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Are you thinking about planting a flower garden? Are you looking for flowers that pollinators will love? If so, I’m going to share my list of the 10 best flowers that pollinators can’t get enough of in my garden. In my opinion these plants will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Not only are they top performers in my flowerbeds but they see the most activity from winged and feathered friends.
My gardens are located in zone 6b so the plants I’m going to suggest are rated to at least there. Most can survive higher north but always check with your garden center or plant nursery to be sure. I’m sure you could find other flowers that pollinators love, too but these are my personal faves. Alright let’s dig in (pun intended).
Flowers that pollinators love
Nepeta x faassenii Walker’s Low (Catmint) – This catmint has been a magnet for butterflies and bees all Summer long. It’s a herbaceous mounding perennial that has fragrant gray-green leaves and beautiful lavender-blue trumpet-shaped flowers. Catmint grows well in full sun and prefers well-drained soil. As a matter of fact, they are drought tolerant once established. You can give them a trim after the first bloom to tidy them up and encourage another bloom. I did not trim mine this year and they bloomed all Summer but looked a little floppy.
This plant is wonderful for softening lines in the garden or hiding the base of leggy shrubs or flowers. The size of these profuse bloomers surprised me. The tag stated 1′ – 3′ H x 1.5′ – 3′ W and they are every bit of 3 feet wide. Give them room to spread! Mine are about 2 feet tall. Walker’s Low plants are also deer and rabbit resistant so you won’t have to worry about someone nibbling them away. I can not say enough good things about this perennial. It is a definite powerhouse in the flowerbed.
Sedum talphium – (Hylotelphium ‘Herbstsfreude’) – Stonecrop Autumn Joy – This is the tall variety. Autumn Joy is a must-have plant for the pollinator’s garden. It’s a late-season bloomer but that what makes it so valuable to the pollinators. They are coming into bloom when other flowers are winding down for the season. There are various colors and varieties available as well as different sizes. They are hardy in zones 3-9 and perform best in full sun.
Although many sites claim that Autumn Joy is deer resistant take it from me, they are not. Mine have been eaten on multiple occasions but generally still manage to grow out. Not as well as they would typically but they will usually still push out blooms. The plant itself has thick, fleshy leaves and is an interesting foil to other finer, small-leafed plants. You can expect to see this plant covered in bees and butterflies once it blooms.
Rudbeckia laciniata – Cutleaf Coneflower – Greenheaded Coneflower – This flower may be considered a wildflower in your area. There is a cultivar species called ‘Golden Glow’ but that is not the one I grow so I can only speak for my variety. One of the most noticeable characteristics of this plant is the height. It may be the tallest flower in your garden. Though stated to grow 4′ – 7′ tall if conditions are right these could grow up to 10 feet tall! This year mine towered above the rest of the garden and doubled in width. Because of the height and weight of the flowers, they may require staking. Mine did this year and last.
Atop the tall, thick stems are 2 – 4 inch yellow flowers with green middles that eventually yellow over time. These giants attract a huge variety of bees to the garden. there is a constant buzz around them. But it’s not just bumblebees, honey bees, and wasps that love them. Ours attracted a nice variety of butterflies, too. Toward the middle to end of the flowering season, finches love to eat the seeds from the cones. These plants do well in zones 4 – 8.
Echinacea – Coneflower – Coneflowers are one of my very favorite flowers. I love the way they look in the garden. Something about them just appeals to me. Coneflowers are hardy in zones 3 – 9 and grow best in full sun. Purple coneflower is the most popular variety but there are so many new varieties you can find a wide range of colors to fit into your garden scheme. I have about five different varieties in my gardens. What I love about coneflowers is that they attract various types of critters. During the blooming period, they draw bees and butterflies galore. When the plants start drying up for the season the cones draw in finches and other small birds which eat the seeds that are left in them.
From my experience, coneflowers like well-drained soil. Not dry soil and not wet soil. When mine weren’t performing as well as I thought they should’ve I built up my flowerbed to allow for better drainage. That did the trick and they took off. At the same time, the coneflowers growing in a drier, shadier part of the yard lack the vitality of the replanted bunches and often look parched and wilted. So even though they are considered drought tolerant once established I find mine look healthier in beds that receive rain and are not obstructed by trees or overhangs.
Asclepias – Milkweed – I have three types of milkweed in my garden right now. Common, swamp and butterfly weed. There are over 100 species of milkweed so choose a variety suited for your zone or region. Milkweed serves a dual purpose in the garden. First, it’s a great source of nectar for a lot of different pollinators. There are always bees, wasps and butterflies hovering around the light pink flowers. Different varieties produce different colored flowers but all of mine are pink. Secondly, it’s the only host plant for Monarch caterpillars. This means in order to raise Monarch butterflies you will need to have milkweed on hand.
I would suggest planting at least two varieties because of staggered bloom times. In my area, common milkweed stops blooming before the swamp milkweed does. Even though it stops blooming it still serves a very important purpose. The larger leaves make a hearty meal for the caterpillars. Milkweed varies in height but the varieties I have grow to about 4 feet. The butterfly weed is much shorter and more compact. It also has orange-colored flowers. Check what kind of conditions your milkweed variety grows best in. Swamp milkweed prefers moist soil while common and butterfly weed do best in well-drained soil. While all of my varieties are listed for my zone, butterfly weed tends to be a bit more fragile so I’ve had to replace it a couple of times.
