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Big news from the homefront – the snow is FINALLY gone!
Sure, there are a few lingering patches here and there, deep in the woods and such, but for the most part, the lawn is clear and beginning to thaw.
While we still have about a month or so before we can start planting our garden, I’m encouraged to see that many of my perennials from last year are beginning to return. That’s great news for our honey bees, who we have started to see emerging from their hives in search of food.
The honey bees were well-fed throughout the winter, but we recognize the importance of providing them with plenty of food sources around the farm, too. Did you know that it takes about 55,000 miles of flight to produce a single gallon of honey?
I try to help them out by planting flowers and other plants that are excellent food sources. While most of these plants are perennials, coming back year after year, there are a few annuals that I plant every year, too, just to increase the amount of food these hungry, productive creatures can access.
Here are my recommendations for the plants you should grow to improve pollination around your homestead.
Hyssop is a culinary herb that is often grown for its anise- and mint-scented leaves. Honeybees in particular love hyssop, which produces densely packed flowers. This plant is perennial in zones 4 to 8 and can grow up to four feet in height. It blooms from early June all the way to late September, producing gorgeous lavender foliage that is an instant attractant to bees.
2. Blazing Star
Blazing Star is also known as gayfeather and produces fuzzy purple spikes of flowers. It will bring hordes of butterflies to your property, including swallowtails, monarchs, and painted ladies. You may need to install stakes to keep the stalks upright, but they are tall and very attractive to most pollinators. It grows well in zones 3 to 8 and blooms in mid to late summer.
3. Butterfly weed
Also known as milkweed, butterfly weed is in short supply across most of the country. Once a plant you would see everywhere, this ornamental milkweed produces clusters of small, bright orange flowers. It is a vital source of food for monarchs in the larval stage, and since monarch populations have dropped nearly ninety percent in the last twenty years, planting it is a no-brainer to help boost their populations.
Butterfly weed can survive in zones 4 to 9 and blooms from June until September.
4. Foothill Penstemon
Foothill Penstemon is native to California but can survive in zones 6 to 10. This plant produces gorgeous purple flowers that grow in a tubular fashion on slim spikes. You can encourage a second round of flowering by trimming off the first batch of flower heads early in the season. It thrives in hot, dry gardens and can even grow on rocky hillsides. It blooms from May until July.
5. Joe-Pye weed
The name of this plant is somewhat of a mouthful, but it’s well worth the extra verbiage! This plant produces large, vanilla-scented clusters of flowers that grow well above the other plants in your garden. They produce flowers in July through September.
These flowers can be either purple or pink and provide great habitat to monarchs, swallowtails, native bees, and other insects. It is hardy in zones 3 to 8 but be prepared – it can grow up to eight feet tall!
Coreopsis is a dependable species for your pollinator garden and is often found in native wildflower mixes (we had it in our butterfly sanctuary, for starters).
It is easily propagated from seed and produces huge, sprawling quantities of daisy-like flowers. These flowers bloom in late spring and provide food for bees and butterflies from May until July. You can grow it in zones 4 to 9.
What’s NOT to love about dianthus? I never actually knew the true name of these flowers until recently – I had always heard them called “pinks.” These plants produce gorgeous flowers to a coral pink shade, producing a light fragrance as the plant grows in a low, dense mound.
You can actually trim the flower stalks off when they are done blooming for another round of blossoms in the late summer. These plants are attractive to native bees as well as butterflies, but keep in mind that rabbits will also take the occasional nibble. Planting in raised beds can help eliminate any losses.
They are perennial in zones 4-8 and grow to about ten inches in height. Plant your “pinks” in full to partial sun, and try to keep the soil relatively dry, too.
There are several varieties of salvia that you can grow, all of which are attractive to bees. You will also likely see hummingbirds and butterflies hanging out around your salvia. However, they are not attractive to deer, which is a huge win in my book!
I prefer the Azure Snow variety, which is bicolor and produces large, dense wands in a light purple or pure white color. These plants bloom from late spring to early summer, and are perennial in zones 3-8. They prefer full sun and dry soil.
9. False indigo
False indigo is native to many places in the United States, tending to grow wild in dry prairies as well as wooded areas. The cultivated version of this plant now comes in a wide variety of colors, which means you can pick and choose the types of false indigo you grow to best suit your landscaping and decor.
I prefer the Pink Lemonade variety, as it produces unique pinkish yellow spikes that have a rainbow-like appearance. You will see this plant bloom in late spring and early summer, but it can produce pods all the way into fall.
This plant is perennial in zones 4-9 but requires an extremely cold winter in order to bloom adequately in the spring. It can grow up to four feet tall, so make sure you give it plenty of space.
