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How to Attract Pollinators To Your Garden

If you spend much time on Pinterest or gardening groups on Facebook, you’ll see that it’s become very “trendy” to plant a pollinator garden. I really dislike trends. The reason being that attracting butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other pollinators to your gardens should not be a trend, because trends come and go. Home gardeners have been planting pollinator friendly gardens for generations and now all the sudden it’s the cool thing to do. I will get off of my soapbox now! Although there’s a little more to it than to simply plant flowers, let’s have some fun and learn how to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to your garden.

I realize there are many mitigating factors as to why our pollinator populations are down, but this is not the place to discuss that problem. One of our goals at Gingham Gardens is to encourage home gardeners to do their best in their little corner of the world.

Hummingbird Drinking From Lucifer Crocosmia

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Does A Garden Need To Be Organic To Attract Pollinators 

Before we get to the fun part, let’s just get this out of the way. If you want to attract pollinators and keep them healthy, do not use pesticides in your gardens.

If you feel that you have to use pesticides at least go with organic. Just know that organic pesticides are not discriminant about what they are killing, so proceed with caution. And some of the home remedies that are touted as being organic are not organic in the least. I use a mixture of Dawn soap and water to kill boxelder bugs. Does it work, yes. Does it harm pollinators, no because I don’t spray it near them. Is it organic, no. 

Bee on Victoria Blue Salvia in How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

A Healthy Garden for Pollinators

So to answer the question, does a garden need to be organic to attract pollinators, I don’t really know. I believe in order to keep pollinators healthy, it’s best not to use pesticides. How about we just all do the best we can and leave it at that. We cover pest remedies in another post, but for now here are just a few practical ways I do my best to stay away from pesticides:

  • I know it’s just flat out creepy, but be willing to hand pick jerk pests like Japanese beetles and other beetles. Simply take a bucket of hot, soapy water and a long-handled spoon out to the garden and use the spoon to knock the nasty perverts into the bucket of soapy water. Do this in the morning and not in the afternoon. Trust me, you’ll only try it in the afternoon once and after you get dive bombed by Japanese beetles, you’ll remember morning is best. If you don’t have to contend with Japanese beetles, just count your blessings.
  • Be okay with other bugs that have a short life span. For instance, four-lined plant bug is such a nuisance in my gardens in the spring. They don’t damage flowers, but they suck the sap out of leaves and the leaves end up with tiny brown spots covering them. I choose to ignore the little brats because they don’t really harm the plant. Once they’ve moved on for the season, I just give the plant a little haircut.

Swallowtail butterfly on magenta-colored bee balm in How to Attract Pollinators to your Garden

 

Why Do We Want Pollinators in Our Gardens

Well, because we need them. I’m not going to give a big ole science lesson, because science was my worst subject, and sex education wasn’t far behind. Just kidding… sort of. But the long and short of it is, if we want certain crops and flowering plants they need to be pollinated and we need the pollinators to do it. Make sense? Thanks, I knew it would.

Bottom line, we need bees and other pollinators doing their thing in our vegetable garden and to pollinate fruit trees.

And, really, who doesn’t want bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in your gardens. I realize bees have the potential to sting humans, but they really don’t want to. I can stand in the middle of one of my gardens with bees buzzing all around and never get stung. My son always says I’m one with nature. Bees buzzing, butterflies fluttering about and little hummers flitting by just add an element of happiness and serenity to gardens.

Swallowtail Butterfly on Coneflower - How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Simple Tips to Attract Bees, Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Garden

The best way to attract pollinators to your gardens is to plant a variety of flowers that are rich in pollen and nectar. Be sure to include a succession of blooms from early spring until late fall, the entire growing season.

What Are Native Plants and Why Do We Need Them To Attract Pollinators?

Nothing wrong with hybridized flowers, but because of the hybridization process, nectar and pollen are generally reduced in flowers that have been hybridized, so they aren’t quite as tasty and beneficial as native plants.

Pro Tip: Native flowering plants are the best food source for pollinators.

What exactly are native plants? According to Wikipedia – “Native plants are plants indigenous to a given area in geologic time. This includes plants that have developed, occur naturally, or existed for many years in an area.” If you’re interested in learning the science behind native plants just click the Wikipedia link.

Pollinators on New England Aster
Monarch Butterfly, Painted Lady Butterfly and Bees on New England Aster

I would encourage you to do a few google searches for native species in your area. Remember, native species include both native animals, insects and plants. What are considered native plants in some regions can be invasive species in other areas. You can check with your state’s Department of Natural Resources or your local cooperative extension.

