tools to break the soil as well as extra soil or compost and mulch.

Prepping your garden

If you’re converting an existing lawn, you’ll need to remove grass and current plant cover and turn your soil to loosen it up. If you’re planning on using raised beds or containers, there are a lot of pre-made options available, as well as simple designs to build your own. No matter where you decide to plant your garden, you’ll want to add nutrient-rich compost or soil to improve the success of your garden.

Planting your seeds or flowers

When you’re using seeds, keep in mind that they will need time to germinate, so fall and late winter are ideal times to get started. In the fall, disperse seeds and cover with soil. In the late winter, scatter seeds over the snow. The sun will heat up the seeds and help anchor them into the snow. The melted snow provides moisture that will help the seeds germinate.

If you’re starting with small plants, make sure you follow frost guidance to avoid putting your plants in too early. Dig holes just big enough for the root system, then cover and reinforce the roots with soil or compost. Add mulch to reduce weed growth.

Wait, watch, water and weed

It may take some time, but you will eventually see butterflies and other pollinators enjoying your garden. Make sure to weed and water your garden to keep it healthy. Keep in mind that it may take a couple seasons for milkweed to start producing flowers.

We wish you the best of luck with your pollinator garden. Thank you for making a difference for butterflies, bees and other pollinators!

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service.

Looking for more content? You can connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For multimedia, check out our videos on YouTube and download photos on Flickr.

Top 30 Plants That Attract Pollinators

Looking forward to a garden that will let you enjoy rhododendrons in the spring, honeysuckle in the summer and pumpkins in autumn? To enjoy a garden, you need pollinators along with the soil, the seed and the sun! Pollinators are essential to the reproduction of 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants.

In fact, pollinators are key to the transformative stages in plants that bring about beautiful flowers and tasty veggies. Since they are so vital to the ecosystem, we created a list of our favorite flowers that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

What Is Pollination?

To produce seeds, flowers, fruits and vegetables, many plants need to be pollinated. These plants produce nectar, which attracts pollinators including butterflies, bees and birds. As the pollinators move from flower to flower gathering nectar, they also transport pollen from one plant to the next.

Flowers have both male and female parts, known respectively as anthers and stigma. Pollination occurs when pollen grains move from anthers to stigma. When it arrives on the stigma, a piece of pollen develops a tube that reaches from the style to the ovary. Fertilization occurs, and seeds will follow.

Butterflies, bees and hummingbirds are some of nature’s primary pollinators, but moths, certain types of insects, the wind and even bats can also help the process.

Unfortunately, many parts of the U.S. have seen declines in pollinators. In many cases, their habitats are threatened by urbanization. Pesticides with harmful chemicals also kill pollinators along with weeds and predators.

Check out Safer® Brand’s line of pest control products for organic gardening. These products are designed to avoid the side effects that synthetic pest control products can leave behind.

Because pollinators are so essential to a garden, and potentially threatened, it is a great idea to add plants to your yard that are known to attract pollinators.

Planting a Pollinator-Friendly Garden

Here is some general advice for planting flowers that attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

First, planting in clumps rather than having one type grouped together is optimal. It heightens the pollinators’ journey from plant to plant. Plant with a mix of colors and scents to appeal to various pollinators.

Second, remember that pollinators need a habitat where they can live and reproduce. Leave space and water for them to do so.

Third, plan your garden with seasons in mind. If pollinators have no nectar to eat during certain seasons, they will forage elsewhere until they find it. You don’t want them to leave! Remember that autumn vegetables such as squash and tomatoes have flowers.

Fourth, consider using native plants for the simple reason that they will attract pollinators that are also native to your area. They can also serve as hosts for the larvae of your favorite pollinators.

To find out which plants and pollinators are native to your region, go to a pollinator guide and fill in your zip code.

Plants that Attract Butterflies

Butterflies love red and purple flowers. They also love fresh scents, but not strong ones — faint is best. Some flowers that attract butterflies include:

  • Lavender
  • Lilac
  • Phlox
  • Mint
  • Pansies

They also lay their eggs in the plants. Some species lay on milkweed, while others use chokecherry leaves. When the larvae hatch, they can have an immediate meal, which increases their chance of survival.

