Attracting pollinators to your lawn and garden isn’t just incredibly beneficial to the health of your plants. At this point, it’s beneficial for humankind, too.
Despite the fact that pollinators play an essential role in cultivating the crops we use for food, their populations are in decline, and some are at the risk of extinction. With a population of endangered or extinct pollinators, we could be facing a world food shortage, as well as other pretty serious impacts on our ecosystems. And what’s behind this population decline? Many experts believe that the use of chemical pesticides, the changing climate, the change of pollinator habitats into farms or cities, and a lack of food sources are all contributing.
When you attract pollinators to your yard with vibrant and beautiful perennials, everyone wins. Not only will you enjoy the lush, healthy, and strong plants across your lawn and garden, but you’ll also be giving pollinators a place to live, eat, and work. We’ll cover what pollinators are, why their existence is a requirement for the long term life of your plants, the basics of how perennials bloom, and the top five perennials for attracting pollinators of all kinds to your garden.
Let’s go—the time before your perennials bloom is about to fly by.
Who Are Pollinators, Exactly?
Pollinators range across species, but insects are at the heart of the world’s pollination. After all, they pollinate about 75% of the world’s crops and plants! And of that group of insects, bees are the majority, so they’re generally accepted to be the world’s most important pollinator. Other insects that pollinate plants include flies, butterflies, moths, and beetles.
But the list of pollinators actually extends far beyond insects. Hummingbirds and bats also take up this task! So when choosing the right perennials to attract pollinators, keep bees and the rest of the pollinator population in mind.
Why Pollinators are a Requirement for Your Plants
What pollinators actually do is move the male part of a flower, pollen, to the female part of a flower, called the pistil. This process is fundamental to the production of new seeds and fruit. So the more pollinators that are living, eating, and working in your lawn and garden, the more abundant your plants will be—and if you’re growing any fruit or vegetables, it’s the only way to achieve an abundant crop.
The process of pollination doesn’t just keep your plants healthy and abundant. It’s actually a necessity for plants to produce fruit or seeds, which keeps the plant population alive. If you have a garden or a lawn, you want to prioritize pollinators, and now.
Now that we understand that pollinators are absolutely essential for your plants, let’s turn to eye candy for you and life-sustaining nutrients for them: perennials.
Perennials are plants that live for longer than two years, meaning that while they sometimes bloom for only a season, they come back year after year, without needing to be replanted or replaced. They are often colorful and robust, and serve as a great source of food for insects and wildlife alike. They’re also highly nutritious for soil, as they help rebuild soil structure and prevent erosion. And, of course, they attract pollinators—especially if your perennials are native to your area, which sweetens the deal for our frequent fliers.
When shopping for perennials, you might find the use of the descriptor “zones” attached to a number from one to eleven. Those hardiness zones actually signify the eleven different zones on the map which range from the coldest, Zone 1, to the warmest, Zone 11. Each zone has a temperature that increases by ten degrees Fahrenheit. Zone 1 represents -50°F and Zone 11 represents 40°F. So what do these temperatures signify? These are the approximate minimum temperatures annually in each of these zones.
Perennials are categorized by what zone they’re the most hardy, or strong, in. To set yourself up for blooming success, research what zone you live in, and look for perennials that match. That way, you can be sure that they’re ready for what’s coming during the next winter. Remember, perennials bloom for years—so you want to make sure they survive when temps drop.
Top 5 Perennials for Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden
These colorful perennials produce a significant amount of nectar and attract a wide range of pollinators. Depending on your zone and the type of pollinator you want to attract, you might want to tailor your perennial selection to you—but these will get you on the right track.
Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida)
Who can blame pollinators for being drawn to this flower, with its gorgeous yellow petals and highly accessible brown centers? Black-Eyed Susans are just as popular with growers as they are with pollinators, as they’re adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. While they thrive in full sun, they can also sometimes handle shade and harsher conditions, so they’re fairly robust. Some would even call them drought-tolerant! This resiliency can be seen in their wide range of hardiness zones: 3–9.
