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Best Pollinator Plants
Best Pollinator Plants

Best Pollinator Plants

Pollinators are the backbone of our ecosystems and food systems, yet they struggle for survival in our modern, ever-changing world. These insects and small animals can use all the help they can get, making it essential we add something to our gardens to provide a little boost in their environment. Planting a few varieties of the best plants for pollinators can really help out.

I’ll admit, when I first started gardening, I couldn’t justify planting “pretty flowers”, in the garden. We were really limited on space and I wanted to grow as much food as I could. So, while I had a few flowers in the pots at the front of our home, I did not make it a priority to put flowers in our vegetable garden bed. Big mistake….

Pollinator plants are so much more than something pretty to look at. They provide food to species that help produce up to 1/3 of our own food. They boost the appearance, as well as attract some pretty cool, and helpful species to our garden, as well.  Several of them also keep pesky pests away.

 

How to Incorporate Pollinator Plants in Your Garden

There are so many ways to do this. Whether you have a designated space, plant several containers that you can move around, or just simply incorporate the plants into your garden – there’s definitely a solution.

If you get those pollinators into your area, they’re sure to stick around and help out your food plants, too!

While I admittedly didn’t start out with planting tons of flowers, I now have dedicated beds in our garden.  Many containers around the property, lots of companion planting right next to the plants in the garden, and am also working on adding a designated space just to attract some pollinators and help give them a little boost.

What will work for you and your situation, is obviously not going to be the same as mine. But even adding a couple of marigolds to a pot on your balcony next to your potted tomatoes, is better than nothing. I really like to add a few hanging baskets to our deck with flowers to attract our favorites as well. Lots of the following plants thrive in containers.

 

Why Pollinator Plants are So Important

Like I mentioned at the beginning, our pollinators are the backbone of our ecosystems and food systems. In fact, bees alone, are responsible for pollinating roughly 75% of our food supply.

And many of our pollinators are at risk for extinction. Honey bees are almost completely extinct and 59% of bee populations in the United States have been lost.

Many of our pollinator populations, especially bees, are forcibly used to pollinate crops such as almonds, rendering them incapable of just doing what bees do, and pollinating at will.

So many of our pollinators are being killed off by either forced pollination of specific crops, where up to 20-50% of the population dies, or they are being killed off from pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on mono-crops.

When you plant even a few of the following plants, you’re helping these pollinators thrive, by being able to find clean, natural food sources. Not only that, but they are going to help your garden crops thrive and produce higher yields without you having to figure out how to hand pollinate!

 

20 of the Best Pollinator Plants

 

Calendula

Calendula blooms come in a variety of colors and have tons of medicinal uses.

About Calendula: This perennial herb is generally grown as an annual and has beautiful daisy-like flowers. This flower will easily and readily re-seed, and can bloom from spring all the way through autumn – if it’s regularly deadheaded. The plant has herbal and medicinal uses, and is commonly referred to as, a pot marigold.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-11

How to Grow:  Start seeds indoors, 6-8 weeks before the last frost in cooler regions, or, direct sow after threat of frost has passed. This plant will grow well in containers, and is a great companion plant that will not only attract pollinators, but help repel pests. Plant in well-draining soil, in full to part sun.

Bloom Time: Spring-Autumn

Attracts: Bees and butterflies

 

Borage

About Borage: An easy to grow, annual herb that produces beautiful, blue star-like flowers. Borage blooms in the summer and while it is an herb, it is typically used planted among tomatoes, where it can not only attract pollinators, but is also known to repel hornworms, and improve the flavor of tomatoes. The flowers are also edible and make a great addition to summer salads or drinks.  Some folks even candy them. Like calendula, these annuals will re-seed like crazy, so beware.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-11

How to Grow:  Borage is exceptionally easy to grow and can thrive, even in drought-ridden soils. Direct sow after threat of frost has passed – they germinate fairly quickly. It prefers well-drained, dry, yet moist, soil and full to partial sun. If you want to avoid it reseeding, simply pull the flowers before the drop.

