Painted lady butterfly on coneflower

Plants for Pollinators

In Feature, Gardening, Spring, Summer by Megan Nichols

Pollinators have become pretty popular the last few years. So what’s all the buzz about? Here’s the scoop.

Pollinators are important member of our eco-system, and they do some pretty amazing things, including help our crops grow, help plants and flowers reproduce, and in general just cause fascination and excitement where ever they are.

Good sources of food that provide quality nutrition is vital to their survival. Luckily, gardeners can help with this. There is a wide variety of plants that pollinators love. Here are a few of our favorites, plus some extra tips thrown in for good measure!

Pollination Basics

  • It’s a win/win for plants and pollinators.
  • Plants want to reproduce, so they need to move their pollen around.
  • Pollinators need nectar and pollen, so they’re drawn to the plants.
  • Pollinators unwittingly move pollen from plant to plant as they gather.
  • This cross pollination facilitates plant reproduction.
  • Pollinated flowers create seeds that are to fall and make new plants.
  • Pollinators include Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Hummingbird moths, Beetles, Flies, Wasps, Bats.

When planting for pollinators, consider:

  • Bloom time
    • Plant early, mid, and late season blooms to feed pollinators through the season
    • Annuals and spring bulbs are great for early season blooms
    • Annuals are great for late season blooms
  • Old fashioned and native plants offer the nectar and pollen pollinators need
    • Hybridized flowers often don’t offer the same rewards and nutrition
  • Plant plants that have not been doused with chemicals
  • Learn to share with both the goodies and the baddies
    • A little damage from baddies can be tolerable
    • Goodies include caterpillars that eat your favorite foods, like the swallowtail butterfly caterpillar that eats the foliage of plants in the carrot family
  • Plant a variety of flower shapes. Flat flowers (coneflowers, yarrow) provide a landing pad for butterflies. Some bees are specialized to certain flower shapes – a big bumbler is needed to open a Chelone flower. Hummingbirds like trumpet shaped flowers.

Plant these plants


  • Early blooms
    • Bleeding hearts, Brunnera, Bergenia, Baptisia, Creeping phlox, Woodland phlox, Forsythia, Hellebores, Lilac, Peonies, Pulmonaria
  • Mid-season blooms
    • Allium, Lobelia, Liatris, Monarda, Coneflower, Gaillardia, Geraniums, Nepeta, Russian Sage, Phlox, Salvia, Veronica, Joe Pye Weed, Yarrow, Heuchera, Hosta
  • Late-season blooms
    • Goldenrod, Black Eyed Susans, Chelone, Sedum, Cimicifuga, Asters, Mums, late blooming Hosta, Sweet Autumn Clematis, Russian Sage
  • Natives
    • Any blooming native is a good choice. Native plants and native pollinators evolved together and naturally support one another.
    • Try Virginia Bluebell, Echinacea, Prairie smoke.
    • Milkweed is the big deal for Monarchs. Like many natives it will behave like a weed. It is also the only larval host plant (a.k.a. food) for Monarch caterpillars.


  • Zinnias have to be their favorite, the bees won’t leave them be!
  • Marigold, Pentas, Cosmos, Calibrachoa, Lantana, Petunia, Nasturtium, Salvia,
  • For shade: Torrenia and Fuchsia are the best options.

Herbs and Edibles

  • Pollinators are responsible for 1 of every 3 bites of food we eat, so they visit many flowering food crops.
  • They like many of the same things as us:
    • Squash, cucumber, pumpkin
    • Tomatoes pollinated by Bumble bees produce more and larger fruits
    • Blueberries, apples, sunflowers
    • Sage, pineapple sage, borage, lavender, thyme, oregano, basil
    • Note that you’ll need to let some of it go to flower when normally you wouldn’t want to (basil, oregano…)

Additional help for pollinators

  • Provide water (marbles, wine corks – place these for landing pads for the bees)
  • Make a puddling station
  • Provide alternative food sources
  • Use Integrated Pest Management
    • Be out there, be watching
    • Organic chemicals are best
    • Pesticides are meant to kill, whether or not they are organic, so use caution
    • Fungicides and honey bees – kills the natural yeast in their bellies that is part of their immune system
  • Provide habitat and overwintering
    • Snags of brush
    • Bunching grasses (Elijah blue, etc.), bees burrow in bare ground hidden by long grass
  • Use flowering groundcovers instead of mulch
    • Prunella vulgaris
    • Creeping thyme
    • Dutch clover

Gardeners get the chance to help pollinators just by doing what they love. Plant plants, it’s what the bees (and other pollinators) need!