Bring a biodiversity of insects to your pollinator patch by choosing native plants with different flower colors, shapes, sizes, and blooming periods. Also plant flowers in groupings, which are more enticing to pollinators than single plants. Photo by: Anne Balogh. Pollinator patch planted by the second grade students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

When was the last time you saw butterflies flit through your flowers or heard the drone of bumblebees? If your garden has become a ghost town rather than a hive of activity, you’re not alone. One of the major reasons for the dwindling pollinator population is habitat loss. Butterflies, bees, and other important pollinators are becoming rare sights in many residential gardens across the country due to the widespread use of pesticides and a dwindling supply of the nectar-rich flowers they rely on for food. Fortunately, you can play a role in reversing this trend by devoting a spot in your garden to pollinator-friendly plants and keeping local pollinators well fed year-round.

“Small plantings may seem insignificant to you, but if each yard devotes a small area to pollinators, your neighborhood will serve as a season-long buffet of nectar and pollen that supports a diversity of bees, butterflies, and other flower visitors. If you do not have the yard space, you can fill a decorative planter with pollinator-friendly plants and place it in a sunny spot on your patio or stoop,” says Kelly Gill, pollinator conservation specialist for The Xerces Society. (Read her article "Everyone Can Play a Role in Pollinator Conservation".)

POLLINATOR-FRIENDLY PLANTS

When selecting plants for your pollinator patch, skip imported, hybrid, and double-flowered varieties and choose native flowering plants instead, especially those adapted to your local climate and soil conditions. These 10 pollinator-friendly plants, all native to North America, attract both bees and butterflies as well as other beneficial insects. For more options, download a pollinator plant list specifically for your region from The Xerces Society.

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Photo by: Mirjam Cornelissen / Shutterstock.

ANISE HYSSOP (Agastache foeniculum)

Zone: 4-8
Height: 2 to 4 feet
Bloom time: June to September
Flower color: Lavender to purple

This culinary herb, often grown for its anise-and-mint scented foliage, satisfies the sugar craving of a variety of pollinators. Honeybees, in particular, love feeding on the super-sweet nectar of hyssop’s densely packed flowers, making it a favorite honey plant for beekeepers. As a bonus, the aromatic leaves can be used to make herbal teas and potpourris.

Photo by: Cousin_Avi / Shutterstock.

ASTER (Symphyotrichum spp.)

Zone: 3-10
Height: 1 to 4 feet
Bloom time: August through October
Flower color: Purple, violet-blue, pink, white

Asters are an important late-season food source of pollen and nectar for native bees. In some areas of the country, they may also help sustain monarch butterflies during their fall migration. Asters come in many different cultivars (see Aster Flowers for Perennial Fall Color), but native varieties, such as New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and smooth blue aster (S. leave), are the best choices for a pollinator patch.

Photo by: Sharon Day / Shutterstock.

WILD BERGAMOT (Monarda fistulosa)

Zone: 3-9
Height: 2 to 4 feet
Bloom time: June to September
Flower color: Lavender, pink, white

What list of pollinator-friendly perennials would be complete without beebalm? This pollinator superstar has pompom like clusters of tubular flowers that are irresistible to native bees and bumblebees. It also has been identified as a valuable nectar plant for monarchs, according to The Xerces Society, which offers monarch nectar plant guides for various regions.

Photo by: Doug Lemke / Shutterstock.

BLAZING STAR (Liatris spicata)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 3 to 6 feet
Bloom time: Mid to late summer
Flower color: Purple, white, rose

Also called gayfeather for its fuzzy, deep purple flower spikes, this native prairie plant will bring a pageantry of colorful butterflies to your garden, including monarchs, swallowtails, and painted ladies. The tall flower stalks may require support to keep them upright, but their height will allow easier viewing of the passing pollinator parade. If you prefer a more compact plant that needs no staking, try 'Kobold', which grows to a maximum height of 2 feet.

Photo by: KARI K / Shutterstock.

BUTTERFLY WEED (Asclepias tuberosa)

Zone: 4-9
Height: 1 to 2 feet
Bloom time: June through September
Flower color: Bright orange to yellow-orange

The monarch butterfly population in North America has plummeted an alarming 90% in the last 20 years, according to the National Wildlife Federation, which has launched a campaign to help save the monarch. One of the biggest factors in this decline is the increasing scarcity of milkweed, its only caterpillar host plant. Butterfly weed is one of the most ornamental milkweed varieties, featuring showy clusters of tiny bright orange flowers. In addition to being a vital food source for the larval stage of monarchs, many other butterflies and nectar seekers will flock to this plant.

