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Pollinator Gardens

Growing for Pollinators

No matter where you live — in the suburbs, the city, or a rural area — you're sharing space with pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths, birds, and many more.

Creating a wildflower-rich habitat not only supports pollinators by providing them with diverse and abundant food sources but also helps maintain biodiversity and the health of local plant communities. We also depend on industrious bees to provide us with the variety of foods we eat, which helps sustain our quality of life.

Wildflowers occupy a special place in our gardens. They are naturally suited to the conditions of soil and climate that we garden in, whether too dry, too wet, or too shady for many other flowers. They have ample nectar, pollen, and seeds to support pollinators and birds that share the same ecosystem, and they require little if any, watering or fertilizer once fully established.

Top Tips for Pollinators:

The key is to build diverse landscapes everywhere possible, renewing ecosystems that have been degraded, lost to development, or converted into the pollinator desert that is the suburban lawn. Imagine what we gardeners can do together to turn these lawns into beautiful habitats! Here are some tips on creating a pollinator-friendly backyard.

  • Plant in large groups of the same flower, choosing native species and single forms of garden flowers over highly doubled blooms. Groups of the same plants will be easier for bees and butterflies to find than singly planted flowers.

  • Select flowers with differing colors, scents, and heights to attract a wide array of pollinators. Growing flowers with varying bloom times supplies a continuing banquet of sugar and amino acid-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen.

  • Provide shelter by creating a layered canopy of differing vegetation, leaving leaf litter, brush piles, and even a few dead limbs and trees whenever possible. Create mulch-free zones for ground-nesting bees.

  • Provide a shallow water source with a ramp for bees to access without drowning and muddy puddles for butterflies to sip for needed minerals.

  • Grow pesticide-free! Remember, butterfly larvae will eat the leaves of your host plants. This damage is one way to find the caterpillars that will later become butterflies.

>> Top Native Flowers for Bee and Butterfly Pollinators

  • Black-Eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia)

  • Blazing Star (Liatris)

  • Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

  • Bog Sage (Salvia uliginosa)

  • Boneset (Eupatorium)

  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

  • Evening Primrose (Oenothera)

  • False Indigo (Baptisia)

  • Golden Alexander (Zizia)

  • Golden Groundsel (Packera)

  • Goldenrod (Solidago)

  • Grass-Leaved Goldenrod (Euthemia)

  • Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

  • Helenium

  • Heliopsis

  • Ironweed (Vernonia)

  • Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium/Eutrochium)

  • Lacy Phacelia (Phacelia)

  • Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum)

  • Milkweed and Asclepias

  • New England Aster (Aster/Symphyotrichum)

  • Penstemon

  • Smooth Aster (Aster laeve)

  • Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

  • Sunflower (Helianthus)

  • Sweet Violet (Viola)

  • Tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris)

  • Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Yarrow (Achillea)

  • Yellow Coneflower (Ratibida)

>> Top Garden Flowers for Bee and Butterfly Pollinators

  • Angelica

  • Agastache

  • Borage

  • Celosia

  • Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

  • Centaurea scabiosa

  • Cleome

  • Cosmos

  • Dianthus

  • Dahlia

  • Dame's Rocket

  • Fennel

  • Globe Thistle

  • Heliotrope

  • Helenium

  • Hollyhock

  • Hyssop

  • Jupiters Beard (Centranthus)

  • Lantana

  • Lavender (Lavandula)

  • Mignonette (Reseda)

  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum)

  • Oregano

  • Poppy (Papaver)

  • Salvia

  • Strawflower

  • Sweet Alyssum

  • Tithonia

  • Thyme

  • Verbena

  • Zinnia


Honeybees were brought to the American colonies about 400 years ago, taking their place among the remarkable range of ground and twig-nesting native bees thriving among our striking diversity of wildflowers.

Some bee species have highly evolved vision, including the ultraviolet spectrum, and most flowers are in step with their pollinators, providing bright blooms in bee favorite colors of white, yellow, or blue, many with landing strip patterns on the blossoms, or "bull's eye" patterns seen only under ultraviolet light, all advertising a ready supply of nectar to foraging bees.

Some flower petals mimic insects, their floral trickery culminating in a pollinated flower. Others have unique flower shapes, such as the spring-loaded petals of garden snapdragons, that exclude all but heavier bumblebees, which become dusted with gold as they shoulder their way into the pollen-rich depths of the bloom.

Sweat bee and Bumble bee on Centaurea scabiosa

>> Native Bees Love These Flowers

  • Lavender (Lavandula) attracts bumblebees, digger, large carpenter, and leaf cutter bees

  • Morning Glory (Ipomoea) attracts small carpenter bees

  • Salvia (Salvia) attracts bumblebees, digger, large carpenter, leaf cutter, and mason bees

  • Sunflower (Helianthus) attracts bumble, digger, carpenter, leafcutter, sweat, plasterer, andrenid bees and beetles

  • Thyme (Thymus) attracts bumble, digger, mason, and yellow-faced bees

  • Violet (Viola) attracts sweat and andrenid bees


Butterflies flitting about sunny gardens and meadows are a delight to all. Despite their looping, seemingly random flight patterns, they navigate quickly to their favorite flowers in red and yellow hues and highly scented blooms. They can see ultraviolet and polarized light and perceive large areas at a glance! Butterflies play an essential role in pollinating flowers, and butterflies are a critical component of the food chain. Enhance your garden with valuable habitat and watch your gardens come alive.

