Pollinator Garden: What to Plant for Bees, Butterflies and Birds

Anything involving pollinators qualifies as a “buzz” word these days and for good reason. These tiny creatures have a big task in making sure our gardens, fields and orchards produce crops for us to eat. Like any living creature, pollinators rely on a steady food source to thrive. Let’s explore ways you can provide a feast for them on your property. (Hint: An expansive manicured lawn isn’t one of them.)

What to Plant for Pollinators

Pollinating insects are a diverse group including many native flies, bees and wasps plus introduced species like honey bees. You can encourage these hard-working creatures to visit your yard whether you have a small space for just a few pots with flowering plants, room in your garden for a row of flowers mixed in with your veggies or you can scale up by digging up a portion of your lawn to plant a prairie garden or orchard.

Trees and Weeds

Some of the first pollen sources in spring are trees and weeds. Pussy willow trees are one of the earliest bloomers followed by fruit trees like apricots, plums, peaches, pears and apples. If you have room on your property, consider some dwarf fruit trees to feed both you and the bees. Standing under a tree in full bloom on a sunny day in early spring and hearing the buzzing is an amazing experience. Weeds like purple dead nettle also attract early pollinators so don’t hesitate to leave some wild corners in your yard. Your neighbors or HOA might appreciate neatness in your yard, but the insects much prefer the messy look because that offers them a more bountiful buffet.

Ripe apricots in fruit tree
Apricot tree with ripe apricots

Herbs

Many herbs are easy to grow pollen sources and several work well in containers as well. Thyme and sage are perennial herbs that bloom in June with tasty nectar. When annual herbs like dill, fennel and cilantro go into flower it is fascinating to watch all the pollinators working the umbels. Tea herbs like anise hyssop and mints are another great food source.

Flowering cilantro plant in vegetable garden
Flowering cilantro in garden

Flowers

We grow cut flowers for weddings as part of our garden plan, but I think every garden needs flowers, even if you don’t pick them. Annuals like Bachelor buttons attract ladybugs, salvia is great for bees and hummingbirds, sunflowers are an abundant pollen source and tiny alyssum plants are another pollinator favorite. Both calendula and borage are excellent bee magnets and are self seeding meaning they will come up year after year from seeds they dropped the previous season. In our garden, the vegetable rows and flower rows are all mixed together which has the additional benefit of attracting beneficial insects to pollinate plants like melons and cucumbers that are dependent on insects to produce a crop (no pollinators = zero watermelons).

Hummingbird getting nectar from salvia flower
Ruby-throated hummingbird getting nectar from purple Salvia flower.

Pollinator friendly perennials make great low maintenance additions to your landscape. Autumn Joy Sedum is one of our favorites and is a bustling bee eatery in September. Bee balm lives up to its name and echinacea is another easy to grow plant to attract insects. Many nurseries have specific sections dedicated to pollinator friendly plants to make it easy to find options.

Several years ago, our 8-year-old son researched what plants he could use to plant a pollinator garden to help feed the beehive his brothers started. His main reference book was 100 Plants to Feed the Bees by the Xerces Society that we purchased at Lehman’s store. Many years later, those plants are still spreading and going strong to feed the insect population at our place. What will you plant this season to feed the pollinators in your corner of the world?

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2 months ago

[…] Pollinator Attractant I planted borage everywhere to bring in the pollinators. (Word of wisdom: These plants get huge, even the first year you plant them, so be careful where […]

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