Butterflies like to live in hollows of trees or logs where there is room and safety for a chrysalis, so a butterfly garden will benefit from trees or logs.

Flowers that Attract Bees

Bees love plants that are bright white, yellow or blue, or have contrasting colors. They like mild and pleasant scents.

Specific bee-friendly plants include:

  • Sunflowers
  • Goldenrod
  • Hyacinth
  • Snapdragons
  • Bee balm

Remember that flowers planted to attract honeybees will attract all kinds of bees. Be sure to be prepared if you have a family member who is allergic to bee stings!

Bees will build a hive if they have a supportive habitat and space. A bee nesting block would be a helpful addition if you have the room.

Flowers Hummingbirds Like

Hummingbirds like to get nectar from flowers with a trumpet shape. They are attracted to orange, red, pink and white colors.

Specific flowers hummingbirds are attracted to include:

  • Bird of Paradise
  • Chinese Bell Flowers
  • Columbine
  • Fuchsia
  • Yellow Trumpet Bush

Hummingbirds build nests in trees and large bushes. They do not need a cavity, but build and maintain nests on limbs. They also bathe frequently, as the nectar they collect is sticky. To attract hummingbirds to a garden, consider providing a source of fresh water such as a bird bath.

What Flowers Are In Your Garden?

We would love to see the flowering plants in your garden, so share them with us when you visit Safer® Brand on Facebook. If you have any additional tips for attracting pollinators to a yard, please share them with us on Facebook. We love to hear from our readers!

If you would like to know more about any of our products, reach out to our Consumer Care Team at 1 (855) 7-ORGANIC. You can also subscribe to our E-Newsletter for more articles like this one and special announcements about the Safer® Brand line of gardening products.

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Plants & Gardening

The Best Support for Pollinators

A variety of flowering native plants that offer nectar and pollen throughout the growing season is the best way to attract and support a variety of pollinators.

Pollinators are attracted to blooms that fit their physiological traits – specifically the length of their tongue. The inclusion of a variety of floral shapes attracts a more diverse array of pollinators. Some bees are generalists, flitting among flowers to drink nectar and collect pollen from many plant species. Flat or shallow blossoms, such as asters or coreopsis, attract a wide variety of bee species. But long-tongued pollinators (such as butterflies and bumble bees) are attracted to flowers that have tube-shaped nectaries, such as Monarda or Liatris.

Flowers that bloom in early spring provide food for newly emerging bumble bee queens, while fall blooms favors pollinators that are actively seeking the additional energy needed for overwintering. Also, a planting that groups of three or more of a single species will attract bees because the cluster allows them to forage more efficiently.

Inextricably linked, pollinators are as vital to native plants as the plants are vital to them. Garden with native plants and forgo the use of chemicals to create pollinator-friendly landscapes that can help curb pollinator decline.

Learn More:
• Important Native Plants for Pollinators – PDF
Learn which pollinators you can attract, and which plants are host plants for butterflies and moths. The plants are arranged to help you maximize pollinator support across the seasons.
• Seven Pollinator Friendly Practices – PDF
An infographic detailing seven important facets of pollinator support.

Create a Pollinator Refuge with Native Plants

Best Plants for Pollinators, Spring through Fall

Early Season

  • (Cornus sericea) Red Osier Dogwood
  • (Geranium maculatum) Wild Geranium
  • (Lupinus perennis) Lupine
  • (Polemonium reptans) Jacob’s Ladder
  • (Prunus virginiana) Chokecherry
  • (Salix discolor) Pussy Willow

