When planning a vegetable garden most people focus on which vegetables to grow. However, they totally forget about drawing in bees and butterflies to help pollinate the garden and birds for pest control. A pollinator garden is so important!
Over the years, I added many perennials and flowers to my garden. I am amazed each year at the number of birds, bees, and butterflies that inhabit my garden. In fact, the birds are so happy that they drop seed presents throughout my garden. So, listed below are my suggestions for plants that attract pollinators, what makes a good pollinator garden, and how to build a pollinator garden.
Bees and Butterflies Love Perennials
I have two vegetable plots that are surrounded by perennial plants. So, I have different perennials blooming at different times of the year. If space is a problem, opt for hard working perennials that bloom for a longer time. Here are some of my favorites:
- Echinacea: This purple coneflower is loved by bees and butterfly. The American goldfinch and pine siskin peck at the coneflowers. It grows about 2 feet tall and can grow to about 2 feet wide. Note, you will notice baby Echinacea in your garden. It is reliable and comes back every year in zones 3-9. Leave the dried flower heads for the birds to enjoy in the winter. Note, some people grow the plant from its root.
- Feverfew: Feverfew is a daisy-like plant with green foliage. The flowers are very aromatic. It grows about 2 feet high by 1-2 feet wide. Some think this herb helps with migraines. It can be very invasive and pop up all over your garden.
- Lavender: If you are looking for flowers for bees then you need Lavender! The bees love this plant. If you cut back the blooms, they come back until frost. You can use Lavender as a tea, in satchels, potpourri, and in cooking. I adore this plant.
- Butterfly weed: Butterfly weed attracts butterflies and bees. In addition, hummingbirds adore this plant. According to Birds and Bloom, “Goldfinches and orioles goldfinches and orioles are among the birds that use the silky seed down as nesting material.” Butterfly weed flowers can be orange and very showy. It reaches about 2 to 3 feet.
- Oregano: This herb does double duty. Oregano is not only a delicious herb, but also a magnificent (See a picture HERE.) The flowers attract bees all summer long. I usually cut it down in May right before it blooms since I sell the herb. However, I leave some uncut for the bees. Don’t plant this herb in your vegetable beds. It is a member of the mint family and will spread like wildfire.
- Bee Balm: Bee Balm or Monarda is one of my favorites. It is lanky, but its flowers can be red or purple. The hummingbirds and butterflies adore this plant. In zone 6, they bloom from June to August. The flowers and leaves make an excellent tea and beautiful cut flowers.
- Milkweed: Milkweed is the host plant of the monarch I don’t grow any in my garden, but it is on my to-do list. You can buy free seeds HERE. (Butterfly weed is a milkweed.)
- Hyssop: This plant is another bee and butterfly magnet. It produces bluish purple blooms. It grows to about 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide.
- Roman Chamomile: This little plant is beautiful and delightful. It grows to about 12 inches and is similar to a ground cover. It spreads over time. It looks similar to feverfew with dainty white daisy flowers. Most people think of chamomile as a tea. The plant blooms all summer as long as you cut off the spent flowers.
Annual Flowers & Herbs for a Pollinator Garden:
In addition to growing vegetables, I also grow annual flowers and herbs that attract bees, butterflies, and birds. Here are some of my favorites:
- Nasturtiums: This annual also has a double function. First, the bees love the blooms. You can grow a variety of colors in your garden. I grow a red, yellow, and orange variety. The flowers are edible and are quite peppery. I harvest the leaves and flowers and sell them as a pepper substitute or potpourri since the flowers hold their color.
- Dill: Again, this plant has two functions: the herb and it attracts bees and butterflies. In fact, it is the host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly. See HERE for a picture of the caterpillar. (You may see this caterpillar on your parsley and fennel.) The caterpillar will eat some of your dill, so don’t worry. I harvest the blooms and the seeds for cooking.
- Sweet Asylum: I grow this plant among my broccoli and cabbage plants to help with pest control of the dreaded cabbage moth. Bees and many insects love this small plant. They bloom the entire season.
- Cosmos: There are many varieties of cosmos—pink, red, and orange to name a few. Most cosmos grow to about 4 feet and bloom all season. The spice swallowtail butterfly, birds and bees love this plant.
- Pineapple sage: The leaves taste like pineapple, and it forms red flowers in late summer. The hummingbirds love this plant. (Note you can cook with this sage as well.) Once it dries, it no longer smells like pineapple.
- Zinnias: I adore zinnias. Zinnias have light purple flowers, but you can purchase seeds with different colors. They grow about 2 feet high and bloom the entire summer. They make fabulous cut flowers. Honey bees and butterflies love Even sparrows and goldfinches adore them. Note, when buying zinnia seeds, make sure they are heirlooms. Hybrid zinnias don’t make as much nectar as heirlooms. See HERE for the best cultivars to grow.
- Buckwheat: I grow buckwheat for the seed, but you can grow it as a flower. It is a fantastic crop cover and will add nutrients to your soil. In July, it produces white flowers. The bees just can’t get enough of the flowers’ nectar. Buckwheat will come back the next year if you let it drop its seed. It grows to about 2 and half feet tall with a thin stem.
With any perennial or flower, check to make sure you are not allergic to the plants. Individual plants listed above are in the same family as ragweed. I heed the same warning about ingesting or using the flowers and leaves as tea. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding as well as have, any health concerns consult your physician, before consuming any of the above plants.
Join the Conversation:
What plants do you grow to encourage bees, birds, and butterflies?
About This Special Guest Poster
Anna Hackman is the editor of Green Talk, a green living and gardening blog, and co-founder of the Green Sisterhood, green women blogging network. She is an avid gardener and grows all the plants above and more. Be sure to visit Anna Lee Herbs, where she sells many of the flowers and leaves mentioned above to make teas or salves. Also consider downloading her free gardening e-book on 5 Gardening Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make. Happy gardening!