Just do a little research on your own before you go plant shopping and ask for “native” plants. Not all, but some native plants are very aggressive and will take over your gardens. Here’s another great post to help you understand more about Native Plants.

Monarch Butterfly on Meadow Blazingstar - How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

The Best Flowers to Grow to Attract Pollinators

When I started researching and looking through pictures, I ended up with a list of over 50 flowers, both annuals and perennials, covering spring through fall, that will attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. That’s too many to list here, so I made up a printable that you can find in the Gardening Resources Library that includes a list of those flowers according to what season they bloom and which pollinator they attract. Many of the flowers on the list are native plants. Fill out the form below to gain access to all our Free Gardening Printables, including the list of over 50 Flowers Pollinators Love.

Below are just some of the flowers that made the list.

Perennial Flowers That Butterflies Love:

  • Butterfly Bush – can be invasive in some areas. Look for varieties that don’t set seed.
  • Purple Coneflower – a North America native plant (stick with the native, single flowers variety and not the hybrids)
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Liatris – Meadow Blazingstar (pictured above) is a monarch butterfly magnet.
  • Swamp Milkweed – host plant for monarch caterpillars. Be careful, it can be very aggressive and pop up all over your garden.
  • Don’t forget herbs – Parsley & Fennel are host plants for swallowtails.

Bee on Coneflower in How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Flowers Bees Love:

  • Bee Balm attracts bees of all kinds; honey bees, mason bees, native bees, etc.
  • Catmint
  • Sedum
  • Lavender
  • Salvia – hummers also love the red varieties
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Baptisia – a late spring bloomer that bumble bees adore.

Swallowtail butterfly on zinnia

Flowers Hummingbirds Love:

  • Columbine
  • Crocosmia (Lucifer)
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Penstemon
  • Daylilies

What About Habitats For The Pollinators

Another great way to attract pollinators is to not have a pristine garden. I think bee houses are another trend, but honestly, this little bee house is so stinkin’ cute and I’m going to get one. Other that buying a house for your bees, here’s what you can do for bees and other pollinators to provide a welcoming place where they can hunker down and call home:

  • Add mulch to your gardens (you’re probably doing this anyway).
  • Leave some hollow stalks from garden plants up. For instance, once daylilies (or other plants that have hollow stems) are done blooming, leave some of the stalks for a natural bee habitat.
  • Don’t be so quick to clean up brush piles, the bees like them.
  • Pollinators also like to nest in shrubs, tall grasses and low-growing plants.
  • Native insects and pollinators like dead wood from dead trees. Fallen rotten tree branches actually can look very natural in a garden and provide a space for pollinators.
Bees on allium flowers.
Bees and soldier beetles on Allium

During dry summer months, if there are no puddles around your yard, be sure to provide a water source for pollinators. I love this little butterfly feeding station and I’m going to use it for a little watering hole for the pollinators. This puddling stone for pollinators is cute too. Keep the water shallow for your little buggers so they don’t drown.

Swallowtail Butterfly on Trailing Verbena

How to Plant A Garden to Attract Pollinators

I would just encourage you not to even try to attract pollinators if it’s just a fad or trend you think would be fun to try. Gardening takes time and work. It isn’t just a one time plant some flowers type of fun weekend project. I don’t want you to end up with an eyesore patch of weeds that you regret planting.

Okay, so if I haven’t talked you out of it and you still want to create a pollinator paradise, here are more articles that will help you figure out how to go about it:

Flower Gardening 101
Creating and Caring For A Low Maintenance Flower Garden

We’ve covered the most popular pollinators – bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, but there are other pollinators too. Other native pollinators include:

  • hummingbird moths and other types of moths
  • some types of bats (yikes)
  • soldier beetles
  • hover flies

Monarch butterfly on strawflower.

Are you a Beginner Gardener?

If this is your first gardening experience, start with a small area. With a little effort, you can create a valuable habitat for pollinators and get to enjoy beautiful flowers. It’s a win-win situation!

Thanks a bunch for stopping by and taking time out of your day to read How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden. If you’re a seasoned gardener that already enjoys pollinators in your gardens, what are your (or the pollinators’) favorite flower(s)? Are you a newbie gardener that would like to attract some pollinators to your yard? If so, leave a comment and let me know if I inspired you and if you have any questions. I love hearing from my readers!

