Pollinators are welcome guests in our garden that naturally supplement the health of our plants and are important key elements in the production of fruit and biodiversity in nature. Choosing plants that attract pollinators is like a boost for the rest of our landscape — not only do we get the joy of seeing bumbling bees and beautiful butterflies decorating our garden, but by using a few strategic plants we can bring pollinators to our landscape and gain all of these benefits!
Attracting Pollinators to Your Landscape
Generally we assume that by growing flowers we’ll be able to attract our local pollinators to our garden, but it’s actually a little more complicated than that. Pollinators have preferences that extend beyond just flowers and each type of pollinator will be attracted to a specific plant. Here are some ways to attract pollinators to your home:
- Native plants are the number one way to go. Local pollinators have been surviving off these plants for thousands of years and its proven these are preferred and better for pollinators then exotic species they aren’t familiar with.
- Plan your garden so that you can always have something in bloom. Not only will you appreciate it, but it will help you establish your garden as a consistent spot for your pollinators to get their fix from spring through fall.
- Build healthy soil and plants without the use of chemicals to avoid accidentally harming any of your pollinators.
- Provide a bit of clean, fresh water in your landscape so that your pollinators have an opportunity to refresh themselves during a hard day of collecting nectar and pollen. A simple dish with some rocks and water will do.
- Be aware that a few holy or damaged leaves is okay, host plants will be eaten but native plants are tolerant of this and know you are providing a home for these all the great creatures nature offers.
Our Most Pollinator-Friendly Plants
As not all garden favorites are created equal in the eyes of our local pollinators, try planting some of these to attract all of the right visitors to your backyard this year:
- Iron Weed This perennial boasts deep-purple blooms that are popular with butterflies, bees, and moths. Their long-lasting blooms will give a boost to your landscape in the mid summer months.
- Coneflower: These daisy-like blooms with splayed petals and a large, round seed head aren’t shy on color, with options ranging across the rainbow and blooming all summer, these flowers are a hit with butterflies and bees alike while providing a rustic charm to your garden that doesn’t compromise on performance.
- Black Lace Elderberry: The charming, pink flowers of this plant attract a variety of pollinators to your garden, from bees to beetles. For a little added drama in your landscape, enjoy the contrast of the light blooms against dark foliage, and the addition of black-purple berries in the summer.
- Butterfly Milkweed: If you want a way you can truly help monarch butterflies, plant milkweed! Attracting the adults with flowers is good but proving a place for the caterpillars to grow is even better. Butterfly Milkweed has beautiful orange blooms in summer and is a very drought tolerant plant that will be carefree once established.
- Penstemon: This summer-bloomer is a hummingbird magnet but is also appealing to bees. This plant has beautiful white blooms in early summer give way to nice-looking purple seed heads throughout the rest of the season.
- Greyhead Coneflower: One of our favorite natives which actually isn’t a true coneflower at all despite the name. The mid-summer flowers decorate the garden with masses of bright yellow flowers, bringing pollinators of all kinds that jump from flower to flower.
- Goldenrod: This bloom shines in late summer through fall, extending the life of your garden with beautiful, sunny tones. An important late season plant which will help to solidify your garden as a reliable full-season rest stop for pollinators. A bee favorite in particular.
- Joe Pye Weed: Don’t be fooled by its uninviting name, this plant boasts clusters of pink-purple flowers that last a long time, giving your local pollinators a chance to visit them almost the entire growing season. Butterflies in particular love this plant that they readily recognize.
- Switch Grass: While this tall, prairie grass isn’t a flower, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful to our pollinators. Switch grass is a host plant for butterfly caterpillars and grasses are also a staple plant in native prairie so why not also have them in our native gardens! Adding this vertical statement plant to your landscape grasses will also help your local pollinators by providing a safe spot for them to nest and lay eggs.
- Bee Balm: It’s not surprising that this plant is a popular choice among bees in your area. With bright purple and red blooms, you can expect to see lots of bees and butterflies frequenting your landscape.
- Forsythia: While it’s not a native plant, it is a super early profuse bloomer. This vibrant yellow shrub almost glows against the pale colors of early spring, making it easy for bugs to see from a long ways off. Forsythia plants will help to sustain early pollinators.
Our Local Top Pollinators
North America is home to over 5000 species of bees, and together they are responsible for pollinating more plants than any other type of pollinator. Busy as bees is an accurate description—these social insects work tirelessly to collect nectar and spread pollen. As creatures of pattern and habit, consistency and a crop of their favorite plants that they can depend on are key to keeping them around. Most gardeners are very aware of providing the flowers they need to feed their colonies but consider providing a place for them to live by putting a bee house in your native garden. Bee houses typically attract solitary bees that do not have huge colonies but is instead a female with a few hatchlings.
While they aren’t exactly our favorite insect to have around, flies do great work spreading pollen around on their hairy bodies. These pollinators have a particular affinity for fruit and vegetable plants, giving our edible gardens a helping hand in the summer.
Butterflies and Moths
Butterflies are a favorite among gardeners for their elegance and grace as they move from bloom to bloom. While butterflies and moths don’t transport as much pollen as some other pollinators, their ability to fly long distances means that they are important in moving pollen from plant to plant.
Getting more pollinators to visit is a mutually beneficial arrangement with your local insects and wildlife. Your garden will be bursting with healthy color all season and your pollinators will get the boost that they need to do their important work. It isn’t surprising that making our gardens more inviting to our local pollinators is also a way to make them more enticing for us! Optimizing your landscape for these critters is the perfect way to make your home healthy and inviting while having a lawn that truly invites nature to be a part of it.