Bloom Time: Summer

Attracts: Bees

 

Daisies

About Daisies:  The Shasta daisy is a perennial that produces beautiful white flowers, with yellow centers. It can reseed like crazy, especially if left to its own devices, so it’s best to either pull the flowers before they go to seed, in order to keep it under control. It produces a great deal of flowers that also look great in arrangements, and can last for a week or more.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-9

How to Grow:  Direct sow seeds in the autumn or spring, in a cold frame, or purchase a plant, and plant it to get a jump on flowers. If you direct sow, the plant will not flower until the following year. Daisies love sun, so for the most blooms, be sure to plant in full sun. It will prefer moderately fertile, moist, well-draining soil. Too fertile and the plant will produce more foliage and not as many blooms.

Bloom Time: Summer through fall

Attracts: Butterflies

 

Coneflower

About Coneflowers:  Coneflowers, also known as echinacea, are actually native to North America. This perennial plant is in the daisy family and produces flowers with cone-like centers. It self-seeds prolifically, and is fairly easy to grow. If the flowers are left to seed, the seed will also attract songbirds.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

How to Grow:  These plants are drought tolerant, but prefer moist, fertile, well-draining soil in full sun. You can sow seed directly after the threat of frost, or purchase a started plant from your local nursery, like I did. They can be grown in containers successfully.

Bloom Time: Summer through fall

Attracts: Butterflies, bees, and songbirds

 

Marigolds

About Marigolds:  These bright, compact, annual flowers, resemble a mix between a daisy and a carnation. They’re typically orange, yellow, white, gold or bi-color. Native to Mexico, they can be grown virtually anywhere. You can direct sow seeds after the threat of frost.  They will grow quickly, and are very low maintenance. There are several different types of marigolds, only one being edible – and those are the signet marigolds. They closely resemble small, bright daisies.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-11

How to Grow:  Direct sow in full sun, in well-draining soil that isn’t too acidic (keep the pH below 6.0). They’re not fussy at all and only require a bit of water during dry spells. They’ll continually bloom, as long as you keep the blooms deadheaded.

Bloom Time: Summer

Attracts: Bees, moths, and butterflies

 

Nasturtium

About Nasturtium:  This beautiful, bold flower, is an annual up to zone 8 and can be a perennial into zones 9-11. The leaves and the flowers are both edible. There are both climbing types, and bush types, that have various flower colors. They’re very, very easy to grow and a favorite for companion planting.  They really draw in hummingbirds and bees.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-11

How to Grow:  Direct sow seeds outdoors, about 2 weeks after threat of the last frost. These can be started indoors, but they do not transplant very well. They need full sun to really bloom, but will grow in partial shade if you are okay with fewer blooms. They’re not picky – they’ll grow in just about any soil, as long as it’s well-draining.

Bloom Time: Summer through fall

Attracts: Hummingbirds, bees, and moths

 

Bee Balm

About Bee Balm:  One of my favorite perennials, bee balm is easy to grow, and a member of the mint family. But, unlike mint, it doesn’t take over everywhere as soon as it’s planted. Bee balm is native to North America. The flowers are interesting and typically red, pink, or purple.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

How to Grow:  Plant in full sun, to partial shade, in well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Keep soil evenly moist all growing season long. Deadhead faded blooms, to encourage the plant to re-bloom later in the summer/early fall. This plant grows tall, so it makes a great backdrop.

Bloom Time: Spring to Fall

Attracts: Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees

 

Butterfly Bush

About the Butterfly Bush:  This beautiful and easy to grow deciduous shrub, produces beautiful bunches of flowers in a variety of colors. Butterflies love the butterfly bush, but the red flowering varieties can even attract hummingbirds. Native to China, this plant is actually considered a noxious weed in some areas, and some folks consider it too big of a problem to plant – while others happily plant them to attract pollinators to their garden areas.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-9

How to Grow:  This shrub needs planted in full sun, or it will not flower and will look more like a sparse weed. This plant will die back in zones 5-6 in the winter. It requires well-draining soil, but will grow in just about any soil. It needs average amounts of moisture all season long. You can start from seed, but we typically purchase established plants from our local nursery.

