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What is a Pollinator Garden?

By Edited Feb 12, 2014 0 0
Leaf-Cutter Bee on Butterfly Weed
Credit: Photo by Jack Wolf

Attract butterflies and beneficial insects to your garden

Do you love delicate butterflies fluttering about in your garden? You can design a garden specifically to attract butterflies and other fascinating creatures to your yard.

Set aside part of your yard for pollinators. You can design a garden area to attract these wonderful insect friends, improve pollination in your garden, and add beauty to your yard with colorful flowers.

Your garden plants can attract beautiful butterflies, native bees, and other wonderful creatures to your garden. Seventy-five to 90 percent of plants rely on animals to help pollinate their flowers. Some pollinators, like monarch butterflies, may seek only one plant or one kind of plant while other pollinators make use if a wide varieties of plants. Pollinator gardens attract pollinators by giving the pollinators what they really want; pollen, nectar, and places to lay their eggs and raise their young. 

Benefits of Pollinator Gardens

Pollinator gardens benefit gardens and gardeners in many ways.

  1. Attract pollinating insects to your garden
  2. Add movement and color to the garden
  3. Add educational value
  4. Encourage beneficial insects to visit your garden

First, pollinator gardens attract beneficial insects and animals to your backyard or garden. If you have fruit trees or a vegetable garden, you want these pollination helpers to stick around and pollinate your crops. Many of the most vegetable garden plants like cucumbers, tomatoes, and watermelon will not produce unless honey bees and other pollinators help pollinate the flowers. Attracting pollinators to your garden can really boost your garden's harvest.

Second, pollinators add movement and color to the garden. The buzzing of bees and fluttering of colorful butterfly wings animates the garden. Who can resist watching hummingbirds sip sweet nectar from flowers? Pollinators bring action to the garden. 

Third, pollinators are a great way to teach children about nature. Kids are naturally inquisitive and will quickly notice the creatures that visit the garden. Grow larval plants, like milkweed, so your children or grandchildren can watch butterflies develop from eggs to caterpillars, and finally, adult butterflies. Pollinator gardens are educational and fun for the family. 

Fourth, many pollinators are also beneficial insects that prey on bugs that eat your favorite plants. For example, many stingless wasps feed on pollen-rich flowers. If the adults stick around, they may lay their eggs on harmful caterpillar eggs (like the dreaded corn earworm) and help naturally control some garden pests. 

There are many benefits that come with growing an attractive, wildlife-friendly pollinator garden.

Salvia Blooming in the Pollinator Garden
Credit: Photo by Albuquerque BioPark

Types of Pollinator Gardens

Pollinator gardens come in many shapes, sizes an types. Some gardens design their pollinator garden in a naturalistic while other butterfly gardens are tidy examples of modern garden design. You can choose to design a pollinator garden to fit your landscape and garden style. 

Naturalistic Gardens

Naturalistic gardens use flowing informal design elements to mimic or suggest natural wildflower meadows. Native flower species are effective at attracting local pollinating insects into the garden. Check with a local nursery for native species that grow well in your climate and garden conditions. 

Add Pollinator Plants to an Existing Landscape

Even if you do not have space for a dedicated pollinator garden, you can still add pollinator-attracting plants to an existing landscape. Plant perennial flowers like butterfly weed, daisies, and salvias to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Sunflowers planted in a vegetable garden attract many beneficial insects. These insects stick around and pollinate your favorite vegetables. By selecting plants that attract pollinating insects, any garden can become a pollinator garden.  

Pollinator Plants in Pots 

If you have limited garden space, you can still attract pollinators with potted plants. Some salvias grow very well in containers and attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Even adventuresome apartment-dwellers can have a miniature pollinator garden on a sunny balcony or patio. Container gardens can host a large population of beneficial pollinating insects while adding beauty and joy to your home.

How to Attract Pollinators

Pollinators need food and shelter. The easiest way to get pollinators to flock to your yard is to plant the flowers that give them what they want: nectar and pollen. Select plants that bloom early in the spring to feed emerging pollinators as the awaken from winter dormancy. Summer flowers keep the pollinator population thriving. Late-blooming flowers feed migrating hummingbirds as they fly to the tropics for the winter. 

