Favorite Plants for Pollinator Gardens

There is nothing as inspiring as sitting in your garden looking at your flowers and watching the face of a child light up when they see a butterfly flit over the Pentas or a hummingbird hover by the Salvia or bees busily buzzing from Alyssum to Nepeta blooms. Even as an adult, watching pollinators at work is fascinating!

If you are serious about attracting these lovely creatures, a garden that includes plants for the entire life cycles of the pollinator will be best. There are several parts to the cycle (depending on which pollinator we are talking about) but, food (nectar source), shelter, water and in some cases host plants are what you need. Plant with intention for these needs. 

Mesmerized by tiny wings beating thousands of times a minute?  tiny birds that hover one second and are gone the next? Hummingbirds are beautiful and intriguing. Attracting them is easy. These perennials do it every time: Agastache (Double Bubble Mint), Digitalis (Foxglove), Heuchera (Coral Bells), Monarda (Bee Balm), Penstemon (Beardtongue), Salvia (Sage), and Zauchneria (California Fuschia). They particularly like tubular shaped flowers but any red, orange, or hot pink flowers will bring them from miles around. Campsis (Trumpet Vine), and Honeysuckle Vines will climb a trellis or pole and lure the hummingbirds. They also love annuals like Snapdragons, Salvia splendens, Canna, Cleome, Dahlia, Cuphea, Fuchsia, Nasturtium or Lantana.

Flitting, floating, fluttering more your interest?  Butterflies like flowers that have a flatter flower form so they can have a place to land.  Some of their favorite annuals are Zinnia, Cosmos, Marigolds, Tithonia, Verbena, Dianthus, and Alyssum. Perennials they love include: Aster, Asclepias, Monarda, Buddleia, Daylily, Delphinium, Hollyhock, Liatris, Phlox, Echinacea, Salvia, Scabiosa, Shasta Daily, and Yarrow. Plant some herbs like Borage, Fennel, Parsley, Dill and grasses to be the “Host” plants for the caterpillar stage. Learn to identify the desirable caterpillars from the pests and don’t spray them with pesticides! Trees like Willow, Ash and Chokecherry provide shelter. Butterflies like to bask in the sun on rocks to heat up their wing muscles for flight and they need water too!

Did you know there are over 20,000 bee species found worldwide and 946 native bee species in CO? Bees have really been in the news lately There is a lot of press about them and how to help to save them. As gardeners we do our part every time we plant flowers! But you can also do several other things to help them. From installing a “bee house”, to providing some open soil space (sunny, undisturbed, unmulched is best) for the native bees to live in, to leaving some dead wood around in a “snag” for the native bees to nest in. Most native bees are solitary and nest underground or in dead plant stalks. They are simply not inclined to sting or do not have enough venom for a painful sting even if they try. 

It’s very helpful for all the pollinators when they have lots of choices of flowers all year long. Especially in early spring and fall when there are not as many choices. So, plan accordingly. Choose a variety of plants that will bloom at different times of the season to make your garden more attractive to a greater number and variety of pollinators. Use plants of different colors and heights, planted in clusters so it is easier for them to locate. Garden organically! Then just sit back and enjoy the color, beauty and peacefulness of a pollinator friendly garden, knowing you are helping keep the delicate balance of nature alive and well!!!

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