Early to Mid Season

  • (Amorpha canescens) Leadplant
  • (Anemone canadensis) Canada Anemone
  • (Aquilegia canadensis) Columbine
  • (Aronia melanocarpa) Black Chokeberry
  • (Asclepias syriaca) Common Milkweed
  • (Baptisia bracteata) Cream False Indigo
  • (Baptisia lactea) White False Indigo
  • (Callirhoe involucrata) Purple Poppy Mallow
  • (Ceanothus americanus) New Jersey Tea
  • (Coreopsis lanceolata) Lanceleaf Coreopsis
  • (Diervilla lonicera) Northern Bush Honeysuckle
  • (Penstemon digitalis) Smooth Penstemon
  • (Phlox divaricata) Wild Blue Phlox
  • (Phlox pilosa) Downy Phlox
  • (Physocarpus opulifolius) Common Ninebark
  • (Rhus glabra) Smooth Sumac
  • (Rosa blanda) Meadow Rose
  • (Rosa carolina) Carolina Rose
  • (Sambucus canadensis) Common Elderberry
  • (Tradescantia bracteata) Prairie Spiderwort
  • (Tradescantia ohiensis) Ohio Spiderwort
  • (Verbena hastata) Blue Vervain
  • (Viburnum lentago) Nannyberry
  • (Viburnum prunifolium) Blackhaw Viburnum
  • (Zizia aurea) Golden Alexanders

Mid Season

  • (Aralia racemosa) Spikenard
  • (Asclepias incarnata) Red Milkweed
  • (Asclepias sullivantii) Sullivant’s Milkweed
  • (Asclepias tuberosa) Butterflyweed
  • (Campanula rotundifolia) Hairbell
  • (Cassia hebecarpa) Wild Senna
  • (Chelone glabra) White Turtlehead
  • (Dalea purpurea) Purple Prairie Clover
  • (Dalea candida) White Prairie Clover
  • (Echinacea pallida) Pale Purple Coneflower
  • (Echinacea purpurea) Purple Conelfower
  • (Echinacea paradoxa) Ozark Coneflower
  • (Lobelia cardinalis) Cardinal Flower
  • (Lobelia siphilitica) Great Blue Lobelia
  • (Monarda punctata) Dotted Mint
  • (Monarda fistulosa) Bergamot
  • (Parthenium integrifolium) Wild Quinine
  • (Phlox glaberrima) Marsh Phlox
  • (Physocarpus opulifolius) Common Ninebark
  • (Pycnanthemum virginanum) Mountain Mint
  • (Rosa setigera) Climbing Prairie Rose
  • (Rudbeckia fulgida) Orange Coneflower

Mid to Late Season

  • (Agastache foeniculum) Lavender Hyssop
  • (Allium cernuum) Nodding Pink Onion
  • (Campanula americana) Tall Bellfower
  • (Asclepias verticillata) Whorled Milkweed
  • (Eryngium yuccifolium) Rattlesnake Master
  • (Eupatorium maculatum) Joe Pye Weed
  • (Eupatorium fistulosum) Tall joe Pye Weed
  • (Eupatorium perfoliatum) Boneset
  • (Eupatorium purpureum) Sweet Joe Pye Weed
  • (Liatris ligulistylis) Meadow Blazingstar
  • (Liatris spicata) Dense Blazingstar
  • (Liatris pycnostachya) Prairie Blazingstar
  • (Liatris aspera) Rough Blazingstar
  • (Liatris squarrosa) Scaly Blazingstar
  • (Monarda punctata) Dotted Mint
  • (Physostegia virginiana) Obedient Plant
  • (Rudbeckia hirta) Black Eyed Susan
  • (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) Sweet Black Eyed Susan
  • (Rudbeckia triloba) Brown Eyed Susan
  • (Salvia azurea) Blue Sage
  • (Silphium perfoliatum) Cupplant
  • (Verbena stricta) Hoary Vervain
  • (Veronicastrum virginicum) Culver’s Root
  • (Vernonia altissima) Tall Ironweed
  • (Vernonia fasciculata) Ironweed

