Pollination occurs when pollinators, like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, feed on the sweet nectar from flowers. While they enjoy the buffet, powdery pollen sticks to them. As they move down the buffet line to other plants in the area, the pollen drops off into those plants, which then use it to create seeds, fruit and more plants. The process is essential to our food supply, with some estimates giving pollination credit for up to one-third of what we eat. Whether you want a robust garden full of produce, to help boost pollinator populations or both, focusing on the best plants for pollinators will help you reach your goal.
Ideally, you will want to select native plants for your region. Talk to your local extension office, do some research online or grab a book from the library. Your local nursery or other garden supply store will likely have a great selection of the best plants for attracting pollinators to get you started. In the meantime, here are plenty of tips to help you know where to start when it comes to creating a beautiful, bountiful pollinator garden.
Best plants for every kind of pollinator and climate
Many plants are forgiving enough to succeed in a variety of climates and are commonly used for attracting pollinators in just about any area. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary, sage, mint and oregano are great options. Other plants provide aesthetic appeal for your yard while also creating a feast for pollinators. Look into whether coneflower (purple is a favorite for butterflies), sunflower, redbud, catnip, penstemon, lab’s ears, verbena, aster, black-eyed Susan or yarrow are a good fit for your space.
If your main draw is butterflies, try alyssum, aster, butterfly bush, cosmos, delphinium, and the easy-to-grow daylily. A few other butterfly favorites include fennel, globe thistle, goldenrod and liatris. Hollyhock makes butterflies happy, but be careful where you plant it, because hollyhock can become invasive after the first season.
Plants to attract hummingbirds
Hummingbirds like big, bright blooms they can stick their extraordinarily long tongues into for a drink. Test out bee balm, begonias, bleeding heart, canna, cardinal flower, columbine and coral bells (heuchera). Vary your plantings by season, and choose plants of different heights and colors. Include cleome, dahlia, foxglove, fuchsia, gladiolus, iris and lupine. Other plants known to draw in the fluttery birds include lantana, paintbrush, nicotiana, phlox and yucca.
As you probably know, bees are critical to the survival of our planet, but colony collapse has put them in crisis. Do your part with some bee-friendly plants like bee plant, bergamot, borage, cosmos, flax, giant hyssop, marjoram and poppies. Bees are usually satisfied feeding at any nectar-rich banquet, so most herbs, berries or flowers in your garden will likely make them happy. If you plan to try beekeeping, note that the resulting honey will pick up the key notes from what they feed on, so experiment with wildflowers, wild rose, thyme, verbena and blackberries for different flavors.
Pollinators by region
Weather trends in your area will affect the types of plants that will thrive, so again, it’s important to research plants native to your locale. However, here are some general ideas for the more extreme climates you might be dealing with.
If you live in a semi-desert region, try out catnip, clover, milkwort, morning glory, passion flowers and phacelia in your pollinator garden. Some other options that should thrive in arid regions include rose, potentilla, sorrel, violet and wild mustard.
For areas that receive more rain, such as the misty coasts, add catalpa, cow parsley, goldenrod, impatiens, morning glory and willow catkins to your garden. Although we’ve mentioned a lot of flowers, remember that crops bloom too, providing an opportunity to feed the pollinators and yourself. Plant some almonds, apples, blueberries, cherries, eggplants, gooseberries, legumes, watermelons, squash, pumpkins and tomatoes along with herbs to satisfy the pollinators and fill your plate.
Additional pollinator garden tips
There are a few more components to creating the perfect pollinator garden, where bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and more will all flock to for nectar.
Proper plant care
In addition to selecting the best plants for pollinators, you’ll want to make sure those plants and the pollinators are thriving. Follow watering guidelines for the plants you select and fertilize them when needed, but be sure to use only organic materials. Avoid chemicals such as insecticides and herbicides that can harm bees, moths and other pollinators.
Especially during the hot, summer months, scatter water sources around your garden for pollinators to enjoy while they work. Also cluster plants together so pollinators have some protection. This gives them a place to hide from predators, heat and rain as well as to rear their young.
If you grow crops on a large or small scale, consider throwing some seeds in the ground during the off season. You may not want the plants that are not at their peak, but pollinators will appreciate them nonetheless — your soil will likely thank you for some variety, too. You can also put wildflowers in unused areas for your pollinators to enjoy.
Pollinators’ favorite colors
Map out your garden with a variety of colors for attracting pollinators of all types. Birds are naturally drawn to warm tones, like scarlet, red and orange. They also respond well to white blooms. Butterflies like bright colors and the deeper tones of red and purple. On the other end of the spectrum, moths prefer dull red, purple, pink and white. By planting a variety of colors that bloom throughout the seasons, you will provide the best environment to attract all types of pollinators.
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