Hello! Today I am going to discuss a few perennials for pollinators. As with many gardens, there are often stories connected with at least some of the plants, so I’ll start this with my (Megan’s) family’s journey into pollinator gardening.
A few years ago my husband was working near a house with tall, bright red blooming flowers. A mother and daughter gardened there together for several hours every day, so he stopped to ask them about their plants. More than just planting flowers based on their looks, they were focused on planting for pollinators, so it was no surprise that the flowers he found so stunning were also a great pollinator plant. The next day the ladies stopped him as he passed by and gave him a bag of goodies to help us on our way to planting for pollinators. The bag included catalogs for pollinator plants, several packets of seeds, and they even dug up some of that wonderful plant – Bee Balm! We don’t know the variety, but it is happily spreading through our gardens as I write this (seriously, I really think it’s on the move right now – it’s pretty quick) and we still cherish it.
The ladies shared with us so we could share with the pollinators. Now I’d like to share with you some of my favorite pollinator perennials!
Native gardens do not suit everyone’s gardening style, but planting a few natives among other plants is always a possibility. Native plants have evolved over time along with our native pollinators. Some of my favorites include Virginia Blue Bells for their beautiful blue hue and early bloom time, Rattlesnake Master because it’s sculptural and very cool looking, and pale purple Coneflower for its airy appearance.
Also called Monarda, the flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds. The taller varieties, such as Jacob Cline and Raspberry Wine, are stunning when in bloom, but they’re known to be spreaders. There are shorter and better-behaved varieties, such as Balmy Lilac and Balmy Pink, if you prefer your plants stay put.
This easy perennial provides a perfect landing pad for pollinators. With a long bloom time and easy-to-grow habit, it’s a gardener’s favorite as well as a pollinator’s.
Just Tuesday night I stopped to watch little bumble bees collect nectar and pollen from Salvia Sensations Deep Blue. This variety is a low-growing border edition that produces a thicket of blooms, and apparently it’s as attractive to bees as all the other salvias! Whichever variety you prefer, salvias come in both annuals and perennials, and are great additions for the pollinator garden.
The best types for pollinators are those with open, rounded seed heads. The newer fluffy, double topped cultivars make it harder for pollinators to access nectar and pollen. I love Coneflowers because they are so easy to grow and look great in mass plantings. Merlot is a favorite for its deep, rich, red wine colored stem, and for cheerful, bright pink try Pow Wow Wildberry.
No problem! There are several great pollinator plants for shadier spots. Try Goat’s Beard (Aruncus), Woodland Phlox, and Wild Geranium. And yes, bees will visit hosta flowers!
Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch butterflies lay eggs on because it’s the only plant the larvae eat. Milkweed used to be everywhere, but now it’s up to us gardeners to give it a good home. There is a milkweed for almost every site – “common” if you have part sun to sun, “swamp” for moist areas, and “butterfly weed” for dry conditions. Know that it will disperse seeds in the fall and it will gladly spread. Mine took over my carrot patch last year and I let it. This year I’ll just pull out any stray plants.
For a fun pollinator experience, just plant phlox! Not only does this incredibly fragrant and beautiful flower attract bees and butterflies, it also sends out a flavor beacon to the absolutely incredible hummingbird moth (also known as a sphinx moth). These large, fast creatures can easily be mistaken for a hummingbird at first, and they love to visit the garden in the evening.
These are just a few of my favorite perennials for pollinators. There are many more, of course. Generally, gardeners should plant a variety of different flowering plants that bloom across the seasons. Take it from me, pollinator gardening is not only fun but quickly becomes a lifelong passion. Add another story to your garden with pollinator perennials!