Pollinators are vital to our environment, and we rely on them to help our food and flowers grow. One way to help pollinators is to plant perennials they find useful. When you plant bee- and butterfly-friendly perennials, you will enjoy beautiful blooms and visits from our pollinator friends, and they will enjoy the tasty treats!

Honeybees and monarchs have become the darling poster bugs of campaigns to care for our pollinators, but there are many other wonderful pollinators to consider as well when choosing what to plant. Here are some of the important (and beautiful) choices for a variety pollinators that you can plant.

Common milkweed

Photo by Fritz Flohr Reynolds, Wikimedia Commons

Milkweed (Asclepias) is the most important plant for monarch butterflies. It is the only plant they lay their eggs on because it’s the only one on which the larvae feed. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.) can be easily grown from seed or plants, and other varieties of Asclepias can be purchased as plants.

Monarda, also known as bee balm, is a favorite of bees and butterflies. There are several different varieties of bee balm that come in shades of pink, red, and purple and in varying heights. Minnesota is home to many native bee species, some of which are specialized with long tongues and best suited to feed on flowers with thin, curled petals, such as bee balm.

Cone flower (Echinacea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), with their wide-open centers and petals that point slightly downward, are easy flowers for a wide variety of pollinators to feast upon. Bees of all kinds, butterflies, and people love these old-fashioned favorites.

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), shown at the top of this post, is a great back-of-the-garden addition for butterfly gardens. Reaching 3-4 feet tall, this purple flowering plant does well in sun or part shade and loves moist conditions.

Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis), or cardinal flower, is a striking plant that likes full sun or part shade and moist conditions. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, and can reach 2-4 feet tall. With a bloom time from July to September, this long-lasting flower will give pollinators food for many months.

Five more pollinator perennials to try:

  • Goat’s beard Aruncus dioecus: attracts native and honey bees.
  • Autumn joy sedum Hylotelephium telephium: attracts native and honey bees.
  • Catmint Nepeta x faassenii: attracts native and honey bees.
  • Phlox Phlox spp: attracts butterflies.
  • Trumpet honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens: attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
Butterfly bush by Tonkadale Greenhouse

Photo by Megan Nichols

Though they are not perennial, here are two more to consider.

Butterfly bush (Buddleia) is hardy to zone 5 (we are 4), but may overwinter with mulch. It’s an all-season bloomer that is worth growing as a butterfly friendly annual.

Though it’s not a perennial, beautiful blue borage (Borago officinalis) is a bee magnet worth planting, and it readily self-seeds so it may come back each year. As an added bonus for humans, the flowers are edible, and with a slight cucumber flavor are a beautiful and tasty addition to salads.

For a list of more annuals to plant for pollinators, see the Tonkadale lists new annuals for 2015 blog post.

For information on other bee friendly plants, visit the University of Minnesota Bee Lab website http://beelab.umn.edu/.

For information on butterfly favorites, visit the University of Minnesota’s Butterfly Gardening website: http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/landscaping/butterfly-gardening/

Let’s plant for pollinators!