Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Planting for Pollinators

One of the easiest ways for people to help out native pollinators and honey bees is to plant for them in their yards and gardens.  How?  

Check out the plant list for the Upper Midwest featured on The Xerces Society web site:
Invertebrate Conservation Fact Sheet

Upper Midwest Plants for Native Bees

Written by Eric Mader & Matthew Shepherd

  • Pollinators are a vital part of a healthy environment.
  • Native bees are North America's most important group of pollinators.
  • Patches of flowers can be grown almost anywhere and will form an important food resource for bees.
Pollinators are a diverse and fascinating group of animals.  In addition to their beauty, pollinators provide an important link in our environment by moving pollen between flowers and ensuring the growth of seeds and fruits.  The work of pollinators touches our lives every day through the food we eat.  Even our seasons are marked by their work: the bloom of springtime meadows, summer berry picking, pumpkins in the fall.

Native bees are the most important group of pollinators.  Like all wildlife they are affected by changes in our landscapes.  The good news is that there are straightforward things that you can do to help: providing patches of flowers is something that we all can do to improve our environment for these important insects.  Native plants are undoubtedly the best source of food for bees, but there are also some garden plants that are great for pollinators.

This fact sheet will help you provide flowers that these vital creatures need and make the landscape around us -from small urban backyards to large natural areas- better for bees.  Below you'll find a simple guide to selecting plants for bees.

For more information, visit our web site where you will find other fact sheets and more detailed guidelines on how to enhance habitat for pollinators.  You'll also find information about the Pollinator Conservation Handbook.

Choosing the Right Flowers

To help bees and other pollinator insects -like butterflies- you should provide a range of plants that will offer a succession of flowers, and thus pollen and nectar, through the whole growing season.  Patches of foraging habitat can be created in many different locations, from backyards and school grounds to golf courses and city parks.  Even a small area planted with the right flowers will be beneficial, because each patch will add to the mosaic of habitat available to bees and other pollinators.

In such a short fact sheet it is not possible to give detailed lists of suitable plants for all areas of the Upper Midwest.  Below are two lists of good bee plants, the first of native plants and the second of garden plants.  Both are short lists; there are many more bee-friendly plants.  However, these lists, combine with the following notes, will get you started on selecting good bee plants.  Your local chapters of the Wild Ones, the Native Plant Society and native plant nurseries are worthwhile contacts for advice on choosing, obtaining, and caring for local plant species.
  • Use local native plants.  Research suggests native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers.  In gardens, heirloom vaireties of herbs and perennials can also provide good foraging.
  • Choose several colors of flowers.  Flower colors that particularly attract native bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
  • Plant flowers in clumps.  Flowers clustered into clumps of one species will attract more pollinators than individual plants scattered throught the habitat patch.  Where space allows, make the clumps four feet or more in diameter.
  • Include flowers of different shapes.  Bees are all different sizes, have didfferent tongue lengths, and will feed on different shaped flowers.  Consequently, providing a range of flower shapes means more bees can benefit.
  • Have a diversity of plants flowering all season.  By having several plant species flowerihng at once, and a sequence of plants flowering through spring, summer, and fall, you can support a range of bee species that fly at different times of the season.

Native Plants

Native plants should be your first choice to help our native bees.  Listed below are some plants that are good sources of nectar and pollen for bees.  This list is not exhaustive; there are many other plants good for bees.  Individual species have not been included.  Not all of these genera will have species in your local area, but they do represent plants that will grow in a variety of environments.  Use a wildflower guide or contact local nurseries to find your local species.

Aster                                   Aster     
Beebalm                            Monarda
Blazing star                        Liatris
Cup plant                           Silphium
Wild indigo                        Baptisia
Fireweed                          Chamerion
Goldenrod                        Solidago
Giant hyssop                    Agastache
Ironweed                          Vernonia
Joe Pye weed                 Eupatorium
Leadplant                        Amorpha
Lobelia                            Lobelia
Lupine                             Lupinus
Milkweed                        Asclepias
New Jersey tea             Ceanothus
Obedient plant               Physostegia
Penstemon                   Penstemon
Prairie clover               Dalea
Purple coneflower       Echinacea
Rattlesnake master    Eryngium
Spiderwort                  Tradescantia
Steeplebush               Spirea
Sunflower                   Helianthus
Willow                         Salix

Garden Plants

Flower beds in gardens, business campuses, and parks are great places to have bee-friendly plants.  Native plants will create a beautiful garden but some people prefer "garden" plants.  Many garden plants are varieties of native plants.  This list includes plants from other countries -"exotic" plants- and should be used as a supplement to the native plant list.  As with this native plants, this list is far from exhaustive.

Basil                              Ocimim
Borage                         Borago
Catmint                        Nepta
Cosmos                      Cosmos
Lavender                     Lavendula
Oregano/Marjorum    Origanum
Rosemary                  Rosmarinus
Russian sage            Perovskia
Spearmint                 Mentha  
Squill                          Scilla

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
4828 SE Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97215


  1. Hey Jacquelynn!

    I hear you're talking to JobyLynn about placing hives on her property. Myself & another guy, Gil, are gardening there this season. Funny... I was just talking to Peter, JL's boyfriend about getting a hive or two for the space. I think Gil wanted to learn more before deciding if it would be a good fit for all of us. I hope it will work out, I'd love to learn about beekeeping!
    Krista Post

    1. Hi, Krista! Isn't it funny that JobyLynn responded to my post on COMGAR and I had just spoken to you the other day?! Small, small world. I'de love to have a hive or two there, and I'm certain the bees would help the garden, too. I hope it will work out, too, because the more people that know about bees the better they will fare.


    2. Hello Jacqueline,
      I'm a Master Gardener who would also be interested in fostering a hive at my home in S. Mpls. You can reach me at jeanne.labore(at)