Swallowtail butterfly on delphinium

National Pollinator Month: Perennial Pollinator Garden Basics

It’s National Pollinator Month, and that means it’s time to celebrate all things winged and crawling with a perennial pollinator garden!

The plants we choose for a pollinator garden and the practices we employ make a huge difference. Choosing nectar rich plants, native plants, host/habitat plants, and opting for low or no chemical gardening is key to bringing in the pollinators. Mindful garden cleanup at the beginning and end of the season helps too.

It’s a delight to watch wildlife at work, and most pollinators are not aggressive- they will happily ignore a passing gardener. After all, they are way too busy feasting on delicious nectar and gathering pollen to pay any attention to a boring human. If allergies are a concern, placing flowering plants away from decks or patios is a great way to support pollinators without getting too up close and personal.

Perennial Pollinator Garden Basics

An Abundance of Plants

Choose a variety of nectar rich plants with bloom times throughout the season. Spring, summer, and fall should all offer a tasty meal for pollinators. Walk through greenhouses and gardens and note what plants are buzzing with activity. Are the salvia and bee balm covered in honey bees? Time to add some salvia and bee balm. Are butterflies fluttering around the Joe-Pye weed and coneflowers? Plant some! Pollen-laden bumblebees snuffling the sedum blooms? You know what to do.

Planting one perennial is great, but planting in masses is akin to turning on a blinking neon BUFFET sign. The large swaths of color in a mass planting more effectively attract pollinators that are cruising by. Speaking of color- bees love blues, purples, whites, and yellows. Butterflies are drawn in by almost any bright color you offer. Hummingbirds love bright red, orange, and purple flowers with trumpet shaped blooms.

Be a Good Host

Food for adult pollinators is important, but what about food for their young? Providing places for pollinators to lay their eggs, establish nests, and overwinter are key ingredients in a good pollinator garden.

Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed, so inclusion of milkweed in the garden is essential. There are many kinds of milkweed to choose from. Try Asclepias tuberosa, aka butterfly weed, for its showy blooms and benefit to baby monarchs. Asclepias incarnata, aka swamp milkweed, is great for moist areas!

Swallowtail butterflies love plants in the carrot family including fennel, dill, and parsley. Sprinkle these plants throughout the garden or grow them in pots and watch for the beautiful striped caterpillars to appear.

Pollinator Friendly Practices

Leaving fallen leaves somewhere in the yard at the end of the season, maintaining some undisturbed garden rubble like leaves, sticks or stumps in a quiet corner, and waiting until late spring to cut back plants and clean up gardens is a great way to ensure survival of the next generation of pollinators.

Of course, going light on the chemicals or skipping them all together will make sure that pollinators are safe in your landscape. Choose plants that aren’t prone to disease and insect damage. Establish a higher threshold for leaf chewing and light insect feeding on your ornamental plants. Dedicated pollinator fanatics remove annoying garden pests by hand and welcome beneficial insects. You can do it!

Bumblebee on Lamium