Bring pollinators to your garden when you grow the plants they need for shelter and food. When you plant for pollinators, you help insects transfer pollen from male to female plant parts to make seeds.
Bees are popular pollinators, and butterflies, hummingbirds, ants, wasps, even flies, are important, as well. Help beneficial birds and insects when you grow the flowers they love.
The best advice for bringing pollinators to your garden is to grow native plants. Just like you please your friends and family when you cook their favorite foods, you can set out a feast for beneficial insects when you grow their favorite plants.
Tips for Choosing Pollinator Plants
There are tricks to keep in mind to choosing the right plants for beneficials. Pollinating insects like sweet-smelling flowers with red, blue, yellow or orange petals.
Keep in mind that trees are an important pollinator source of both habitat and nectar. Redbuds and tulip poplars are top choices.
Stagger the bloom period for a butterfly feast. Milkweed (asclepias), tickseed, coneflower, lantana and sedum offer a lot of love in late summer when butterflies are most active.
Native plants be challenging to find. They’re typically grown from seed or “passalong plants,” but there’s progress in native plants.
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in partnership with the State Botanical Garden at UGA, the Georgia Green Industry Association and the Georgia Department of Agriculture now promotes the state’s first Pollinator Plants of the Year Program.
2023 Georgia Pollinator Plants of the Year
Spring bloomer: Blue Wild Indigo, Baptisia australis
A 4-foot tall perennial wildflower in the pea family. Blooms in spring with coral-blue flowers.
Summer bloomer: Wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa
Perennial in the mint family that grows 4 to 5 feet tall. Blooms are white, lavender or magenta.
Fall bloomer: Aromatic aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
Perennial in the sunflower family that grows 3 to 4 feet tall with purple flowers.
Another fall bloomer: Coastal plain Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium dubium
This Georgia native is a perennial wildflower that grows 3 to 5 feet tall with profuse but tiny mauve flowers that bloom July through September.
2022 Georgia Pollinator Plants of the Year
Spring bloomer: Carolina lupine (Thermopsis villosa) is a 4-foot tall perennial wildflower in the pea family. In spring, this plant has tall spikes of canary yellow flowers.
Summer bloomer: Mountain Mints (Pycnanthemum species: Pycnanthemum incanum, P. flexuosum, P. muticum, P. tenuifolium, P. virginianum) grow 3 to 4 feet tall with long-lasting white summer blooms that attract many different pollinators. Prefers full to part sun.
Fall bloomer: Blue mist (Conoclinum coelestinum) is a perennial wildflower in the sunflower family that grows 3 to 4 feet tall with bright blue flowers from late summer into fall. It is easy to grow from seed, cuttings and division.
Georgia native: Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a perennial blooming vine with woody twining stems that bloom with tubular red and yellow flowers through much of the year.
2021 Georgia Pollinator Plants of the Year
Spring bloomer — Conradina (Conradina canescens), also called wild rosemary, is a fine-textured, evergreen, woody shrub in the mint family with aromatic, needle-like leaves. In spring, the plant is covered in small lavender flowers with purple-spotted throats. It supports many native bees and other pollinators and is ideal for container gardening or garden walls.
Summer bloomer — Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) is a small, deciduous, densely branched shrub ideal for rain gardens. Panicles of white flowers give off an intoxicating fragrance in the heat of summer and support many native bees.
Fall bloomer — Downy Goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris) — do not confuse with ragweed, the true culprit in many allergies — is one of the shorter goldenrods, standing between 1 and 3 feet tall. From August to October, the flowers bloom in dense, spiky clusters, creating a gorgeous yellow plume. This is an excellent plant for bees, wasps and at least 112 species of butterflies and moths.
Georgia native — Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a drought-tolerant, herbaceous perennial wildflower that reaches 1 to 2 feet tall and is excellent for sunny borders, meadows and containers. This is the larval host for the Monarch Butterfly, Grey Hairstreak, Queen Butterfly and Milkweed Tussock Moth and provides abundant nectar for many insects and hummingbirds.
Learn more about pollinators and join the Great Georgia Pollinator Census. This citizen science project is August 19 and 20, 2022, and is easy enough for parents and children to do. Keep up with the pollinator census on Facebook and get tips for growing pollinator-friendly plants and identifying beneficial insects.
Note: a version of this story first appeared in my local newspaper in an Ask a Master Gardener column.
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