Late Season

  • (Aster azureus) Sky Blue Aster
  • (Aster cordifolius) Heart Leaved Aster
  • (Aster ericoides) Heath Aster
  • (Aster laevis) Smooth Aster
  • (Aster lateriflorus) Calico Aster
  • (Aster novae-angliae) New England Aster
  • (Eupatorium coelistinum) Mistflower
  • (Gentiana andrewsii) Bottle Gentian
  • (Helenium autumnale) Dogtooth Daisy
  • (Helianthus strumosus) Woodland Sunflower
  • (Solidago caesia) Blue Stemmed Goldenrod
  • (Solidago flexicaulis) Zigzag Goldenrod
  • (Solidago ohioensis) Ohio Goldenrod
  • (Solidago speciosa) Showy Goldenrod
  • (Solidago rigida) Stiff Goldenrod

Prairie Nursery is Neonicotinoid-Free. We do not use neonicotinoids in any part of our plant growing process. More about neonicotinoids…

Our commitment to the environment…

The Best Plants to Attract Pollinators, by Region

The first of those is straightforward enough, and the second two are taken care of by planting nectar-rich flowers that bloom over a long period of the year. The foliage itself provides habitat – most insect pollinators like dense vegetation in which they can hide from predators and lay eggs – and the flowers provide the fuel. Plants native to your area are the best bet because they have co-evolved with the native pollinators.

The more diverse your plantings, the better, as some species are very picky. To get you started, here are a few ideas for pollinator plants native to each area of the country. Peruse the list below, and add your favorites to your garden planning list. Want more information? Extensive regional guides can be found at pollinator.org, a project of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign. They even have a handy app.

Northwest

Hairy Honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula)
Flowers: pink, June-August
Size/Type: 10′ tall vine
Sun/Water: part shade, medium water
Attracts: hummingbirds

Western Buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis)
Flowers: yellow, April-June
Size/Type: 2′ tall x 2′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: part shade, medium-high water
Attracts: bees

Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)
Flowers: white, April-June
Size/Type: 20′ feet tall x 15′ wide tree
Sun/Water: part shade, medium-high water
Attracts: bees, butterflies

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia spp.) by Rosa Frei on .

Southwest

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
Flowers: red-orange, February-May
Size/Type: 10′ tall x 10′ wide shrub
Sun/Water: full sun, low water
Attracts: hummingbirds

Jimson Weed (Datura wrightii)
Flowers: white, May-October
Size/Type: 2′ tall x 2′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: full sun, low water
Attracts: moths

Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina)
Flowers: green/yellow, March-August
Size/Type: 30′ tall x 20′ wide tree
Sun/Water: full sun, low water
Attracts: bees, butterflies

Tiny Coral Hairstreak Butterfly feeding on Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) by Sari ONeal on .

Midwest

Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Flowers: yellow/orange, May-July
Size/Type: 2′ tall x 2′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: full sun, medium water
Attracts: butterflies, hummingbirds

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Flowers: purple, June-August
Size/Type: 2′ tall x 2′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: full sun, medium water
Attracts: bees, butterflies

Southeast

Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)
Flowers: yellow, May-July
Size/Type: 2′ tall x 2′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: full sun, low water
Attracts: bees, butterflies

Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis)
Flowers: purple/blue, May-June
Size/Type: 3′ tall x 3′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: part sun, low water
Attracts: butterflies, hummingbirds

Passion Flower Vine (Passiflora incarnata)
Flowers: multi-colored, May-July
Size/Type: 10′ tall vine
Sun/Water: full sun, medium water
Attracts: hummingbirds, butterflies

Painted Buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica)
Flowers: white, April-May
Size/Type: 12′ tall x 12′ wide shrub
Sun/Water: shade, medium-high water
Attracts: bees, hummingbirds

Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora)
Flowers: yellow, July-October
Size/Type: 3′ tall x 3′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: full sun, low water
Attracts: bees, butterflies

Honeybee on a Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) by Marek Walica on .