Photo by: Stickpen (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

FOOTHILL PENSTEMON (Penstemon heterophyllus)

Zone: 6-10
Height: 1 to 1 1/2 feet
Bloom time: May through July
Flower color: Blue, purple

A good choice for attracting bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, this showy California native features a multitude of tubular flowers on slender spikes. A second round of flowering can be encouraged by trimming off the first batch of flower heads. Well-suited for Mediterranean-climate and low-water gardens, this long-lived perennial is resistant to both drought and heat and will thrive on dry, rocky slopes or hillsides.

Photo by: Heidi Hanson / Pixabay.com.

JOE PYE WEED (Eutrochium maculatum)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 6 to 8 feet
Bloom time: July to September
Flower color: Purple, pink

The large vanilla-scented flower clusters of Joe-Pye weed tower well above other perennials in the late-summer garden. They attract big showy butterflies, such as monarchs and swallowtails, along with many native bees and other insects. ‘Gateway’ is a good variety for smaller gardens, growing to about 4 feet and featuring mauve flowers on dark purple stems. Joe-Pye weed is also tolerant of partial shade and wet soils.

Photo by: RukiMedia / Shutterstock.

LANCELEAF COREOPSIS (Coreopsis lanceolata)

Zone: 4-9
Height: 1 to 2 feet
Bloom time: May to July
Flower color: Yellow

This dependable and prolific flowering native perennial is a common component of pollinator gardens and native wildflower mixes, says Tania Hanline of the U.S. Forest Service. It is easily propagated from seed and will produce masses of yellow daisylike flowers that begin blooming in late spring, providing an early-season food source for bees and butterflies.

Photo by: Walencienne / Shutterstock.

PICA BELLA CONEFLOWER (Echinacea ‘Pica bella’)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 1 ½ to 3 feet
Bloom time: June to September
Flower color: Dark pink with orange-brown centers

Of the many coneflower hybrids and varieties, one of the best for pollinators is ‘Pica Bella’, according to Todd Jacobson, head of horticulture at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Ill. It features the open, natural, daisylike flower form of the native species, which provides an ideal feeding platform for monarchs and swallowtails. Other insect pollinators, such as honeybees and bumblebees, will also feast on the sweet nectar of these long-blooming beauties.

Photo by: Carol Dembinsky / Dembinsky Photo Associates / Alamy Stock Photo.

SHOWY GOLDENROD (Solidago speciosa)

Zone: 3-8
Height: 3 to 6 feet
Bloom time: July to September
Flower color: Yellow

Goldenrods are among the most important late-season pollinator plants, according to 100 Plants to Feed the Bees. Honeybees visit them in droves prior to winter to collect their nectar, and other bees use the pollen to provision late-season nests. As the name implies, this is one of the showiest of the more than 100 species of goldenrod native to North America, with feathery plumes of bright-yellow flowers borne on reddish stems.

TIPS FOR STARTING A POLLINATOR PATCH

Go native

Native plants are more attractive to local pollinators than imported or hybridized plants because they have co-evolved and their lifecycles are in sync. Native plants are also easier to establish and will not require the use of pesticides. If you can only find a cultivated variety, choose one closest to the natural form of the native plant. Visit PlantNative to find regional directories of native plant nurseries.

Extend the feast

Use a combination of plants that will bloom from early spring to fall. Providing a consistent food source will keep pollinators returning to your garden all season long.

Add variety

Include a diverse array of flower colors, fragrances, heights, and shapes to attract different pollinator species. Bees, for example, have a preference for flowers in shades of blue, purple, white, and yellow. Butterflies are drawn to red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple blooms. Arrange your plants into groups of each species. Flowers planted in masses will lure in more pollinators than a scattering of individual plants throughout the garden.

Keep them energized

Collecting nectar and spreading pollen is arduous work. Locate your pollinator patch in a spot that gets ample sunlight, since many pollinators are energized by the warmth of the sun. Also provide rocks to serve as warming and resting spots and shallow, slope-sided containers of water for drinking.

Provide safe havens

Encourage pollinators to visit your patch by providing natural or man-made nesting sites, recommends the Penn State Center for Pollinator Research. Bumblebees and many solitary bees nest in the ground and need open patches of bare soil. Dead wood, such as hollow logs and tree stumps, provide nesting areas and shelter for bees, wasps, and beetles. You can also create man-made nesting sites for bees by drilling holes approximately ¼ inch in diameter and 3 inches deep into blocks of untreated wood.

RELATED:
Make Your Garden Bee Friendly
Top Perennial Plants for a Butterfly Garden

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