Creating a Pollinator Garden

By Paul James

Pollinator gardens are all the rage these days, thanks largely to the concern over the future of honeybees and Monarch butterflies, whose populations have been in decline in recent years. That’s made them the poster children for the pollinator movement, and that’s a good thing. But there are lots of other critters that pollinate our gardens, and they deserve attention too.

Among them are several other species of native bees, including bumblebees, mason bees, solitary bees, and sweat bees (honeybees aren’t native – they’re from Europe). And while there are about 750 species of butterflies in North America, there are over 11,000 moth species! Due to their numbers, a lot of winged insects we think are butterflies are actually moths, and they pollinate a considerable number of plants, both during the day and at night.

Other effective pollinators includes various flies, wasps, beetles, dragonflies, ants, male mosquitoes (they don’t need blood like the females do – they need nectar), and of course hummingbirds.

So how do you attract pollinators to your garden? Well the short answer is to include lots of flowers of various colors and shapes, but there’s more to it than that. You also need to eliminate the use of broad-spectrum insecticides, opting instead to use products that target only the pest you’re trying to control. And you need to provide a source of water such as a bowl or birdbath filled with stones to provide perches, especially for butterflies and moths.

As for plants, choose a wide variety, especially natives, and plant them in clumps rather than as single plants to provide large landing zones for pollinators. Try to overlap flowering times between seasons, from early spring into fall. And mix up the colors and flower forms. Butterflies are attracted to red, orange, and yellow and usually prefer flat, open flowers. Hummingbirds also love the color red as well as fuchsia and purple, and they prefer tubular flowers.

Here are a couple of partial lists of great perennial pollinator plants to help you get started. Keep in mind the fact that there are many more, including numerous annuals, trees, shrubs, and fruits.

To Attract Bees & Butterflies

  • Achillea (Yarrow)
  • Agastache (Hyssop)
  • Asclepias (Milkweed)
  • Aster
  • Caryopteris
  • Coreopsis (Tickseed)
  • Echinacea (Coneflower)
  • Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)
  • Gaura
  • Soldago (Goldenrod)
  • Lavender
  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Penstemon (Beardtongue)
  • Perovskia (Russian Sage)
  • Phlox
  • Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan)
  • Salvia (Sage)

And don’t forget to consider a Vitex (Chaste Tree). It’s a shrub, but it’s quite possibly the greatest pollinator magnet of all.

To Attract Hummingbirds

  • Agastache (Hyssop)
  • Ajuga
  • Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)
  • Heuchera (Coral Bells)
  • Lantana
  • Monarda (Bee Balm)
  • Penstemon (Beardtongue)
  • Phlox
  • Salvia (Sage)
  • Verbena