10 Tips for Pollinator Planting

Posted by Aaron Barton on Mar 4th 2023

10 Tips for Pollinator Planting

Pollination is a vital ecological process that involves the transfer of pollen between flowers. Pollinators are insects or animals that aid in pollen transfer, including bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, ants, beetles, flies, wasps, and bats. A garden that is beneficial to pollinators in all life stages of life helps to sustain populations and provides numerous benefits to both humans and the natural environment around us.


1. Choose plants with staggered bloom times

If you can plan your garden to bloom all season long, you will ensure a reliable nectar source and pollen supply throughout the growing season. Strive to always have at least three plants in bloom from early spring through late fall.

2. Vary flower shape and structure

Composite: Provide a platform for resting and have many small blooms close together

Echinacea (Coneflower), Ratibida (Prairie/Gray-Headed Coneflower), Liatris (Blazing Star), Symphyotrichum (Aster), Solidago (Goldendrod)

Umbelliferous: Numerous small, shallow flowers and a flat landing platform

Zizia (Golden Alexander), Astrantia (Masterwort), Angelica (Garden Angelica), Foeniculum (Fennel), Anethum (Dill)

Tubular and Bilabiate: Long tubular flowers, often with a flat lower lip for perching

Lobelia (Cardinal Flower), Chelone (Turtlehead), Monarda (Bee Balm/Wild Bergamot), Pycnanthemum (Mountain Mint), Penstemon (Beardtongue)

Nodding: Flowers that nod or hang down with no suitable landing area

Allium cernuum (Nodding Onion), Thalictrum (Early Meadow Rue), Pulsatilla (Pasqueflower), Geum (Prairie Smoke), Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)

Complex: Concealed nectar in spurs that can only be reached by visitors with a long tongue or proboscis

Aquilegia (Columbine), Asclepias (Milkweed/Butterfly Weed), Viola (Violet), Tropaeolum (Nasturtium), Delphinium (Larkspur)

3. Plant large, dense groupings of like flowers

Large swaths of color are easier for pollinators to locate and provide better forage. Many pollinators are only able to travel a short distance each day.

4. Plant for all stages of life to support pollinator reproduction

Provide habitat as well as forage. Position larval host plants out of direct sight lines to conceal feeding damage. Provide ground nesting sites and hollow stems or wood bee blocks for native bee populations.

5. Plant native plants

Native plants are phenomenal pollen and nectar producers and are easy for pollinators to navigate. Native plants directly support native wildlife and pollinators and will provide the greatest benefit to pollinators in all stages of life.

6. Provide fresh, clean water

Leave a shallow dish or saucer with fresh water in the garden for pollinators. Sanitize and refill regularly.

7. Provide flat stones or pavers

Pollinators are busy and expend a lot of energy as they buzz from flower to flower. Stones or pavers provide a spot for pollinators to rest and warm up in the sun.

8. Avoid and ideally eliminate pesticide and fungicide use entirely

Biological and cultural control methods should be prioritized and exhausted before considering chemical control methods.

9. Delay spring garden cleanup

Only begin spring clean-up once nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50F to preserve habitat and protection for overwintering pollinators, or skip most of the cleanup entirely. Leave plants standing through the winter to provide habitat and shelter, as well as winter interest. Pollinators overwinter in a variety of plant materials, with some nesting in hollow stems and others choosing to burrow into leaf litter.

10. Maintain pollinator plantings

Plantings should be managed to control invasive species, weed pressure, and plant health. Successful pollinator plantings can be low maintenance once established, but will still require some degree of regular maintenance to be as beneficial as possible, especially in their first few years of establishment.