Happy Gardening,

Julie

p.s. Go ahead and feel free to “pin” these pictures. If you hover in the upper left-hand corner of the picture, you’ll see the little Pinterest icon. Just click it and pin away. There are also pins to share at the bottom of the page. Thanks a bunch!

p.p.s I’d love to have you follow me on Pinterest. Lots of great gardening ideas and tons of gardener’s eye candy.

Pins to Share:

Image of a butterfly on a flower with text overlay - The Best Flowers and tips for attracting butterflies and other pollinators to your garden

Image of a butterfly on a flower with text overlay - how to attract butterflies to your garden

25 Comments

  1. Heya Joanna!

    I have to say, Wonderful Site!!!!! First of all. I’m a gardener since I was knee-high with my mama on a farm and I was an entomologist at the Audubon Nature Institute so promoting plants and beneficials was my main gig.
    Now my question, I was going through your resources and one link is misdirected, “Ways to Convert Lawn Into Gardening Space” actually points to this page. Just an FYI.

    Again, Wonderful job on the site! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for the kind comment. I’m happy your found Gingham Gardens! And thanks for letting me know about the messed up link. I fixed it. Happy gardening, Joanna

    1. Hi Debbie – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens. Yes, we have an entire Gardening Resources Library full of free gardening printables. We also have more extensive workbooks/guides that are available to purchase. To gain access to the free gardening printables, please complete the subscription form that appears in the article above. Once your subscription is confirmed, you will receive the password for the Gardening Resources Library. You can email me anytime at [email protected] if you have any questions. Enjoy the gardening printables and happy gardening (or planning), Joanna

    1. Hi Patrici, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Just keep planting the plants with tubular shaped flowers and the hummers will come. I don’t have any feeders because I don’t have time to take care of them. The hummingbirds still come. This year I have a couple of pots on my deck with Rockin Blue Suede Shoes salvia in them. The little hummingbirds love these flowers. I just wish they would slow down long enough to get a picture of them.

      Happy gardening,
      Joanna

  2. If any of my neighbors saw me mowing the grass last week they probably thought I was crazy – every time I came to a patch of dandelions I would tilt the mower so as not to remove the flowers. I wanted to leave them for the bees!

    1. Hi Lee, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I find your comment comical! Dandelions are definitely not a favorite of mine, but I can see why you’d choose to leave them. They are one of the first flowers (weeds) to bloom that the bees love. Happy gardening!

      1. I also leave dandelions for the bees. It is good to leave milkweeds for the monarch butterfly. Just be sure to cut the seed pods off OR the milkweed will take over your yard.

  3. I have to respond to your comment on bats – “yikes”. I attended a gardening session about bats and learned so much about how important they are and how they are misunderstood. They eat their own weight in bugs every night, which is very helpful here in Florida and are essential to our ecosystem. You would probably change your perception of bats with more information. I know I did.

    1. Thank you, Marie. That is so interesting. I will definitely have to do some reading on the benefits of bats.

      1. Make sure to add some Mountain mint to your pollinator garden. It can be aggressive like all mints so give it room or plant in a container. The flowers attract a huge variety of bees,butterflies and other pollinators. Looks pretty and smells fresh and minty. We can all do our part in protecting our natural world and enjoy doing it.

  4. In the early spring my Carolina Jasmine
    Vine is covered with bees.

    Bees adore my anise hyssop (agastache
    Blue Fortune’).

    1. Oh Carol, I would love to see a picture of the bees and your Carolina Jasmine! I have Blue Fortune Agastache too and yes, it is definitely a bee magnet. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Happy gardening!

  5. Have always planted a bird friendly garden but it was not till we had honeybees that I became aware of our real need to help all pollinators. Now every new plant I add has to be friendly to butterflies,bees native and imported(honeybees) and the benefits have been terrific in my garden. One of the best pollinator friendly perennials I planted was Mountain mint and a great annual is Thithonia. Always covered by winged visitors of all varieties. So much fun to watch and feel that I am doing my part for the enviorment at the same time.

  6. Look forward so much to reading your comments. The only time we got stung by bees was when we had hives and were robbing their honey. Just can’t imagine why. (Ha !) We have winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragtrantissima) on our property and it starts blooming late Feb. The bees are all over it when the blooms start and they make such a happy sound. Means Spring may not be too far away.

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