15 Different Ways to Attract Pollinators To Your Garden
Are you looking for ways to attract more pollinators to your garden this season? There are many ways you can do it that you may not be thinking about! In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen shares her top tips for welcoming pollinators into your garden this season!
One of the many joys of gardening is watching the birds, butterflies, and other interesting creatures that come to visit. If you plant a habitat, you will attract the animals that can use it.
Pollinators are an integral part of the natural ecosystem, and attracting them to your yard is relatively easy. If you enjoy watching hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees interacting with your plants, read on to find out how to attract them and keep them around.
Pollinators play many important roles in the natural ecosystem. They provide the following:
- Honeybees produce honey which humans and other animals eat.
- Wild bees also produce honey that wild animals can forage for.
- Pollinators distribute pollen between plants and from flower to flower.
- By pollinating, they help plants to produce viable seeds.
- Pollinating plants can also help diversify the ecosystem through cross-pollination.
- Most plants require pollination to set fruit. Approximately 80% of food crops rely on pollination.
- Many pollinators play other important roles besides pollination. They may feed on nuisance insects and help keep pests under control.
- Pollinators are part of the natural life cycle and the food chain.
- Without pollinators, all plants and animals would suffer.
One of the great things about pollinators is that you can easily attract them to your garden. The best way to attract pollinators is to think like a pollinator.
Pollinators are looking for either pollen or nectar to eat. They will be most attracted to flowers with easily accessible pollen and nectar. They find flowers by sight and smell, so make them easy to spot from a distance.
Some pollinators are around throughout the entire year. If you design a year-round garden, you will benefit pollinators when they are active adults, in larval form, nesting, resting, or hibernating. Read on for 15 tips to use to help attract some amazing pollinators to your garden.
Grow Butterfly Host Plants
Butterflies are some of the most beautiful pollinators around. They are relatively large, showy, bright, and colorful. People love to watch butterflies fluttering in the sunshine, visiting flower after flower. But the adult butterfly we see flying around is only part of the butterfly life cycle. To attract breeding butterflies to your garden, grow the plants their caterpillars need to survive.
Butterfly caterpillars are extremely specialized. Each species of butterfly caterpillar typically feeds on a very specific host plant or family of plants. Monarch caterpillars, for example, feed exclusively on milkweeds. So if you want to attract monarchs to your garden, you should plant a few milkweed plants.
One thing to remember when growing host plants is that you are growing these to be eaten by caterpillars. If you see a giant black and yellow caterpillar munching on your parsley plants, take that as a sign of success; you are helping provide food for the next generation of swallowtail butterflies!
Don’t spray any pesticides or chemicals around your host plants because you actually want these caterpillars to eat these plants. They are not pests; they are future butterflies.
Here is a list of some garden-worthy plants that are also caterpillar host plants. Host plants include various trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, herbs, annuals, and perennials.
Some butterfly caterpillars will eat a few different plants, and some plants may be host plants for more than one species of butterfly. Many more plants are host plants; these are just a few that may be more familiar to gardeners.
Easy to Grow Host Plants for Butterflies
|Host Plant Common Name Scientific Name
|Aster Aster novae-angliae
Eastern Black Swallowtail
|Milkweed (all species)
|Common Checkered Skipper Gray Hairstreak Laviana White Skipper Painted Lady Small Checkered Skipper White Checkered Skipper
|Wild Blue Indigo
Eastern Tailed Blue
Wild Indigo Duskywing
|Wooly Dutchman’s Pipe
Plant Native Species
If you are hoping to attract a great variety of pollinators, try growing a diversity of native plants. The butterflies that live in a particular area are specially adapted to use the plants that are naturally associated with that area. Hundreds of pollinators have co-evolved with many more hundreds of native plants. They all work well together naturally.
Native plants aren’t just great for pollinators. They are easy to grow in the home landscape, often easier than our cultivated varieties. If you have space to incorporate native plants, it’s well worth the investment. Native plants have evolved to live within their range and are well-adapted to the local climate and environmental conditions.
No matter where you live, there are many native trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, and wildflowers that you can choose from. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Many of these plants are easy to grow, low maintenance, and very showy in the home landscape. Many are drought-tolerant and favor pollinators. Native plants can play a valuable role in sustaining many pollinators during different seasons and phases of their lives.
Native Plants For Pollinators
|Common Name Scientific Name
|Benefit to Pollinators
Larval host plant
Larval host plant
Larval host plant
Larval host plant
Larval host plant
Larval host plant
Larval host plant
Larval host plant
|Wild Blue Indigo
Larval host plant
Be Wary of Fancy Flower Cultivars
While some flower cultivars are big, beautiful, and extremely showy, they are more pleasing to people than to pollinators.
