Bring a variety of insects to your pollinator garden by choosing native plants with different flower colors, shapes, sizes, and blooming periods. Photo by: Anne Balogh. Pollinator patch planted by the second grade students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

If your garden has become a ghost town rather than a hive of activity from pollinators, you’re not alone. One of the major reasons for dwindling pollinator populations is habitat loss. Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators are becoming rare sights 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 creating a pollinator habitat in your garden.

“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".)

On this page: 10 Pollinator-Friendly Plants | 10 Tips for Starting a Pollinator Garden

On this page:

10 POLLINATOR GARDEN PLANTS

These 10 perennials are all native to North America and attract butterflies and bees, as well as other beneficial insects. Get more region-specific resources (plant lists, habitat assessment, and more) from The Xerces Society.

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

Honeybees love feeding on the super-sweet nectar of hyssop’s densely packed flowers, making it a favorite plant for beekeepers.

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

An important late-season food source for native bees and may also help sustain monarch butterflies during fall migration. Native varieties are the best choices for pollinator gardens.

Read more about growing asters.

Photo by: Sharon Day / Shutterstock

BEE BALM or WILD BERGAMOT
(Monarda fistulosa)

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

This pollinator superstar has pompom like clusters of tubular flowers that are irresistible to native bees and bumblebees. It has also been identified as a valuable nectar plant for monarchs, according to The Xerces Society.

Learn more about growing bee balm.

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

This native prairie plant will bring a pageantry of butterflies to your garden, including monarchs, swallowtails, and painted ladies.

Learn more about how to grow blazing star.

Photo by: KARI K / Shutterstock

MILKWEED or BUTTERFLY WEED
(Asclepias tuberosa)

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

One of the biggest factors in the decline of monarch butterflies is the increasing scarcity of milkweed, its only caterpillar host plant. 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.

Learn more about growing milkweed plants.

Photo by: Stickpen 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

This California native is a good choice for attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Well-suited for Mediterranean-climate and low-water gardens, rocky slopes or hillsides.

Learn more about how to grow penstemon.

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 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.

Read more about growing Joe Pye weed.

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 and provides early-season food 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 varieties, ‘Pica Bella’ is one of the best for pollinators, according to Todd Jacobson, head of horticulture at The Morton Arboretum. The the open flower form of the native species provides an ideal feeding platform for monarchs and swallowtails. Other insect pollinators will also feast on these long-blooming beauties.

Learn more about coneflowers.

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.

Learn more about growing goldenrod plants.

For more variety in your pollinator garden, see 10 Perennials for Pollinators, Top 10 Shrubs for Pollinators and 10 Annuals for Pollinators.

10 TIPS FOR STARTING A POLLINATOR GARDEN

  1. Plant native plants: Native plants are more attractive to local pollinators than imported or hybridized plants because because the plants and native pollinators have evolved together. 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. Learn more: Native Plants: How & Why to Grow a Native Plant Garden.
  2. Choose plants with varying bloom times: 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.
  3. Include a variety of plants: Include a diverse array of flower colors, fragrances, heights, and shapes to attract different pollinator species. Flowers in shades of blue, purple, white, and yellow are better to attract bees. Red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple blooms are better for attracting butterflies. (See: Flowers for a Bee-Friendly Garden, and 25 Butterfly Garden Plants)
  4. Avoid double-flowered varieties: Double-flowered plant species make it difficult for pollinators to reach the nectar.
  5. Plant multiples of each plant: Arrange your plants into groups. Flowers planted in masses will lure in more pollinators than a scattering of individual plants throughout the garden.
  6. Make room for larval host plants: This can be difficult, because you have to accept that these plants will be eaten by butterfly caterpillars. Plant them in an area that is out of direct sight so the damaged plants won't affect the overall look of the garden. (See: Butterfly Larval Host Plant List from Penn State Extension Service)
  7. Choose a sunny spot: 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.
  8. Create safe watering areas: Place rocks in shallow water to provide a spot for pollinators to land and drink water safely. A plant saucer or shallow bird bath work well.
  9. Provide safe havens: Encourage pollinators to visit your garden by providing natural or man-made nesting sites. 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. Bee and insect houses also provide nesting sites and can be purchased; or you can build your own by drilling holes approximately ¼ inch in diameter and 3 inches deep into blocks of untreated wood or using pre-made nesting tubes.
  10. Avoid pesticides: Any use of pesticides should be avoided as much as possible. If you must use one, choose the least toxic and spray at night when pollinators are less active.

RELATED:
Flowers for Bees
25 Plants for a Butterfly Garden
Plants that Attract Hummingbirds
How to Grow Butterfly Bushes Responsibly

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