Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals

Planting a Pollinator Garden

by National Gardening Association Editors

Pollinators and Their Favorite Flowers

Ants -- Although ants like pollen and nectar, they aren't good pollinators, so many flowers have sticky hairs or other mechanisms to keep them out.

Bats -- Large, light-colored, night-blooming flowers with strong fruity odor (e.g., many cactus flowers). Bats don't see well, but have a keen sense of smell.

Bees -- Yellow, blue, purple flowers. There are hundreds of types of bees, and they have a range of flower preferences.

Beetles -- White or dull-colored, fragrant flowers since they can't see colors (e.g., potatoes, roses)

Butterflies -- Red, orange, yellow, pink, blue. Because they need to land before feeding, they like flat-topped clusters (e.g., zinnias, calendulas, butterfly weeds) in a sunny location.

Carrion-eating flies -- Maroon, brown flowers with foul odors (e.g., wild ginger).

Flies -- Green, white, cream flowers. Many like simple bowl-shaped flowers or clusters

Hummingbirds -- Red, orange, purple/red tubular flowers with lots of nectar, since they live exclusively on flowers (e.g., sages, fuschias, honeysuckles, nasturtiums, columbines, bee balms). They need no landing areas since they hover while feeding.

Moths -- Light-colored flowers that open at dusk (e.g., evening primroses).

Planting a Pollinator Garden

By creating a garden that attracts a range of pollinators, you can provide vital oases amidst seas of buildings and concrete. Kids can play a role in digging shallow pools and mud puddles and providing piles of twigs and animal hair for nesting materials.

  1. Include a variety of flowers that bloom throughout the season(s) so there's always some food for pollinators.
  2. Use as many native plants as possible. Local plants and pollinators are more likely to be adapted to one another. Although hybrid flowers are bred to look and/or smell nice for humans, they often don't provide much or accessible nectar or pollen.
  3. Grow host plants that are known to attract certain pollinators, such as milkweed for monarch butterfly larvae. (See the list above of pollinators' favorites.)
  4. Provide shallow pools and mud puddles that nourish butterflies and offer home-building materials for bees and wasps.
  5. Include tall plants and trellised vines -- especially those with yellow blossoms -- to attract passing pollinators to your gardens. Sunflowers, sweet peas, nasturtiums, morning glories, and scarlet runner beans are good choices.
  6. Provide nesting sites and materials. Leave cut plant stems exposed, turn flowerpots with bottom holes upside down, leave twigs and brush in small piles, and leave out pieces of string or other light fibers.
  7. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides. By tolerating some pest damage and weeds, you'll promote a healthier garden for pollinators and your family. There are many organic choices for pest control that work well for home gardeners.
  8. Turn part of your lawn into a wildflower meadow, or at least leave some wild areas nearby to provide habitat and food for pollinators.
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