Joe Pye Weed
Eupatorium dubium – Joe Pye Weed – Little Joe – Joe Pye Weed is a great nectar source for pollinators. The variety I have, Little Joe is a more compact version but over the years as it’s become more developed in my garden the size has exploded. The typical size is 3′ – 4′ H x 2′ – 3′ W but some of my stalks are closer to 5 feet tall! This plant grows best in full sun and does not like dry, shady conditions. In my beds, it thrives in moist ground and sun while the drier, shadier sections appear to wilt more and are shorter.
Bees love this midsummer blooming herbaceous perennial! Butterflies also flock to it and appear to enjoy perching on the large, mauvey-pink flower heads. I’ve had my Joe Pye for at least ten years and only recently noticed that it has spread to some of my other beds. Keep that in mind when planting. Little Joe works well in zones 4 – 10.
Hyacinth Bean Vine
Lablab purpureus – Hyacinth Bean Vine – I have been a fan of this annual vine for years. It has big beautiful heart-shaped leaves that are green with a tinge of purple. The stems also have a purple tint but it’s the sweet pea-like flowers that steal the show. And it’s no wonder, they are both from the Fabaceae family. The most unique part of the vine though are the pods. They are dark purple seed pods about the size of sugar peas that hang off the vine. They can be harvested at the end of the season and planted the following spring.
Hyacinth Bean Vine will grow in almost any type of soil but mine do best in soil that’s been amended with compost or mushroom soil. This vine will need a sturdy support to climb up and twine around. It climbs by way of tendrils. Once full-grown it can reach about 10 – 15 feet. Plant in full sun for best performance. Hyacinth Bean Vine blooms in mid-summer into fall and will attract hummingbirds.
Canna x generalis – Canna Lily – Canna lilies are tender perennials that form by way of bulbs or rhizomes. They have a major tropical look and feel to them. Because they are not hardy the bulbs or rhizomes must be dug up each fall in zones lower than 8. The bulbs can be stored in a cool dry place until next spring when they can be replanted after the threat of frost is gone.
There are different varieties of canna lilies and I honestly don’t even know what kind mine are because they were given to me by my mother in law. My cannas have large, solid green leaves and red flowers. Of all the bulbs planted in my gardens, the ones planted in the mushroom soil amended pollinator’s bed are performing the best. That’s not surprising as they prefer moist, organically rich, well-drained soil and full sun.
These plants are such a draw to hummingbirds. They are constantly flying around them. And they bloom all summer long, especially if you deadhead them. I was never a person to put tropical type plants in my flowerbeds but these cannas have definitely changed my mind.
Phlox paniculata – Garden Phlox – Phlox – This plant is fairly new to my garden. This is the first full year in the pollinator’s bed and I love it! As a matter of fact, I can’t wait to add more! There are so many cultivars of phlox to choose from. Heights can vary between 1 -5 feet and you can get almost any color of the rainbow. My variety is about 1 – 1.5 feet tall and is hot pink. Bloom time is crazy long. Buds appeared in May and June but were eaten off by deer. Thankfully the plant pushed out more buds and started blooming by July.
The long blooming season is what makes the perennial such a workhorse in the garden. Pollinators stopping by the garden for a quick fill-up can count on Phlox when other blooms are fading. Like I mentioned previously, deer are known to eat phlox though there are cultivars today that are supposed to be more deer resistant. Last but not least some varieties are susceptible to powdery mildew. Planting in full sun and not crowding plants can help alleviate this. Newer varieties are becoming mildew resistant.
Aster oblongifolium – Symphyotrichum oblongifolium – Aster October Skies – Talk about a showstopper! This Aster is absolutely stunning when in full bloom. Little purple-blue daisy-like flowers cover this mounding plant late in the season. I can hear mine buzzing when I get near it because of all of the honey bees on it. October Skies Aster is such an asset in the garden not only because of the dazzling flower display but because it’s a needed food source for migrating pollinators. This is one of my last flowers to bloom and visitors love to stop and get a snack before moving on.
There are lots and lots of varieties of Asters to choose from but I was drawn to the color of October Skies. I love the dark yellow centers against the purple-blue petals. This variety grows to around 18 inches tall by 2 feet wide. Some varieties get taller (up to 6 feet!) and others stay under 8 inches so there is one for every garden.
Because varieties can self-seed towards the end of their growing season you may find new sprouts coming up the following spring. I plucked them out this year but may try to move them next summer. Large plants can be divided in early spring. Asters are easy to grow but prefer sun. Varieties vary but are generally hardy between zones 3 and 10.
With fall here, now is the perfect time to stock up on some of these flowers. Garden centers have huge discounts this time of year and that’s how I scored a bunch of mine last year. Keep in mind that some plants may take a season to become fully established so you may not see as many blooms the first year. Some of my newer coneflowers didn’t wow me until the second year.
These 10 flowers listed above are the absolute best performers in my flowerbeds. Of course there are other plants that pollinators love but these flowers never fail to draw a crowd. Want to get a list of solid performers to print and take to the nursery? Subscribe to my newsletter and you can print that and more. You can find the sign up form on the sidebar. Have fun planting!