Growing perennials for pollinators is one of the best ways of creating a beautiful garden that is truly buzzing with life. Pollinators are essential for promoting biodiversity and helping local wildlife as well as being workers in your home vegetable garden. Simply put, if you want your garden to thrive, choosing plants that encourage butterflies, hoverflies, native bees, and other pollinators to visit is important.
What are pollinators?
Simply put, pollinators are, according to the Oxford dictionary, an insect or other agent that conveys pollen to a plant and so allows fertilization. So no matter what you’re growing in your yard, be it blooms, fruit, vegetables, or herbs, chances are you are in need of some time of pollination.
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Many common pollinators are bees (of all kinds, not just honey bees), butterflies, pollen wasps, moths, hoverflies, and even ants. And while you may feel like you have a few of these things already in your yard or garden, attracting more pollinators to your yard by use of perennial plants (those that grow back each year or reseed each year) is a great way to increase the likelihood of your plants being well pollinated.
I love it when I don’t have to hand pollinate my squash because the bees are doing it for me. There’s nothing better than stumbling upon a drowsy bee living the dream inside of a squash blossom.
What are perennial plants?
As I mentioned above, perennial plants are those that you plant knowing that they will come back year after year. I also like to include in this category plants that will reseed themselves. This means you’ll have the same type of plant growing in that area the next year, though it’s not THE same plant, as long as you allow the plant to go to seed the previous growing season.
It is also worthwhile to note that while you certainly can grow an exclusive pollinator garden, you can also simply add any of these pollinator-friendly perennials to your existing yard or landscape to give those pollinators some enticement to visit and do some work while they’re there.
I love perennials because they are typically very low maintenance. Perennials may require cutting back or pruning at the end of the growing season, but it sure beats replanting annuals each year. And I should also note, that sometimes your location will be a determining factor in whether a particular plant is a perennial.
For those in warmer climates, chance are, many plants can be perennials, whereas those who live up north in colder climates may not be able to count on some of these plants growing back year after year. Always consider your growing zone before making a final decision on a particular plant.
Beautiful Perennials Flowers for Pollinators
There are many perennials for pollinators that you can grow in your garden. But the choice is extremely vast and, to an extent, depends on what grows well in your specific environmental conditions. In addition, providing pollinators with a suitable habitat is also essential to help them thrive. You could also consider a bee or butterfly bath, a simple access to water, usually a dish with some rocks and water to complete the pollinator haven you’re creating.
Without further ado, let’s look at the best perennials for pollinators and more you can grow to provide sustenance and beauty in your garden.
Milkweed is a well-known, beautiful, and valuable wildflower in North America, and most varieties are perennial. It serves to be the perfect food source for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, monarch butterflies, and various varieties of birds. This perennial’s delicate flowers are available in various bright colors including white, purple, pink, orange, or yellow flowers.
They grow naturally in wooded areas and prefer light or partial shade spots. You can grow them from seeds by scattering them thinly in a tray of potting compost, and when they are a few inches tall, they can be planted out in the garden. Milkweed will lose all of its leaves in the winter and can be cut back after that. This is a great addition to any existing flower bed. Find milkweed seeds at True Leaf Market.
This beautiful and popular perennial for pollinators is native to the Central and Eastern US. These pollinator-friendly plants are a fantastic choice for a butterfly garden and a high-energy snack for birds in the fall.
The perennial flowers come back every year and go dormant over winter. They are easy to grow from seeds in early spring and are available in many colors. Cornflower is slow growing, so you should sow them early in the season. When they are a few inches tall, plant them in a sunny location in well-drained soil, and enjoy their beauty for many years to come.
The beautiful evergreen herb belongs to the mint family. It has a flavored scent, and herbal properties attract pollinators to a great extent. The aromatic herb has beautiful bright blue flowers at the top of the spikes.
Giant hyssop is a native species to the upper midwest and parts of Canada and provides nectar to honeybees, leafcutter bees, hummingbirds, moths, and other native pollinators. The plant is easy to grow from the seeds in spring and can be sown directly into the garden. You can also consider other varieties of hyssop if the giant variety doesn’t suit your space. Consider anise hyssop for your yard or flower bed. Find hyssop seeds at True Leaf Market.
The bright, colorful aster is from the daisy family and are great plants for birds since they have soft, fluffy seed heads in the late fall. These are excellent plants for pollinators and are enjoyed by short and long-tongued bees, beetles, and hoverflies.
