Bee Buffet: 4 Surprising Plants to Attract Pollinators

Who knew? Welcome winged wildlife with plants they can’t resist.

Cut Leaf Coneflower Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’

Bumble Bee On Coneflower

Bumble bees and other pollinators love cut leaf coneflower, Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne,’ which means Autumn Sun.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

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Roll out the red carpet for pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, flower flies and a host of other beneficial insects. Pollinating insects bring a garden to life with buzzing, hovering and flitting activity. But they’re not just fun to watch. Pollinators fuel life. When pollinating insects visit flowers to sip nectar and gather pollen, they help flowers to set seed and fruit, which become food for your kitchen table.
The common honey bee and its bumble bee cousin are probably the most recognized members of the pollinator crew.

The presence of pollinators provides a good measure of an ecosystem’s health. By filling your garden with plants that pollinators can’t resist, you can cultivate a vibrant ecosystem in your own backyard. Incorporate these four plants to increase pollinator traffic.

Bumble Bees And Carpenter Bees

Millenium Allium With Bees

Discover the beauty of the ornamental onion ‘Millenium.’ It’s a sterile hybrid, which means it won’t make seed and take over in the garden. The oniony smell makes it unattractive to deer or rabbits.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

‘Millenium’ Allium

Giant alliums steal the show in spring, but this ornamental onion opens golf ball-size blooms in mid- to late summer. Stems are sturdy and easily support flowers through summer storms. It’s a great front-of-the-border perennial, forming tidy clumps that grow 12 to 18 inches tall and wide. Like all alliums, leaves and flowers offer an oniony bite to deer and rabbits, so they tend to shun this bloomer. What makes this allium outstanding is that flowers are sterile—they don’t set seed and overrun your garden. Bees, butterflies, hoverflies and syrphid flies mob these flowers.

Flower Fly or Hoverfly

Purple Basil Flower

Purple basil flowers attract pollinators, including flower flies, also known as hoverflies.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney


Basil is celebrated for its flavorful leaves, but it also makes an excellent pollinator plant. When you’ve had your fill of basil leaves, let stems flower. Basil is a member of the mint family, and when it flowers, pollinators fight for a spot among the blooms. Flower flies, also known as hoverflies (above), commonly visit basil blossoms and stage aerial dogfights as they battle for a sip of nectar.

Basil With Red Leaf Canna

Purple Basil In Flower

Purple and green basil serve as ornamental plants in the garden, especially when harvest is complete and plants burst into bloom.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Basil in bloom adds an eye-catching element to a flower bed. This planting features two types of basil: green (Ocimum basilicum) and purple (Ocimum basilicum purpurescens). The flower spikes dry nicely when hung upside down, retaining color.

Liatris pycnostachya

Prairie Blazing Star

Prairie blazing star, Liatris pycnostachya, is the tallest liatris. Its flower stems grow 3 to 4 feet tall and burst into bloom in late summer. It’s a favorite of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Prairie Blazing Star

A native plant, prairie blazing star (Liatris pycnostachya) is a tall, stately beauty. Its shorter cousin, ‘Kobold’ Liatris spicata, is a favorite for perennial gardens and celebrated for its ability to attract pollinators, but this plant offers so much more. Plants soar to a handsome 3- to 5-foot height, with flower stems 2 to 3 feet long. As stems rise in spring, they add a strong architectural element to plantings.

Liatris Pycnostachya Stems In Spring

Prairie Blazing Star Stems

Prairie blazing star, Liatris pycnostachya, rises in the garden border in early spring, its tall stems unfurling like dancing cobras. It’s a great plant for a pollinator or wildlife garden and adds texture to plantings.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Prairie blazing star offers unexpected versatility by growing in a variety of soils: moist, clay, well-drained or fertile. Spikes flower from the top down. Open blooms beckon butterflies, moths and bees of all sorts, while ripening seeds lure goldfinches. Deer aren’t interested in this perennial, and rabbits usually ignore it.

Annual Blue Salvia

Salvia Farinacea With Native Bee

Annual blue salvia (Salvia farinacea) is a favorite among bees and butterflies.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

Salvia farinacea

Many gardeners turn to Salvia farinacea because it adds a strong blue hue to plantings, but this annual also brings something else to the garden party: all kinds of pollinators. Plant Salvia farinacea in pots on the deck and near the porch so you can watch the butterflies, bees and hoverflies as they visit blooms. Look for varieties of Salvia farinacea that open flowers in blue, white, purple and white, and deep violet. Use this annual in planting beds or containers. The secret to a strong flower show is full sun and plenty of water.

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