Large double flowers have many overlapping petals that completely cover the pollen and nectar sources, making these inaccessible to pollinators. Simple flowers are generally better for pollinators. If you can easily see the pollen and into the center of the flower, it’s probably a better choice for pollinators than any variety of fancy double flowers.
Another thing to be wary of is plants that are pre-treated with chemicals. Some nurseries and garden centers offer plants that are truly not pollinator friendly. If you look at the little plastic tags that come with the plants, don’t buy any that are labeled “treated” or “protected” or have pesticide caution labels.
If you see these labels, it most likely means these plants have been pre-treated with neonicotinoids which cause the entire plant to be toxic to insects, including pollinators, until those neonicotinoids have fully deteriorated on the plant. Some types of neonicotinoid pesticides can remain on the plant tissues for most of the year.
Plant an All-Season Garden
We probably most associate pollinators with warm weather, but you can design a garden with all four seasons in mind. Like any other animal, pollinators need food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young.
As you choose pollinator-friendly flowers, look for different varieties that bloom in the spring, summer, and fall. If you can stagger blooming times throughout the growing season, your pollinators will stay close by and not need to look far for the next nectar source.
It can be challenging to find plants that bloom in early spring, but if you do, you can help feed the earliest pollinators of the season.
If you live in a location with mild winters, you may even be able to incorporate a few winter-blooming plants. On an unusually warm winter day, you may be surprised how many insects come to visit your winter flowers!
Many insect pollinators, both adults and larvae, need winter shelter. They may overwinter in trees, under bark, inside hollow stems, leaf piles, and brush piles. If you can preserve these hiding places for your wintering pollinators, you can help keep them safe during a very vulnerable time of their lives.
Choose Pollinator Favorites
There are certain flowers in my garden that are pollinator magnets. Some flowers are simply beautiful to look at, and others are literally buzzing (or humming) with activity. If you want to attract pollinators, plant some of their favorite flowers.
Pollinator Flower Favorites
|Black and Blue Salvia
|Salvia guarantica ‘Black and Blue’
|New England Aster
Plant a Variety of Different Colored Flowers
Grow flowers of many colors to attract pollinators of many types. As these creatures are moving around their environment, typically flying overhead, they will be scanning for the colors they like best. Different pollinators are attracted to different colors, so if you have a rainbow assortment of plants available, your garden will appeal to almost any passing pollinator.
- Bees typically prefer flowers that are yellow, blue, and purple.
- Wasps prefer white, blue, yellow, or purple flowers.
- Butterflies prefer red, pink, orange, yellow, and blue flowers. They especially like flowers that grow in clusters or have a flat-topped appearance rather than long tubular-shaped flowers.
- Moths like pale colors like white or very pale pinks, yellows, or blues.
- Hummingbirds are drawn to red, orange, pink, and purple flowers, especially tubular ones.
If you plant small clusters of similar flowers together, you increase your chances of attracting pollinators looking for that color flower. From a distance, a group of flowers or plants will always be easier to see than a single flower or plant.
Choose Many Different Shapes and Sizes
Pollinators aren’t just temped by color; they are also looking for specific shapes and sizes of flowers. And it’s good to note that bigger isn’t always better.
There are plenty of tiny flowers that grow in clusters and attract huge numbers of pollinators. The more different flower types you plant, the more likely you are to please a pollinator.
Consider including flowers that grow singly and in clusters. Grow an assortment of smaller and larger flowers. Plant both tube or trumpet-shaped blooms alongside simple-petaled blooms. Each flower shape is likely to attract its own assortment of pollinators.
Remember that depending on the pollinator’s size, you might need a bigger flower. For instance, bumblebees can be very effective pollinators for plants like sunflowers with a big surface to land on, but they aren’t very good at pollinating your tomato plants!
Don’t Use Insecticides
Insecticides are designed to kill insects. Since most pollinators are insects, pesticides don’t have a place in a pollinator-friendly habitat.
One good thing to know about pollinators is that many also eat insect pests. Hummingbirds are best known for sipping nectar while performing amazing aeronautical maneuvers, but did you know they also eat aphids, small flies, mites, mosquitoes, and even small beetles? Hoverflies are another common pollinator of garden flowers, and their larvae prey on other insect pests.
Your garden will undoubtedly also attract other beneficial insects such as ladybugs, praying mantises, and plenty of spiders.
A healthy landscape is a balanced ecosystem where there are predators and prey. By welcoming plenty of beneficial insects and birds to your garden, they will naturally help control the pest insect population.