Some flowers are better-suited for certain types of pollinators. 


Hummingbirds prefer tubular or trumpet-shaped flowers that are bright red, magenta, or purple. Salvia and penstemons are two flower groups that attract many species of hummingbirds.

Butterflies and Moths

Butterflies prefer flowers that give copious quantities of nectar and have a landing surface to support their bodies as they feed. Plants with daisy-like flowers are highly sought after by most butterflies. Zinnias, black-eye Susan, and butterfly bush are good choices for the pollinator garden.

Honeybees and Beneficial Wasps

Bees and beneficial wasps require pollen and seek out pollen-bearing flowers early in the day. Later in the day, they turn their attention towards nectar-bearing flowers. Fortunately, docile honey bees will visit nearly any blooming plant in the garden. Some particular favorite blooming plants include summer-blooming zinnias, roses, hollyhock, prickly pear cacti, and trumpet vine. 

Pollinator Garden Plants

Many easy-to-grow flowers are perfect additions to the pollinator garden and home landscape. The following plants are readily available from garden centers, nurseries, or mail order sources. Plant a couple of these selections and sit back and enjoy the beautiful pollinators that flock to your flowers.


Monarch butterflies absolutely love milkweed flowers. There are several species of milkweed that grow throughout the United States. Orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is the most common variety. Plants grow between 12 to 30 inches tall and spread equally wide. Orange to orange-red flowers bloom in spring and summer. Sow from seeds in the spring or plant nursery-grown plants anytime. Monarch butterflies need milkweed plants to survive. Monarch butterflies lay eggs on exclusively on milkweed leaves and young striped caterpillars eat a few of the leaves until they grow into a beautiful butterfly. Ask you local garden center to recommend other species that thrive in your area. 


Zinnias are the work horses of the summer flower garden. Flowers come in several different shapes and sizes from low-growing to three-foot tall giants. Butterflies sip nectar from the blossoms all day. Hummingbirds also like the flowers. Plant seeds or young nursery-grown plants in the spring when the soil is warm. The taller varieties make excellent cut flowers. Easy to grow.


Nothing attracts fanciful hummingbirds like the brightly colored, tubular flowers on salvias. Hummingbirds stick their long beaks into the long tubes to sip nectar. Butterflies also visit the flowers. There are several different kinds of Salvia (also known as sage) available for gardeners. Autumn sage is an evergreen shrub that sports bright red flowers from spring to fall. Scarlet Salvia is an annual bedding plant that has showy bright red flowers. Mealy cup sage has blue-purple flowers and thrives in hot areas. Plant heights and climate adaptations vary by species. Many more varieties of salvias are readily available at your local garden center. 


Sunny yellow sunflowers are extremely useful for attracting native bees and beneficial insects to your garden. Bees and predatory wasps love the copious amounts of pollen found on sunflower blossoms. Your garden will benefit by attracting these beneficial insects because many of the also prey on insects that attack your favorite garden plants. Plant in vegetable gardens to help increase pollination of corn, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, and other crops. Sunflowers range in size from a couple of feet to 12 or more feet tall. Plant seeds in warm soil in the spring or summer. Stagger plantings for an extended bloom season. As an added bonus, some varieties produce edible seeds. All any birds relish the mature seeds. Buy seeds at garden centers or from mail-order catalogs. Fun for kids to plant and grow.

Shasta Daisy

Butterflies use the daisy's broad snow-white petals as a landing platform. Shasta daisies have been among gardeners favorite flowering perennials for years. White petals surround bright yellow centers where butterflies sip sweet nectar. Plant in full sun or light shade. Flowering plats grow two or three feet tall and are long-lived. Easy for beginners.

Monarch Butterfly(102258)
Credit: Photo by Danielle Bauer

Pollinator Gardens Are Beautiful and Beneficial

Growing wonderful flowers and attracting beautiful butterflies and other helpful insects benefits you garden in many ways. It is easy to create a new pollinator garden in part of your yard or include plants that attract pollinators in your existing landscape. Creating habitat for pollinators even improves yields in vegetable gardens. Next time you pick up plants for the garden, pick up some flowers with pollinators in mind.



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