Planting for Pollinators
Pollinators are essential to life. They allow plants to reproduce, including a large percentage of our food crops. Yet pollinator populations are declining significantly, worldwide. Habitat loss, fragmentation, and the widespread use of pesticides threaten the health and population of insects, birds and bats. Native plants have a crucial role to play in supporting pollinators and reversing some of these damaging trends.
Different Plants for Different Pollinators
The best way to attract and support pollinators is with a variety of flowering native plants that offer nectar and pollen throughout the growing season. Pollinators are attracted to blooms that fit their physiological traits; specifically, the length of their tongue. Planting a variety of floral shapes will support a more diverse array of pollinators. Some bees are generalists, flitting among flowers to drink nectar and collect pollen from many different plants. Flat or shallow blossoms, such as asters or coreopsis, attract a variety of bee species, while flowers that have tube-shaped nectaries, such as Monarda or Liatris, will attracted long-tongued pollinators, like butterflies and bumble bees.
Flowers that bloom in early spring provide food for newly emerging bumble bee queens, while fall blooms favor pollinators that are actively seeking the additional energy needed for overwintering. Also, a planting that groups of three or more of a single species will attract bees because the cluster allows them to forage more efficiently.
Learn which plants attract which pollinators, and which are host plants for butterflies and moths. This important plant list is organized to help you maximize pollinator support across the seasons.
Downloadable PDF content:
Seven Steps to a Pollinator-Friendly Yard
- Plant Natives! Native pollinators are adapted to native plants in both their behaviors and in their physical traits, and the plants need them as well.
- Seasonal Diversity. Grow a variety of plants that will bloom across the season – early spring thru fall – so that pollen and nectar are always available. Varied bloom shapes and color will attract a wider variety of pollinators.
- Avoid using pesticides. Pesticides may be absorbed by the plant tissue and become present in all parts of the plant, including the nectar and pollen. Bees, butterflies, and other flower-hopping insects are harmed by the residues.
- Avoid modern cultivars or hybrids, especially the “double-blooms” which can be changed in scent or shape just enough that pollinators can’t recognize them or access the nectar. Studies show that altered foliage color is also a deterrent.
- Include host plants to attract more butterflies and moths. Many lepidoptera are very selective when it comes to where they lay their eggs.
- Provide a source of water such as a shallow birdbath with stones in it, or some bare ground that is kept moist. Bees and butterflies need water, and they seek shallow water sources.
- Create and protect nesting opportunities for native bees. Bumble bees construct nests in cavities, using either existing underground cavities, or cavities under spent or fallen plant material. Wood-nesting bees build their nests inside hollow tunnels in dead treelimbs and hollow plant stems. Ground nesting native bees need direct access to the soil surface, often on sloped or well-drained sites.