Want to Attract Pollinators? Go Native!

attract pollinators
attract pollinators

For today’s gardening post, I decided to focus on a topic dear to my heart: attracting pollinators.

I’m doing my best to live up to long-timer veganic gardener Will Bonsall’s standard of creating “a unified living system whose parts function to the benefit of one another and the whole.” 

And in gardening, there’s no better example of parts functioning together for the benefit of the whole than the relationship between native plants and their pollinators.

I love tulips, Dutch irises, Asiatic lilies, and African daisies as much as anyone. But I want to attract pollinators, so I’ve happily sacrificed my floral designer’s yearnings for the sake of my local bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

Attract Pollinators as Nature Intended, with Native Plants!

I’ve replaced these more exotic flowers with native plants that Mother Nature has equipped to thrive in my area. They’re tolerant of our hot, humid growing season and heavy, nutrient-rich clay soil. The local pollinators have evolved to feed specifically on them.

In doing so, they move pollen from flower to flower, fertilizing as they go. This ensures seeds will develop to produce the next generation of plants. Parts functioning together for the benefit of the whole!

Monarch butterflies depend on butterfly weed to fuel their annual Canada-to-Mexico round trip. donsutherland1 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Going native in my flower garden is a small gesture I can make to help the struggling pollinator species. One example is my butterfly weed.

I planted it to provide migrating Monarch butterflies somewhere to lay their eggs. Butterfly weed is the only thing their caterpillars can eat.

Deforestation, pesticides, and climate change have pushed their numbers into an alarming decline, so it’s the least I can do!

Pesticides, toxins, habitat loss, climate change, and industrial agricultural practices have also taken a catastrophic toll on bees due to a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Why does this matter to us?

The U.S. Forest Service calls pollinators “keystone species” because only pollinated plants produce the seeds, fruits, and vegetables countless other species, including us, consume for survival.

And by cross-pollinating plants, they created the genetic diversity that helps plants adapt to environmental changes!

How to Find the Right Plants to Attract Pollinators in Your Area

The easiest way to find accurate information on which of your local native plants will attract pollinators is to call your state university or county Extension Office.

Two handy online sources are the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Friendly Native Plant Lists and my personal go-to, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC) Native Plants Database.

The LBJWC Database Combination Search lets you enter up to eight characteristics when searching for plants suitable for your part of North America. They include:

  • State or province
  •  Plant habit (general appearance)
  • Plant duration (lifespan)
  • Light requirements (full sun, part shade, full shade)
  • Soil moisture
  • Bloom characteristics (time and color)
  • Leaf characteristics
  • Size characteristics

Even better, it provides a detailed profile for each search result – including the plant’s value to wildlife and “special” value to beneficial insects.

Other Hints on How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Bees, the ultimate pollinators, can see ultraviolet colors. They flock to blue, purple, or yellow flowers, especially sweetly-scented ones. They prefer feeding in sunny, dry spots such as south-facing, well-drained plantings.

Butterflies’ favorite flower colors are orange, red, pink, yellow, and purple. And they really appreciate a birdbath or other fresh water source.

Sunset hyssop, hummingbird magnet.

Hummingbirds can’t resist nectar from fragrance-free, tubular blooms in bright shades of pink, red, or orange. From July to September, they visit my orange sunset hyssop several times a day!

With a bit of planning, your native plants can attract pollinators from early spring until the first frost (or all year long, if frost isn’t an issue for you!)

And stay away from chemical insecticides that don’t discriminate between harmful and helpful bugs. If you choose natural ones, apply them only when no pollinators are present.

Finally, give your native plants  time to attract pollinators. Once they do, you can count on a continuing stream of grateful visitors!



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