Add a Water Source
Birds, bees, and butterflies all use water. Birds will use a shallow bird bath or puddle to drink and bathe.
Butterflies and bees will gather at the edges of shallow puddles and in moist sand or mud. When butterflies visit a puddle or muddy spot, it’s known as puddling! Here, they can sip water and also gather essential nutrients.
Plant in Large Patches
As pollinators move about on their daily journeys, they are always scanning for plants of interest. Many pollinators will pass you by if you have a grassy lawn and one small flower.
On the other hand, if you have an entire yard full of flowering plants, any pollinator that passes by will stop to check it out. Large patches of flowers are easier to see than small patches.
You won’t find many pollinators flying around if you have a large grassy lawn with no flowers. You can turn a pollinator desert into a pollinator magnet by planting a colorful, easy-to-see garden. More flowers will mean more pollinators, so go ahead and grow as many flowers as you can.
Garden in Full Sun
A majority of pollinator-friendly flowers grow best in full sun. Fortunately, many pollinators also love the sunshine. They will pass through shaded areas and dappled sunlight, but they will typically spend the most time in full sun, where it’s warm and bright.
If you are growing an herb garden, a flower garden, or a vegetable garden, you will already have plants in sunny locations. You can easily incorporate pollinator-friendly flowers into any garden type.
If you haven’t yet established a garden, remember that growing flowering plants in full sun is almost guaranteed to attract pollinators.
Chose Pollinator-friendly Companion Plants
As you work on your vegetable and herb garden, include some pollinator-friendly companion plants. Companion plants can benefit your garden vegetables by improving soil quality, enhancing growing conditions, repelling pests, or attracting beneficial insects.
Plants like chives, dill, and parsley make excellent companion plants and are favored by pollinators. While blooming, these plants provide a source of nectar. Dill and parsley are host plants for swallowtail butterflies. Borage, lavender, basil, and nasturtiums also make excellent garden companion plants and will attract many pollinators to your garden.
Provide a Bee Hotel
Not all bees live in hives. Many bees rest and overwinter in leaves, dead wood, and loose soil. Leave hollow stems, brush piles, or leaf piles where wild bee species can choose to rest.
Leave some natural areas of loose but undisturbed soil, and you may find some species of solitary bees building burrows to live in. If you provide both food and housing for bees, they will frequently visit your pollinator garden.
You can create a simple bee hotel by drilling holes into a log or block of untreated wood. You can also make a bee hotel from bamboo canes. Simply cut lengths of bamboo and pack them together into a pot or other structure that can hold them together.
You will end up with a pot filled with hollow tubes. Turn your pot so the canes are horizontal, and place it in a somewhat protected but sunny location. Solitary bees may then start to move into the hollow tubes!
Attract Different Types of Pollinators
Focus on diversity. Plant a great diversity of flowering plants that attract all pollinators and other beneficial insects. Remember that not all pollinators are butterflies or bees.
Grow many different species of pollinator plants. Plant large flowers and small. Look for different plant structures, from small ground cover plants to full-sized trees, because this variety will welcome the greatest diversity of pollinators to your landscape and support them at different times of their lives and through different seasons.
Grow tubular flowers to attract hummingbirds. Grow clusters of small flowers to attract butterflies. Grow plenty of yellow flowers to attract bees. While most pollinators will visit many different flowers, they each have their specialized preferences, and they preferentially search for their favorite flowers.
Leverage All Types of Plants
Pollinator plants come in all shapes and sizes. Trees can provide sturdy protection for overwintering butterflies. Some trees, like willow and birch, even serve as butterfly host plants. Shrubs provide excellent shelter during a storm, and many shrubs provide a nectar source.
Annual and perennial flowers can be easily grown in most garden settings and, while blooming, are frequently visited by pollinators. Even herbs and garden vegetables can provide valuable nectar and pollen resources for pollinators.
As you are designing your garden with pollinators in mind, don’t focus just on the pretty flowers. Although pretty flowers are one of the main attractions for pollinators, remember that other plants also provide benefits.
Sharing your garden with pollinators is exciting and rewarding. If you have a sunny garden spot, you can attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other beautiful and beneficial creatures to your yard. Think like a pollinator, and consider all their needs, not just nectar sources. If you want to attract pollinators, keep some of these key points in mind:
- Grow a variety of flowers that bloom from spring through fall.
- Choose flowers of different colors, shapes, and sizes.
- Offer several larval host plants for caterpillars.
- Don’t spray any pesticides. These will kill your pollinators.
- Offer food (for adults and larvae), water, and shelter.
- Use pollinator-friendly companion plants in your garden.
- Growing a variety of different types of plants will attract the greatest variety of pollinators.