Bloom Time: Summer to Fall

Attracts: Butterflies and hummingbirds

 

Lavender

About Lavender:  I love walking up to our lavender plants and smelling them…. Lavender comes in three varieties; English, Spanish and French. I grow English lavender here, but they’re all full of beautiful, fragrant, purple blooms and green foliage.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-9

How to Grow:  Grow in full sun, in well-draining soil. Once established, lavender is extremely drought tolerant. Alkaline soil is preferred for more fragrant blooms. Deadheading will encourage continued blooming. Lavender can be very, very fussy to start from seed, so I recommend buying established plants from the local nursery.

Bloom Time: Summer to Fall

Attracts: Bees

 

Milkweed

About Milkweed:  This herbaceous perennial is essential to butterflies – particularly the Monarch, who lay their eggs on the plant and then the hatched caterpillars feed off of it. The flowers come in a variety of colors. The stems and leaves produce a milky sap when cut, giving the plant its name.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

How to Grow:  You can direct sow seeds in early spring after cold stratification. This plant can also be propagated by cutting root sections and planting them just so the roots are buried. Plant in full sun, in well-draining soil. This plant doesn’t require regular watering or any special fertilizer, making it easy to grow.  However, it will spread readily with underground rhizomatous roots, just like mint.

Bloom Time: Spring to Summer

Attracts: Butterflies

 

Pincushion

About Pincushion Flowers:  Another favorite of mine – these perennial flowers come in a variety of colors including white, pink, lavender, red, burgundy, and cream. I’m partial to the lavender variety, myself. Flowers grow atop wiry stems and resemble a pincushion full of pins.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-7

How to Grow:  If growing in a particularly hot climate, grow in an area that has a little afternoon shade, otherwise, be sure to grow these in an area with full sun. They prefer well-draining, moist soil. If you have particularly clay-like soil, it’s best to put these in raised beds or containers. They will need about an inch of water in the hottest months of summer, to thrive.

Bloom Time: Summer to Fall

Attracts: Butterflies and bees

 

Dahlia

About Dahlias:  These tubers can be grown as perennials (if you dig up the tubers in the fall), or annuals (if you leave them in the ground). These plants come in a variety of different sizes and colors, which makes choosing your favorite, almost impossible. They can grow 4 to 5 feet tall – with a very long growing season, up to 120 days, making it a long-lasting addition to the garden.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-11

How to Grow:  Choose single or semi-double blooms for the most success at attracting pollinators. Plant tubers in an area of full sun, in rich, slightly acidic, well-draining soil after threat of the last frost. Water infrequently after the sprouts appear.

Bloom Time: Summer to Fall

Attracts: Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds

 

Sunflower

About Sunflowers:  I love watching these big, tall blooms following the sun – it’s so cool. I don’t believe any garden is complete without a few sunflowers. I prefer the multi-headed varieties, which extend the bloom time and give plenty of pretty, tall flowers to look at from one stalk.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-11

How to Grow:  Direct sow seeds after the last threat of frost in well-draining soil, in full sun. They are heavy feeders and will require nutrient-rich soil, with plenty of compost. It’s best to plant sunflowers in an area that can be shielded from the wind – as a strong wind will likely topple the plants once they start getting height to them.

Bloom Time: Summer to fall

Attracts: Birds and bees

 

Zinnia

About Zinnias:  These easy to grow annuals bloom heavily for several months, and are a beautiful addition to any garden space. While they are an annual – they reseed readily. So if you plant them in a spot, they’ll likely come back all on their own the following year, if you allow a few flowers to drop.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-11

How to Grow:  These plants do not transplant well. Direct sow seeds in the garden, after the last threat of frost. Plant in full sun, in well-draining soil, rich with organic matter.

Bloom Time: Summer to fall

Attracts: Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds

 

Aster

Description: Beautiful, white, blue, or purple daisy-like, perennial flowers are another of my favorites. These beautiful flowers bloom in later summer to fall, making them a great addition to provide some food when most flowers are beginning to lose their luster. While there are tons of hybrid varieties available, many areas will have wild, native species available and are preferred.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8

How to Grow:  Asters prefer cool summer areas – specifically, cooler summer nights. You can grow asters from seed, but germination can be a bit uneven, so it’s best to start indoors, 6-8 weeks before the last frost, after cold stratification. If you live in a warmer region, it’s best to plant in an area that avoids the hot, mid-day sun. These beauties prefer loamy, well-drained soil. Water well at planting time, and mulch to keep soil cool and evenly moist.

