There are many benefits to having pollinators in the garden, from helping flowers thrive to seeing butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds buzzing through the backyard. While a number of factors have negatively impacted the areas pollinators used to call home, the good news is, just a few containers or raised beds can provide the perfect habitat for winged visitors. To help make our yards a hive of activity, we turned to Sandy Zoumbaris, head of the perennial department, at Charlottesville, Virginia-based Ivy Nursery, for advice. “The simplest way to attract bees and butterflies to your garden is to devote a spot for pollinator-friendly plants,” Zoumbaris says. Here, Zoumbaris shares recommendations for the best bee- and butterfly-friendly perennial plants, as well as advice on how to keep them blooming all season long.
Agastache: Anise Hyssop and Hummingbird Mint. These lovely spires, which are popular with pollinators, are showy, fragrant, and have a long bloom time. According to the experts, deer-resistant and drought-tolerant Agastache (hardy in zones 4 to 10) enjoys full sun—at least six hours—and will flower all season when planted in well-drained soil and treated to slow release organic fertilizer. Beautiful in abundance, group Agastache plants close together so they can support each other and withstand summer storms. Plant alongside: wildflowers, herbs, purple foliage plants.
Asclepias: Butterfly Weed. The rich nectar of Butterfly Weed make it a favorite among pollinators. This deer- and rabbit-resistant plant that’s hardy in zones 3 to 9 thrives in full sun, but does tolerate some shade. Topping the category of easy to grow, the seeds will sprout by themselves and bloom from early to late summer; to control sprouting, cut off the seed pods before they open. While Asclepias does not require fertilizer, a top-dressing of compost or composted manure once per year around the plant will make it happy. Plant alongside: coreopsis, catmint, Russian sage, and grasses.
Echinacea (coneflower). This popular pollinator is part of the daisy family, and has many variations. For the most rigorous blooms and strength, plant coneflower, which is hardy in zones 3 to 9, in neutral soil pH in full sun or part shade, ensuring it will receive at least six hours of sunlight a day. You can expect a long bloom time, from mid-summer to mid-fall, with regular deadheading. While hardy and drought-tolerant, they prefer to be watered regularly. Plant in groups of three or more to increase visual impact. Plant alongside: bee balm and coreopsis.
Phlox paniculata (garden phlox). This stately plant that has sweetly fragrant flowers with full, round heads in white, lavender, pink, and red, attracts all pollinators. Hardy in zones 4 to 8, this plant enjoys full sun or part shade, but needs at least six hours of direct sun if planted in part shade. Garden phlox prefers rich, well-drained soil, but will tolerate clay; it is not a fan of drought or extreme heat, so add mulch in the summer to keep the roots cool. Plant alongside: Agastache, bee balm, and clematis.
Monarda (bee balm). The stately bee balm plant looks gorgeous in mass plantings, with daisy-like flowers in shades of red, pink, purple and white. True to its name, the plant is a favorite among bees, but butterflies and hummingbirds are also frequent visitors. Root this plant, which is hardy in zones 4 to 9, in full sun or part shade in neutral rich soil pH. Expect bloom time from early to late summer, and encourage a re-bloom in late summer by deadheading faded blooms. Once a stem has finished its bloom, cut it down low to the ground. Plant alongside: Agastache, Echinacea and Phlox paniculata.
Lobelia: Cardinal Flower. Another spiky showoff, the cardinal flower provides a brilliant, magnificent red pop of color. This plant, hardy in zones 3 to 9, enjoys full sun or part shade, and is perfect for a water garden, wet meadows, and ponds. Expect to see blooms from summer to early fall, and look for hummingbirds and bees, which can be frequent visitors. Plant alongside: coneflower, blazing star, and foxglove.
Catmint. This hardy shrub, which is available in many varieties, has a minty scent. Deer resistant and drought tolerant, catmint is hardy in zones 4 to 9, and blooms from early summer to autumn. Catmint is lovely planted at the front of a border, as an edging plant alongside a patio, or planted in an herb garden. Plant alongside: other pollinator friendly plants.
Asteraceae: Asters and Goldenrod. Asters are fragrant and a beautiful purple, while goldenrod, true to its name, is a stunning yellow (and, contrary to popular belief, does not produce an allergic reaction). Both bloom into autumn, and enjoy moist, well-drained soil in full sun, but will tolerate a bit of shade. For Asters, to encourage a bushier plant come fall, pinch back blooms mid-summer. Plant alongside: a lovely meadow setting, or other pollinator-friendly plants.