10. Bee balm
The name of this plant says it all! Also known as bergamot, bee balm blooms from June to September, producing lovely white, pink, or lavender flowers. This pollinator has tubular flowers that honey bees and bumblebees simply can’t resist – nor can monarch butterflies! It grows up to four feet in height and is hardy in zones 3 to 9.
This year, I am going to try growing aster in a container on my deck. This plant only grows about a foot or two in height, and provides a great source of food to native bees. It can also help sustain monarch butterflies. Aster comes in tons of colors and cultivars, but the best choices are those that are native to your area.
You can find aster in shades of purple, blue, pink, and white. It grows well in zones 3 to 10 and blooms from August to October.
When we were still living the renter’s life, before we bought our property, our landlord allowed us to plant a “butterfly garden” in an unmowable section of the lawn. We planted a wildflower mixture that had tons of coneflower seeds in it, and we were delighted by the colors that appeared.
Coneflowers are native in many areas of the country, and they thrive throughout early spring all the way into the fall. You will see a range of bees, butterflies, and even birds enjoying the blossoms of this perennial. You can purchase coneflowers in various colors, including magenta, orange, or even pink. Plant it near a border or designate a whole section of your lawn to be a “butterfly sanctuary,” as we called ours.
The coneflower is perennial in zones 4-8 and grows well in full to partial sun.
Clematis is another popular choice. There are several varieties of clematis from which to choose, including vining and perennial versions. The perennial type of clematis may need some support from a cage or another structure, but it usually grows in an upright fashion, looking more like a bush than a vine. It produces blue bell-shaped flowers in late spring to early summer. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds alike enjoy these pendulous flowers.
Clematis is perennial in zones 3-7, growing up to three feet in ideal conditions. You should provide it with alkaline soil (you can amend the alkalinity of your soil by using compost or another kind of fertilizer) and plenty of sunlight.
If you’re looking for a perennial that will bloom in the fall, consider growing phlox. There are hundreds of types of phlox out there, but what I love about phlox is that it is incredibly disease resistant and blooms for what seems like forever. You can plant tall phlox or creeping phlox, but remember that the hybrid versions are those that will bloom the longest.
Phlox does take a year or two to mature, but once it’s adapted to its surroundings, you’ll never be able to get rid of it! It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and is perennial in zones 4-8. It prefers full sun and average-draining soil.
Daylilies are really easy to maintain, and while they aren’t necessarily the first plant you’d think of when you think of pollinators, keep in mind that these perennials provide an excellent source of nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds. You can get daylilies in just about any color, and these flowers will appear in large quantities in midsummer.
If you’re looking for a low-maintenance flower, look no further than the daylily. It is perennial in zones 3-9, growing up to two feet in height in full sunlight.
This summer, we grew about six different types of sunflowers in a designated patch of our lawn. Because we had sunflowers as our main type of flower for our wedding’s floral arrangements, I wanted to see how successful I could be at growing a majority of the blooms ourselves (to save money, of course!).
An unexpected but pleasant side effect of the large quantities of sunflowers was that we also had tons of bees, butterflies, and birds visiting our plot. Sunflowers are a great source of food for all kinds of creatures, and you can even harvest the tops once the seeds have dried to feed them to your chickens!
There’s not much you need to do to maintain sunflowers, either – you can grow them just about anywhere (besides the Arctic) as long as you have plenty of water, sunlight, and warm weather.
Unfortunately, I’m allergic to goldenrod, so you won’t see me growing it in my pollinator garden. However, this is an important late-season plant for pollinators, as it blooms from July until September. It produces lovely yellow blossoms in zones 3 to 8, and is a popular food source for honeybees.
Stonecrop, also known as sedum, blooms in late summer to early fall. These perennials attract tons of bees and butterflies, and provide a good source of food for pollinators late in the season, long after many other plants have stopped blooming.
Most cultivars grow low to the ground, producing succulent foliage that forms colorful seedheads. They make a great addition to a rock garden or as an edging border plant. Stonecrop is perennial in zones 3-9 and prefers full sunlight.
Don’t get overwhelmed and feel like you need to head out and plant all of these gorgeous plants at once! If it’s been some time since you heard the buzz of bees or saw the flutter of hummingbird wings, starting with just one plant at a time is a great way to reintroduce pollinating wildlife to your property.
Pollinators are losing habitat every day. They are now rare sights in many gardens, killed off by pesticides or by a lack of food. You can play a major role by planting just one or two food sources for them in your garden. While this may seem insignificant, just a small portion of your yard, when dedicated to pollinator-friendly plants, can make a huge difference.
What other perennials do you grow to attract pollinators? Be sure to weigh in by leaving a comment, and subscribe to our email newsletter for regular tips and tricks on homesteading – wherever you are. You can also follow us on Instagram (@jrpiercefamilyfarm) and Pinterest (J&R Pierce Family Farm) for frequent updates. Happy homesteading!