Need a reason to plant more flowers? How does supporting local agriculture, ensuring the availability of healthy fruits and vegetables, and protecting thousands of plant and animal species sound? By planting flowers that sustain pollinators, you are accomplishing all of this, as well as making your yard more attractive. Pollinators, which include bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, hummingbirds, and bats, make reproduction
possible for more than three-fourths of the flowering plants on earth, including many of the fruits and vegetables we eat every day.
Of all the pollinators in the world, bees are the best. While almost everyone is familiar with European honey bees, fewer people are aware of the vast variety of native bees found in North America. These include bumble bees, sweat bees, miner bees, and mason bees, all of which are valuable pollinators of crops as well as native flowering plants. Alarmingly, populations of both honey bees and native bees are in decline.
Reasons for bee decline include disease and parasite infection, habitat loss, and stress caused by pesticide exposure and malnutrition. As gardeners, we have a critical role to play in reversing this alarming trend. One of the most important things we can do to preserve and support pollinators is to plant flowers. Bees gather nectar and pollen from flowers to feed themselves and their offspring. To stay strong and maintain healthy colonies, bees need a season-long supply of flowers that have not been contaminated with pesticides.
Many of our native bees specialize in feeding on native plants. Including native plants in your landscape will support the widest range of pollinators. When planting flowers to
support pollinators, aim to have at least three different types of flowers in bloom during each season, from early spring through late fall.
Flowering perennials are among the best nectar sources for bees. Recommended perennials native to our region that are available from most garden centers include spring bloomers such as spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), Coreopsis species and varieties, wild indigo (Baptisia species), Wild geranium, beardtongue (Penstemon species), and bluestar (Amsonia species).
Some of the best native summer-blooming perennials for pollinators include coneflowers (Rudbeckia and Echinacea species), phlox, lobelia, butterflyweed and milkweed (Asclepias species), Stoke’s aster (Stokesia laevis), bee balm (Monarda species), mist flower, liatris, and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum species).
To provide late-season nectar sources, plant a variety of native asters (Symphyotrichum species), goldenrods (Solidago species), joe pye weed (Eutrochium species), ironweeds (Vernonia species), and perennial sunflowers (Helianthus species).
Submitted by Faye Tewksbury, Agent for Horticulture, Woodford Co. Cooperative Extension Service