Your garden is abuzz with lively activity during the blooming season. Pollinators feed on the flower nectar and carry pollen from one flower to another, inadvertently pollinating them as they go. Most pollinators are insects — butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, ants, beetles, and flies — but hummingbirds also pollinate several plants. Various species of bees are the most prevalent pollinator here in the U.S., but you can attract other pollinators, such as butterflies and hummingbirds, with the kinds of plants you choose.
If you’re planting horticultural hybrids, be careful not to rely on fancy double-flowered varieties, usually sterile, without pollen or nectar, which makes them unattractive to pollinators. Single-flowered varieties are the best choice since they have both nectar and pollen. Plant the flowers in clusters rather than planting individual flowers since pollinators can locate a colorful mass with a more pungent scent more quickly and have a better chance at successfully pollinating the flowers. And please eliminate insecticides! They not only kill individual insects, but they can kill a whole colony if they’re brought back to the nest on pollen or nectar.
Native plants are great for attracting pollinators, too, since they are best adapted to the local growing conditions. Non-native plants may not supply what the pollinators need or want, so it is good to include some native wildflowers in both your flower and vegetable gardens.
Here is information on attracting pollinators to eastern U.S. gardens:
Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants (Eastern United States) (PDF, 3.5 MB) - developed and published by the USDA Forest Service providing a guide to providing habitats for pollinators in the eastern United States.
And here is information on attracting pollinators to western U.S. gardens:
Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants (PDF, 3.2 MB) - developed and published by the Lolo National Forest, Missoula, Montana, providing a guide to providing habitats for pollinators primarily in the western United States.
Below is a list of the top 10 plants to draw pollinators to your garden.
1. Butterfly Bush or Summer Lilac (Buddleia davidii) – This woody shrub, with its fragrant spikes of purple, pink, lavender, or white flowers, is an all-time favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds. It grows best in full sun and USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9.
2. Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – The purplish-pink blossoms of this sturdy perennial wildflower provide sweet nectar to pollinators, especially butterflies and bees. Coneflowers prefer full sun and grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8.
3. Marigold (Tagetes sp.) – single-flowered marigolds are great attractors for bees, hover flies, ladybugs, and parasitic wasps. Their roots ward off nematodes in the soil, and they repel deer, all of which make them attractive companion plants in both flower and vegetable gardens. They also have the advantage of blooming from spring to frost. Marigolds grow best in full sun and USDA hardiness zones 2 to 11.
4. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Lavender is a beautiful scent used for soaps, fragrances, and sachets. Bees love the flowers, too, and feast on their sweet nectar. Plant these perennials in the full sun in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9.
5. Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) – Snapdragons have adapted to allow only specific pollinators into their flowers with colors, time-of-day fragrance, nectar guides, and weight specifications. Bumblebees can only see yellow, blue, and ultraviolet, and since most snapdragons are yellow and their landing strip patterns (nectar guides) are ultraviolet, they are a good match for bumblebees. Snapdragons also send out their heaviest scent when the bees are most active, and only insects like bumblebees that are heavy enough to weigh down the lower lip of the flower can access the nectar. Snapdragons like full sun and most varieties are considered annuals. Depending on the type, they are hardy anywhere between USDA zones 5 and 11.
6. English Daisy (Bellis perennis), Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum) – These cheerful perennial flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies. There are many varieties of daisies, but the single-flowered types are those that the pollinators love to visit. Daisies will grow happily in full sun to partial shade in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8.
7. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – This perennial wildflower with a distinctive fragrance attracts butterflies, wasps, flies, and bees. The species color is white, but there are many colorful varieties to choose from, and they are all excellent pollinator plants. Yarrow grows best in full sun and USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9.
8. Bee-balm, Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma, Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) – Both Bee-balm and Wild Bergamot are wildflowers and are highly attractive to pollinators. Bee-balm with its red flowers and Wild Bergamot with its pink, lavender, or white flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, wasps, and moths. They grow well in full sun to partial shade in USDA zones 3 to 9.
9. Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) – Hummingbirds love to visit these red or orange trumpet-shaped wildflowers. This vine is beautiful on a trellis or over a fence or wall. It thrives in full sun to partial shade, even in a woodland setting, and it is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9.
10. Liatris or Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) – Liatris is a wildflower with tall spikes of reddish-purple to purple flowers that are irresistible to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Plant this striking flower in plenty of sunshine and in USDA zones 3 to 8.