Northeast

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Flowers: red, August-October
Size/Type: 3′ tall x 3′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: part sun, high water
Attracts: bees, hummingbirds

Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Flowers: yellow, June-September
Size/Type: 2′ tall x 1′ wide perennial
Sun/Water: full sun, medium water
Attracts: bees, butterflies

Mapleleaf Viburnum (Vibrunum acerifolium)
Flowers: white, May-June
Size/Type: 5′ tall x 5′ wide shrub
Sun/Water: part sun, medium water
Attracts: bees

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Top Ten Best Pollinator Plants

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In elementary school, I vividly remember learning about the things a plant needs to grow, things like water, nutrients, and sunlight. However, where the plants came from was oddly skipped over. The reality is that over 30% of all the plants in the world wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for pollinators. Pollinators are animals that move pollen from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant and allowing it to reproduce. Pollinators include bees, insects, birds, bats, and other animals. In the United States, over 100 crop plants are pollinated by insects and animals, including: almonds, apples, pears, citrus fruits, pumpkins, cucumbers, berries, soybeans, and sunflowers. Needless to say these pollinators are incredibly important and valuable. However, pollinators are on the decline for a number of upsetting reasons. This trend will have a massive impact on food production in the United States if something is not done to combat this issue (source: Native Pollinators in Agriculture Project).

What You Can Do

Whether you’re a small-scale gardener or a large-scale farmer, there are steps you can take to support the lives of pollinators and increase the number of pollinators in your area. You can do this by planting pollinator plants—those that provide essential needs like habitat or nourishment to bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and others.

Below is a list of the top ten best pollinator plants, though there are certainly more than ten to choose from. This list was compiled using guides* available from the Pollinator Partnership, a national non-profit dedicated to the health and conservation of our nation’s pollinators. The following pollinators were picked based on their potential to benefit both pollinator and gardener or farmer.

Top Ten Pollinator Plants

1. Southern Bush Honeysuckle
Who they benefit: bumblebees, hummingbirds
When they grow: June–August
What they need: moist soil and sun or partial shade
Why these: they are both beautiful and native to the Southeastern U.S.

2. Bloodroot
Who they benefit: bees, beetles, flies
When they grow: March–April
What they need: moist soil and shade
Why these: they are able to encourage pollination early in the growing season

3. Eastern Swamp Milkweed
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July–September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: a perennial that attracts a wide variety of pollinators

4. Fennel
Who they benefit: Bees
When they grow: April–June
What they need: Sun and moist soil
Why these: attract bees while also being able to harvest fennel seeds at the end of the growing season (harvest them green or fully dried)

5. Wild Petunia
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July–September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: not only a hummingbird favorite, but can also grow in hot conditions

6. Monarda (Bee Balm)
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July–September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: the aromatic leaves serve as a substitute for mint and can be dried for tea

7. Sunflowers

Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July–September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: beauty aside, sunflower seeds can be eaten either fresh or cooked or used to extract oil which can be used in cooking

8. Thyme
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July–September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why this: is extremely useful in a variety of ways from mood-enhancing aromatherapy to soothing upper respiratory problems like bronchitis

9. Poppy
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July–September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: they are just really pretty!

10. Dill
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July–September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: is good to consume for digestive health

Above are my favorite pollinator plants, but certainly not the only ones out there! To learn more about pollinators and pollinator plants alike, attend our annual Spring Conference classes on pollinators, including the following: Who Pollinates Your Food?, Plant-Pollinator Interactions, Integrating Pollinators Into the Garden, and Growing Native Plants from Seeds. I’ll see you there!

Jenna Bailey, OGS Spring Conference Volunteer, is a 23-year-old AmeriCorps member serving in Knoxville, TN, at a non-profit organic farm called Beardsley Community Farm. After studying sociology and environmental studies in school, she wanted to get her hands in the dirt at a place that combined her passions for combatting food insecurity and teaching sustainable agriculture. Her next move will be to Fiji where she will serve in the Peace Corps and adjust to growing food in a new climate.

Got a bee in your bonnet to learn more about pollinators? We’ve got some great workshops offered at our 2017 Spring Conference HERE:

*The guides used to compile this list were for two specific eco-regions: the Central Appalachian Broadleaf Forest and the Southeast Mixed Forest Province. If you do not live in either of these eco-regions, have no fear. The Pollinator Partnership has guides for every eco-region in the United States available on their website for free: pollinator.org.

Author: OGS

Organic Growers School is a non-profit organization providing organic education since 1993. Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support people in our region to farm, garden, and live organically.

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