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Pollinators like butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees are vital parts of an ecosystem. They support biodiversity, help crops, and are indications of the health of an ecosystem. If you have a yard/garden and are able to, consider adding pollinator-friendly native plants or even a wildflower garden. For those who don’t have a garden or space for one, there are some plants that do well in pots on stoops or balconies In addition to providing food and refuge to pollinators, you could eventually have vegetables, fruit trees, herbs, and flowers in your garden!
Before starting a garden, there are some things you should figure out about your yard. First, what hardiness zone do you live in? The zone you live in determines what plants will thrive in your yard and you can find out what zone you live with these maps (for US and Canada residents)! Also, try to get organic plants that bloom at different times in the year and have a mix of structure types and colors.
This plant thrives in woodland areas and attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds! It’s a perennial plant that comes in shades of red, pink, purple, and white. Bee balm does well in full sun with moist, rich soil but it is susceptible to powdery mildew. To avoid that, plant it in an area with good air circulation and avoid watering from above.
California poppies are iconic, bright flowers that are native to the western United States and bloom during the springtime. These drought resistant flowers need full sun and well drained soil, as they can suffer from mold, mildew, and stem rot if left in an area that is too wet or moist. California poppies are just one type of poppy, as there are numerous varieties. Other poppies include alpine, arctic, Flanders, and Iceland.
Clover plants are invaluable to honeybees, to the point where there’s an entire type of honey that’s made from bees that feed primarily on clover plant nectar. Clovers, as a whole, are a part of the pea family and in addition to helping honeybees, can be used to control soil erosion on hills and riverbanks and used as animal fodder.
Clover can also help fix poor soil by converting nitrogen into fertilizer and is drought resistant! Even during the hottest, driest parts of the year, clover will keep its green color. Consider adding clover to your grassy lawn, as it’ll help the bees and the soil!
These colorful and tough flowers can grow to be two feet tall! Coneflowers are daisy-like but come in pink, yellow, white-green, orange, reddish-purple, or the more common purple. Plant seeds in the spring or transplant coneflowers in either spring or fall. In addition to being drought-resistant and hardy flowers, coneflowers are also deer-resistant because of their prickly stems.
Fruit trees can be a great addition to a garden and once mature, they’ll provide delicious fruit at the end of the summer and early autumn! Washington state is actually home to a good chunk of commercially produced apples, pears, and sweet cherries so it’s important to manage pests and diseases in your own trees.
- How To Grow Fruit Trees in Washington by Julie Christensen, Garden Guides
If you’re just starting out, buy a couple sapling trees from a reputable nursery or garden center and plan on planting them in early spring. Having more than one fruit tree will allow for pollination to happen. These sapling trees should be at least 3 feet tall and can be planted in a hole that’s as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Mix in some compost and fertilizer to the soil before adding it back in.
It’ll take some time for the saplings to mature and eventually produce fruit so patience is key. Saplings are vulnerable to environmental stress so make sure they have plenty of nutrients and water! Western Washington is particularly rainy most of the year but during the summer/dry periods, water the saplings once or twice a week.
- Growing Apples by Catherine Boeckmann, The Old Farmer’s Almanac
Lavender bushes are possibly the most quintessential plant for pollinators and they smell great! There are three main types of lavender (English, Spanish, and French) that also have different varieties. Lavender does well as a perennial in zones 6-7 and are annual in zones 6 or lower. In hotter climates, this plant will do well with some afternoon shade but for the most part, lavender does well in full sun and in well-draining soil. Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes with this plant!
Lavender usually blooms summer to fall but can be slow and frustrating if you start from seeds. Try a well established plant from local nurseries.
These annual flowers can be red, orange, or yellow and are great companion animals. In addition to being easy to grow and attracting butterflies, they can repeal pests like cabbage moths and are suitable for a variety of soils and containers. They prefer full sun, warm temperatures, and moist soil.