Aster enjoys full sun and well-draining soil, but it prefers growing in light shade as long as it is not crowded. You can enjoy their bright display from late summer to early fall.
This native prairie plant has purple-pink flowers and is attractive to many pollinators, including hoverflies, wasps, and butterflies. As a perennial, you will easily enjoy its floral display and the benefit of pollinators in your garden for many years. It can be grown from corms for faster growth or from seeds. Corms can be planted about a quarter of an inch down, or if you wish to grow them from seeds, scatter them thinly in a tray of well-draining compost. Just be careful not to overwater them.
The blazing star, also known as L. Spicata, may need to be divided once it has grown for several years, but this will simply give you more of this native perennial for your yard or to share with others!
Sweet Joe-Pye Weed
Another perennial plant for pollinators is native to many parts of the US. They are also highly preferred for their medicinal properties and have large clusters of tiny pink and white flowers. Moreover, they are easy to care for and form a beautiful display in the garden.
Joe-Pye weed, or eutrochium purpureum, may be difficult to cultivate from seeds, so grow from cuttings if possible. You can cut it from 4 to 6-inch stems and remove the lower leaves. This perennial enjoys moist soil and also has other varieties with purple flowers.
I tried for several years to grow purple coneflower, or echincea, from seed, to no avail, but over a year after I direct sowed those seeds into a raised bed, up pops several plants. It was a miracle! Since then, I’ve added several coneflowers to our side yard by way of plants from our local nursery.
Coneflowers are enjoyed by bees and butterflies and gardeners alike. These beautiful blooms do come in a variety of colors, but the purple variety is the most popular. Their roots can also be used for teas and even medicinal purposes, but I’m not an herbalist, so reach out to someone who knows more than me. Find coneflower seeds at True Leaf Market.
Bee Balm, also known as wild bergamot, is such a lovely and enjoyable plant to grow, and it does grow back year after year, so make sure you have the space for it to fill in. These perennial plants for pollinators perfect for many important garden workers including bumble bees, hummingbirds, and predatory wasps (which are wonderful for your garden).
Bee balm doesn’t get very tall, so it can be a nice ground cover in a flower bed that needs some filling it. Consider adding it to your flower bed or pollinator garden! See my full guide for How to Grow Bee Balm at Home!
Perennial Herbs for Pollinators
Looking beyond flowers for your pollinators? Consider these herbs which work double duty both as culinary herbs to use in the kitchen, but also will bloom and give food for pollinators. Here are some of my favorites:
No garden is complete without this purple-flowered perennial. Growing lavender in your garden using seeds is easy, but keep in mind that in this way, it will grow very slowly. The best way is to propagate lavender from cuttings.
Make small 2-3 inch holes in the ground, and insert the stems. Remember to place them in direct sunlight and pack the soil firmly. The pollinators will certainly thank you for growing this lovely plant, and you will be rewarded with buzzing, beneficial insects keeping your garden alive. I know the bees are especially fond of the lavender when it blooms in our yard. See my full post about How to Grow Lavender in Pots.
Here’s a perennial plant that pollinators enjoy that you may already have growing in your yard or garden, hopefully in a pot! Once mint blooms the pollinators will come flying in!
There’s no preference for the type of mint that pollinators enjoy. You can grow chocolate mint, spearmint, peppermint, horsemint… really, any mint! Mint does enjoy average soil and can withstand a bit of drought, but as I mentioned above, you want to grow it in a pot, unless you want it everywhere. See my full post with Tips for Growing Mint.
This lovely herb is a member of the mint family, and it has a delicious lemony scent when rubbed. I love using lemon balm to make Lemon Balm Simple Syrup to add to tea, but the pollinators also come flocking to this herb when it blooms, typically in late summer.
Due to our growing zone, 8b, we can really have lemon balm and mint growing year round. Lemon balm doesn’t tend to spread as quickly as mint, but if allowed to seed, it will disperse around your yard and garden.
With this, I conclude some of the best perennials for pollinators. In my opinion, it is better to choose native plants, as pollinators will easily recognize them. And if you’re looking for stylish pollinator garden ideas, check out this article from Fine Gardening!
I’d love to know if you have other suggestions for perennials that pollinators love; comment below to share your knowledge with other gardeners!