Adult butterflies and moths have mouth parts shaped into a long, coiled tube. Forcing blood into the tube straightens it, allowing butterflies to feed on liquids. Butterflies get all their food from this tube, which limits them to nectar and standing water. Butterflies also have a very well-developed sense of smell, using their antennae to "sniff" out sweet nectar. Their caterpillar larvae have chewing mouth parts to skeletonize or defoliate leaves.

Hummingbird moths fly during the day and at dusk after butterflies have retired. Their favorite nectar sources are flowering tobacco or nicotiana, primrose, viola, verbena, and phlox.

Top Tips for Butterflies:

  • Choose a sunny, wind-protected site, as butterflies need warm temperatures to stay active. They will bask in the sun to keep their bodies warm. A sunny garden will provide nesting sites as well. It is a good idea to have partly shady areas where they can hide when it's cloudy or cool off if it is sweltering.

  • Grow host plants for females to lay eggs on and the resulting caterpillar larvae to eat and develop. Wildflowers are essential host plants for this process; a single plant species can host just one butterfly species, but most support a diversity of pollinators.

  • Provide a shallow water source. Males of several species congregate at small rain pools, forming puddle clubs. This puddling activity may boost the reproductive capability of male butterflies as the mineral and amino acid content of the muddy puddles is significant, especially in sodium. Overripe fruit, such as mashed bananas, juicy berries, oranges, and more, allowed to sit for a few days, are desirable food, and some feed on mineral-rich dung.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

>> Larval Food Sources for Butterflies

Native flowers listed in order from the highest number of butterflies that utilize it as a host plant:

  • Goldenrod (Solidago)

  • Strawberry (Fragaria)

  • Sunflower (Helianthus)

  • Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium/Eutrochium)

  • Violet (Viola)

  • Ironweed (Vernonia)

  • False Indigo (Baptisia)

  • Yarrow (Achillea)

  • Black-Eyed-Susan (Rudbeckia)

  • Evening Primrose (Oenothera)

  • Flat-Topped Aster (Doelingeria)

  • Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

  • Butterfly Weed and Milkweeds (Asclepias)

  • Aster (Aster/Symphyotrichum)-Pearl Crescent

Additional non-native larvae food sources:

  • Scarlet Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus)

  • Fennel

  • Hollyhock

  • Rue

  • Parsley


Hummingbirds are surprisingly constant and will return to your garden faithfully every year- if they find it to their liking. Seduce them with brilliant red, pink, and orange flowers; hummingbirds seek out these shades in the floral kingdom, often visiting tube-shaped flowers that their long bills can easily access. Hummingbirds will stake out your garden as theirs if you offer habitat, water, and flowers in a pesticide-free environment.

Top Tips for Hummingbird Gardens

  • Hummingbird Habitat: Hummingbirds frequent backyard gardens that offer an assortment of trees, shrubs and flowers. Trees and shrubs provide a wide an array of nesting sites and twiggy perches that allow the little birds to rest or jealously survey their property, and supply the lichen that cloaks the ruby-throated hummers nests that make them so difficult to locate!

  • Water Source: Frequent bathers, hummingbirds are partial to spray mist or small shallow baths and waterfalls, so by all means, get that water feature you've always wanted-you are helping these little birds!

  • Nest Materials: Hummingbird nests are a wondrous construction of gathered leaf bits, twigs, fibers, and tree lichen, all sown together and held fast with spider webs. The hummingbird uses its sharp, long beak to add a lining of milkweed silk or fibers from grass plumes, even dandelion fluff, poking each soft fiber into place with a crafter's eye. A strong, flexible, enveloping shape results in a perfect receptacle for her two jelly-bean-sized eggs, accommodating the growing size of the fledglings that hatch 15 days later.

  • Flowers for Nest Building: The soft fibers that send aloft their seeds are feather-bedding for hummingbird nests from plants such as Red Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) and even Dandelions!

  • Flowers for Nectar: Floral nectar supplies 90% of a hummingbird's diet. The selections below are the most visited of all hummingbird flowers. Grow in groups of three or more and offer varieties that bloom at different times of the year.

>> Favorite Native Hummingbird Flowers

  • Agastache

  • Bee Balm

  • Cardinal Flower

  • Eastern Bee Balm

  • Penstemon

  • Salvia

  • Wild Columbine

>> Favorite Non-Native Hummingbird Flowers

  • Blue Brazilian Sage

  • Cleome

  • Cypress Vine

  • Flowering tobacco

  • Foxglove

  • Fuchsia

  • Lantana

  • Petunia

  • Scarlet Runner Bean

Find out more and learn about the pollinators in your area at Pollinator Partnership and Xerces Society.