Milkweed is by far the most important plant to monarch butterflies, as it is the sole food source and place for monarch caterpillars. There are over 100 different types of milkweed and different varieties are native to different areas. Some milkweed varieties that are native to and do well in the Pacific Northwest and the west coast of the US include:
- Antelope horns – Oregon, California
- Heartleaf milkweed – Oregon, California
- Pallid milkweed – Oregon, California, Washington
- Narrowleaf milkweed – Oregon, California, Washington
Milkweed need light shade to light shade. If you decide to grow tropical milkweed, you’ll need to cut it back in late autumn, as that variety does not die in the winter and can cause a disruption in monarch butterfly migration.
Every year, part of my front yard is covered with mint, a plant that both smells amazing and is great for pollinators! When planting true mints, be mindful that it is a hardy and fast-growing plant that can take over an area after a couple years. It spread through roots so consider planting mint in a container so it doesn’t take over.
There are several varieties of mint, including basil mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, peppermint, and apple mint. In general, mint likes well-drained, nutrient-rich, moist soil in full sun or part shade. You can also grow it indoors in a window with indirect sunlight.
In addition to being a great herb to add to some dishes, oregano is a great addition to a pollinator garden! Bees and some hummingbirds love the flowers on oregano. It can be grown in your garden or in an indoor container and is a perennial in all zones and an evergreen perennial in zones 8 and higher. Full sun or partial shade is good for oregano.
Like butternut squash and carnival squash, pumpkins are winter squash that flower in July and August before growing into edible or decorative vegetables. Pumpkins have a long growing season so they need to be planted as soon as it’s warm enough in the spring. They need full sun and rich, warm soil that’s also well-draining. In fact, pumpkins grow best when it’s 65-95 degrees Fahrenheit!
There are a few pumpkin varieties that are used in a few different ways. Some, like the cinderella and sugar pie, are great for cooking while others, like the Connecticut field, are used during the Halloween season as decorations.
These iconic and classic flowers are just one type of daisies and bees seem to love the yellow center of this flower. Shasta daisies do well in full sun with moist, well-drained soil.
These fruits are easy to grow and maintain while also being great for bees! Plus, fresh strawberries will always be significantly better than store-bought, as the sugar in them start to starch almost immediately after being picked.
Strawberries need 6-10 hours of direct sunlight and prefer well-drained soil that’s a mix of sand, silt, and clay. Compost is a good addition to where you’re planting strawberries. Different varieties of strawberries will produce berries at different times but as a whole, strawberries should be planted in early spring and will usually produce sometime between June and late August.
Sunflowers are large, bright, and iconic flowers. In fact, there are several sunflower fields and festivals in Washington state! There are several varieties of sunflowers that do well in all zones and attract birds and bees. As imagined, these flowers need full sun and may require support once they’re as a certain height (as they can grow quite tall!). One variety can be over 16 feet tall. They’re also drought-resistant so avoid overwatering and plant in well-draining soil.
Sunflowers also do well growing with corn, beans, and squash and all are native to the Americas. Some indigenous American tribes would plant corn, sunflowers, beans, and squash together. Corn and sunflower stalks provide the support pole beans need, while the beans help bring nitrogen into the soil and the squash help keep the soil cool and moist while also discouraging pests and weeds.
Yarrow is a drought-tolerant plant that has clusters of small yellow, pink, white, red, or light purple flowers. In addition to being great for butterflies, bees, and even ladybugs, yarrow is a biodynamic accumulator and the deadheaded flowers are a great addition to mulch or compost. Like lavender, don’t overwater this plant! And make sure to plant responsibly, as yarrow can be a bit of an invasive grower.
Planting and maintaining a pollinator-friendly garden takes a lot of work but can be worth all the effort! In addition to providing a healthy ecosystem to pollinators and other animals/insects, gardens can provide beautiful flowers and fresh vegetables. There are plenty of resources available to gardeners of all levels. Here are just a few examples:
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which includes a how-to guide on numerous plants and planting calenders
- The Spruce Gardening
- Morning Chores, a site with resources about gardening, homesteading, raising chickens, and more.
- Homestead and Chill: Garden Category
- The Seattle Urban Farm Company
Do you have a garden? What’s your favorite thing to plant?