Bloom Time: Summer to fall

Attracts: Butterflies

 

Snapdragon

About Snapdragons:  While they are a perennial in zones 7-11, snapdragons are typically grown as annuals in every zone. The flowers resemble a dragon snout, giving them their name. They bloom in a variety of colors throughout spring and fall, but not during the summer. Even being able to be grown as a perennial in warmer zones, they don’t typically bloom as well after their first year. They do develop seed pods their first year, and sometimes will self-seed.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-11

How to Grow:  Snapdragons can be grown from seed, but are very slow growing and need started 8 to 12 weeks before the last frost. Otherwise, purchase starts from your local nursery (this is what we usually do). They’re fairly easy to grow, regardless, just a bit slow to start. Plant in partial shade to help promote re-blooming in the fall. They prefer rich, well-draining soil.

Bloom Time: Spring or Fall

Attracts: Bumblebees (honeybees can’t open up the blooms’ jaws)

 

Black-Eyed Susan

About Black-Eyed Susans: Native to North America, the black-eyed Susan is one of the most widely grown wildflowers. The plant produces yellow, daisy-like heads, with brown centers – giving them their name. They tend to take over other plants, so take that into consideration. They can be grown in containers and make a great border.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-9

How to Grow:  Direct sow seed in loose soil, in full sun, when soil temperatures reach 70°F. They prefer fertile, well-draining, loose soil and full sun, but can tolerate worse soil conditions and partial shade.

Bloom Time: Summer to fall

Attracts: Butterflies and bees

 

Phlox

About Phlox:  These pretty, star-shaped, perennial flowers are a favorite for spring blooming ground covers, or late summer tall plants. They’re very low maintenance, with varieties to suit any gardening situation (ground cover, mid height and tall plants).  They also have an amazing fragrance.

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2-9

How to Grow:  These plants are easier to grow from starts or cuttings, so it’s best to purchase starts from your local nursery.  Or, find someone that has cuttings available to share. Plant in the spring after the last threat of frost, in rich, evenly moist, well-draining soil. Different varieties have different light requirements, so check the plant card to figure out what it needs.

Bloom Time: Spring to summer

Attracts: Birds and butterflies

 

Mint

About Mint:  Yes, believe it or not – this slightly invasive perennial herb does flower, and bees love the flowers! Incredibly easy to grow, this flavorful herb is easier to contain when grown in containers. If left in open beds, it will spread like wildfire and you’ll struggle to keep it under control!

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3-8

How to Grow:  Mint will practically grow itself, and is not at all finicky. Most varieties need a little protection from the hot sun, and prefer a partial shade area. It will grow virtually anywhere, and while it’s said it requires well-draining soil, I’ve seen it grow in far worse conditions. Like I mentioned, it’s best to grow it in containers in order to keep the plant from taking over the space.

Bloom Time: Summer to fall

Attracts: Bees

 

Oregano

About Oregano:  Another perennial herb that will bring in the pollinators. Oregano is one of our favorite herbs to grow and it readily grows! This fragrant herb produces beautiful, green foliage and pink, purple, or white flowers. Oregano will come back year after year with very little work on your part, making it great for those of us that forget to do things to plants in the fall….

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4-10

How to Grow:  Oregano is typically started in the spring or fall from divided plants or nursery starts, but it can be easily grown from seed if you prefer. It can grow well in containers, or straight in your garden. Plant in full sun, and it prefers average, sandy loam, well-drained soil.

Bloom Time: Summer

Attracts: Bees and butterflies

 

There’s definitely something for every garden on this list, and I hope that you choose to add a few of these plants to your garden this year. Whether you choose to grow perennials, annuals, or a combination of both, it’s worth it to not only help your own garden yields, but to give our very important pollinators natural food sources that are severely lacking in several areas!

Pick a few – or several out, and get shopping!! And as always, I strongly encourage you to buy local. But, this is especially important when it comes to plants, since some from big box stores have been treated with neonicotinoids that can kill those pollinators, and we don’t want that.

 

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