Planting a pollinator garden is one simple way to help improve conditions for bees and pollinators. To get the most out of your pollinator garden with the least effort, include perennial plants. Unlike annuals that need to be planted each year, perennials are a mainstay in your garden landscape. You can plant annuals around them, or let them steal the show and provide a habitat for our pollinator friends on their own.
No matter the climate or the location or size of your garden, you’re sure to find a perennial that pollinators will love.
Top 10 Flowers for Bees & Pollinators That Come Back Every Year
Say hello to one of the best pollinator plants. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators flock to salvia’s colorful spurts of nectar-rich blooms. Salvia is resistant to deer, rabbits, and other common pests as well as drought, making it a go-to for organic gardening.
Salvias are a sun-loving plant, but most can tolerate part shade. This branch of the mint family boasts over 900 varieties in total with many colors to choose from. Bloom time can extend from spring to fall. Some varieties are hardier than others, meaning they can be grown as perennials in cooler climates. Ask your local garden center which varieties are perennials in your zone.
Yarrow is native to North America and loved by native pollinator species, especially butterflies. Other than requiring well-drained loamy soil and full sun, it’s a low-maintenance and pest-resistant plant that can naturalize quickly, providing abundant pollinator foraging space.
Yarrow flowers can be pink, red, white, or yellow. They make a wonderful addition to cut flower arrangements. Expect blooms all summer long. Deadhead to encourage new growth. Yarrow can and should be divided every few years. If you don’t want the removed yarrow in your garden, share it with a friend.
Milkweed is the best plant for butterflies and a crucial part of a well-rounded pollinator garden. Before they become Monarch butterflies, Monarch caterpillars feed solely on milkweed leaves. Birds and predators find toxins in milkweed unappealing, which protects the caterpillars as they mature. Keep in mind that milkweed is toxic to pets and humans.
The Monarch butterfly population has decreased over 80% over the past 20 years.(1) Farmers Almanac recommends planting these varieties of milkweed to help the Monarch butterfly population recover:
- Common milkweed
- Butterfly weed
- Swamp milkweed
- Showy milkweed
You can also contribute to habitat creation for bees, Monarch butterflies, and other pollinators by supporting Pass the Honey. Every purchase of snacking honey supports pollinator research and habitat restoration.
4. Black-eyed Susans
Bees, butterflies, moths, and other pollinators are drawn to the sunny petals and deep brown centers of Rudbeckia hirta, or black-eyed susans. Depending on the variety, colors range from creamy yellow to red. You can keep the flowers coming for pollinators through the fall by cutting back summer blooms.
Black-eyed susans grow up to several feet tall and spread up to 18 inches wide, and can be divided every few years. These golden beauties thrive in fertile soil and full sun, but they can handle some shade and harsher conditions.
Also called echinacea, coneflowers are a resilient genus native to central and eastern North America. Echinacea comes from the Greek word for hedgehog, referring to their spiny centers. Pollinators aren’t the only creatures that benefit from the plant—when left unpruned through winter, their seeds provide a food source for birds.
Coneflowers can put on quite the color display, especially when planted in masses. All ten coneflower varieties prefer rich, well-drained soil and full sun. Harvest echinacea flowers to make herbal tea sweetened with raw honeycomb.
No list of flowers that attracts bees would be complete without nepeta. You might know Nepeta cataria by its common name, catnip. Bees swarm around nepeta’s spikes of flowers, and you might catch your cat napping or frolicking around it. The leaves can be harvested to make a calming herbal tea for humans and homemade cat toys.
Nepeta is a great choice for dry soils and full sun. Choose from 250 varieties and colors such as white, purple, and indigo blue.
Just about any area of your garden can be a home to phlox, making it a magnet to pollinators. Varieties that grow low to the ground can serve as a ground-cover, and medium and taller varieties add height and structure. The vibrant, fragrant flowers usually appear in early spring and continue through summer.
Some types of phlox prefer shade and can serve as your shade pollinator plants, while others prefer sun. As a general rule, all phlox varieties can be planted in rich, well-draining soil that’s evenly moist.
Looking to attract butterflies and bees well into autumn? Asters are the pollinator plant you’re looking for. They add starbursts of white, blues, purples, and pinks, with sizes ranging from several inches to over eight feet. In warmer climates, they can even provide winter flowers for bees.
Most regions of North America have native varieties of aster, which are a great choice if you’re looking for the lowest-maintenance option. All asters tend to thrive in full sun, but some do well in part sun.
Draw pollinators to your garden like magic with gaura, also called wandflower, whirling butterfly and bee blossom. You won’t have to do much to keep your pollinator friends coming with this low-maintenance plant after planting it in loamy soil and full sun. Gaura is a wildflower native to southern North America. It’s extremely drought-tolerant, providing a lush foraging zone for bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies through late summer.
The long, delicate stalks can grow to four feet in height and the plant can spread to four feet wide. Depending on the variety, blooms may be white, pink, red, or gold.
The standout display of kniphofia, commonly called Red Hot Pokers and Torch Lilies, is adored by hummingbirds and other pollinators. Kniphofia’s tall spikes add an exotic flair and vertical interest to full sun areas in soil with good drainage.
Each variety of kniphofia has a different bloom time. Plant a mix of varieties to keep the flowers coming through the spring, summer, and fall.
Creating a Pollinator Paradise
Perennials are low-maintenance compared to keeping up with planting annuals, yet they provide foraging zones for bees and pollinators year after year. Taking action to save the bees can start in your own backyard with a flowering perennial or two. Combined with other small efforts like supporting regenerative apiculture, and eating real honey, you can become an ambassador for pollinator health.