The best time to plant Black-Eyed Susans is in spring or early fall, and they tend to bloom in the fall. When planting their seeds, space them out 18 inches apart in well-drained soil. Be sure to water them regularly when they’re new, especially during dry seasons, until they build up resiliency. And you can divide them every two years, so they multiply exponentially over time.
These super resilient, bright flowers bloom for extended periods of time, meaning they both attract and sustain pollinators for the long haul. Their flowers are abundant in nectar and pollen and, similarly to Black-Eyed Susans, their centers are highly accessible to pollinators. Their petals feature shades of pink, orange, and purple, so it’s no surprise pollinators notice them! But they’re not the only ones who benefit—when coneflowers are unpruned through the winter, their seeds are eaten by birds, too. Their hardiness zones range from 5 to 8.
There are ten coneflower varieties of total, and they all prefer lots of sun and moist soil, whether that be clay, loam, or sandy soil. When planting them, be sure to space them out 18–36 inches apart. When winter comes, it’s important to cover their base with a layer of mulch to protect them from the worst of it. When spring comes, cut back their old stems.
Bee Balm (Monarda)
This one is totally tubular. Bee balm is a super colorful perennial that blooms in the summertime, an especially critical time to provide food sources to pollinators because many other perennials finish their bloom cycle at the end of spring. It’s especially attractive to bees and hummingbirds, so you can expect some fast flutters when you plant it in your garden or lawn. Bee balm is also a fairly hardy pollinator attractor, as it ranges between Zones 3–9.
Bee balm grows best in full sun to partial shade, and should be spaced out 18–24 inches in consistently moist soil. It’s important to prune it back by a third at the end of spring, so that it can experience a more productive growing season.
If you’re a fan of butterflies, especially the morach butterfly, then this is the perennial for you. Milkweed is understood to be the host plant and sole food source of monarch butterfly larvae, but it also attracts bees, in part because it consistently produces a ton of nectar, sometimes even in seasons hit with drought. This super-resiliency gives it a hardiness that ranges between Zones 3–9.
Milkweed usually blooms from the middle of spring to the beginning of fall. The ideal way to set your milkweed up for success is to choose a species that is native to your area—pollinators like those best, anyway. When planting milkweed, space it out far apart, as it can become bushy fast, and make sure it gets full sun. While this perennial is fairly drought-tolerant, it’s recommended to give it a helping hand by watering it during dry spells. In the late fall, cut back any dead stems to prevent pests and disease.
Asters belong to the daisy family, and bloom for long periods of time, starting late in the spring and well into the fall, which makes them especially attractive (and essential!) to pollinators. They’re gorgeously colorful with petals that feature pinks, purples, blues, and yellows. And unlike all the other perennials on this list, asters do well in partial shade as well as full sun, with a hardiness zone of 3–8.
Asters might be fairly resilient, but they have some strong preference, such as consistent moisture and intermittent fertilization. It’s also a good idea to prune your asters every year to keep their shape. But despite a little extra grunt work, asters are a highly beneficial plant to have. They’re considered one of the best for pollinators, especially honeybees, in the fall.
How to Maintain Those Perennials. Perfectly.
While the hardiness zones for perennials can be useful to know, keep in mind that the climate is changing, and fast. Weather conditions just aren’t as predictable as they used to be. The best way to keep your perennials thriving through changing temperatures is the OtO device, a smart lawn and garden treatment system that tracks environmental factors, including local temperatures, wind, humidity, and rainfall, to deliver the perfect amount of water, fertilizer, and other natural solutions to your lawn and garden. The best part? All solutions that the OtO device distributes are pollinator-friendly, so you can expect well-tended plants abundant with these life-sustaining creatures.
You’ve done the work. With the help of this intelligent device, all you need to do is sit back, watch your new perennials bloom, and listen for the sound of a buzz. With more pollinators in your yard, the future is that much more secure.