Attracting Pollinators to Your Gard

Gary Jones

Fri March 27, 2015 11:37am

murraya paniculata-Orange Jassamine

Bees, butterflies and other insects go about their quiet work with little appreciation. But without them our gardens would be a lot less colorful and bear fewer fruits and vegetables.
In order to increase the presence of pollinators in our backyards and realize their benefits, plants that provide nectar and pollen need to be planted. Nectar is loaded with sugars and is the pollinators’ main source of energy, while pollen provides protein and fats.
Perennials and shrubs are the best sources of pollen and nectar. Seasonal flowers (annuals) are generally not good sources. Hybridization has made most of them sterile or very low in pollen and nectar. It’s wise to have a wide variety of plants. This will provide a range of flowers (food) through the growing season. Native plants are among the best for attracting bees.
The French style of kitchen gardens, with flowers interplanted among vegetables and herbs, is a perfect way to attract pollinators and increase your edible harvests. This type of garden is gorgeous too. If planned well, there’s no reason to hide your vegetables. Just combine them with pollinating flowers and celebrate the abundance of color and edible abundance.
There are many perennial flowers to plant during spring that will be highly attractive to bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators. Lamb’s ears, salvia, Russian sage, lavender, coneflower, cerinthe, Aster x frikartii, Agastache, gloriosa daisy, bidens, Centaurea, sedum and ice plant are some of the most beautiful.
Many herbs are great for pollinators: basil (don’t remove the flowers!), borage, oregano, spearmint, hyssop, lavender, rosemary and thyme. Heirloom varieties of herbs and vegetables are more likely to attract pollinating insects.
Flowering shrubs that butterflies and bees love include bluebeard (Caryopteris), Mexican orange (Choisya ternata), privet, orange jessamine and pride of Madeira. Citrus trees of all kinds attract pollinators.
Many California native plants are highly attractive to pollinating insects. Among the best are California wild lilac, wild buckwheat, California poppy, coyote mint, coffeeberry and native penstemons. Some research shows that native plants are four times more attractive to native bees than exotic flowers.
There are a few annuals that do have abundant pollen and nectar, including natives clarkia and gilia, cosmos, common sunflower and sweet alyssum.
The following tips will help maximize your success in attracting butterflies, bees and other pollinators:
Gary Jones is the chief horticulturalist at Armstrong Garden Centers. Email him your gardening questions to Or contact your local Armstrong Garden Center.