Want To Create Magic In Your Garden? Attract Pollinators

By Deb Courtner

Zinnia_Monarch_NLNothing delights a gardener like the sight of pollinators flitting from one plant to the next.  These fascinating creatures transform a mere garden into an animated celebration.

Which plants attract these winged beauties–those butterflies, hummingbirds and bees?  It depends on which pollinator you want to entice.

Butterflies, for example, need host plants, such as milkweed, butterfly weed, rabbitbrush, chokecherry and hawthorns, to provide egg-laying sites and food for the caterpillars that will eventually become butterflies.  Then once the caterpillars reach adulthood, they want showy plants that will provide a perch and plenty of nectar.  Some of their favorite nectar producers are zinnias, butterfly bushes, serviceberries, rose of Sharon, lilacs, hollyhocks, hardy hibiscus, salvia, asters, coneflowers, daisies, sunflowers, and blanket flower.  Generally speaking, they like brightly colored flowers with open centers.

Hummingbirds, with their long tongues, prefer tubular flowers–especially red ones.  They go absolutely gaga over hyssop.  They also like columbine, penstemons, snapdragons, bee balms, foxgloves, daylilies, lilies, delphiniums, petunias and weigelas.  Additional nectar sources include butterfly bushes, pincushion flower, verbena, catmint and tall garden phlox.  And don’t forget herbs, especially those in the mint and sage families.  Hyssop is a member of the mint family, as you can tell from its smell.

Then there are bees that, like hummingbirds, have long Coneflower_Bee_NLtongues.  These prolific
pollinators revel in many of the same flowers as the hummingbirds, and they particularly enjoy blue mist spirea.  But they also like some large, open flowers, such as zinnias, cosmos, daisies and coneflowers.  Color-wise, bees prefer blue, purple and yellow flowers, particularly with strong fragrances.

When planning a pollinator habitat, note that flower selection isn’t the only consideration.  Other factors to keep in mind include:

  • Hanging a hummingbird feeder.  Provide an additional source of nectar for your winged friends. Be sure to clean the feeder at least twice a week with hot, soapy water to prevent mold.
  • Planting for successional bloom.  Plant a variety of flowers that bloom in spring, summer and fall, so that pollinators will have a continuous food supply.
  • Eliminating pesticides.  If you can’t avoid using a pesticide, apply the least-toxic one available, and spray at night, when pollinators aren’t active.
  • Providing a salt lick for butterflies and bees.  Create a shallow puddle in your garden, and mix a small amount of salt (preferably sea salt) or wood ashes into the mud.  The salt will provide valuable minerals for pollinators.
  • Creating a shelter from inclement weather.  Plant some shrubs and taller perennials, such as Joe Pye weed, to create shade and protection for pollinators.

Once you create a comfortable environment for butterflies, hummingbirds and bees, your garden will come alive with magic and wonder.

Originally published on July 1st, 2016. Updated on September 20th, 2016.