Planting for Pollinators

When selecting plants for your pollinators keep the following thoughts in mind.

Asclepias tuberosa, or Butterfly Weed, is a wonder plant to attract pollinators.

Asclepias tuberosa, or Butterfly Weed, is a wonder plant to attract pollinators.

Basic Pollinator tips

  • Choose Plants native to your region.

    Native plants have been proven to be four times more attractive to pollinators than non-natives, so your first choice should be plants native to our region.
  • Choose flowers with a range of shapes and colors.

    A variety of flower shapes and colors will provide food for different kinds of pollinators.
  • Don't forget host plants for the larval stages.

    The caterpillars of butterflies and moths feed on the leaves of very specific plants. Don't forget to include these host plants in your garden.
  • Plant in drifts.

    Pollinators are more likely to find plants in gardens that provide larger drifts of color. When you purchase plants, purchase 3 or more and plant them together.
  • Provide a succession of bloom.

    Pollinators need nectar and pollen sources throughout the season so choose a variety of plants that will provide a succession of bloom from early spring through fall.
  • Avoid modern hybrids.

    Many garden plants have been manipulated for larger blooms and a show of color and have lost their ability to produce nectar. When buying annuals, purchase older heirloom varieties.
  • Don't forget trees and shrubs.

    Many woody plants provide early season nectar for pollinators and are the primary host plants for many moths and butterflies. Think of your entire yard as a pollinator habitat.

Native Perennials for a Sunny Pollinator Garden

Plant Name Common Name
Color Soil Drainage
Bloom Time
Agastache foeniculum Anise Hyssop lavender blue  well drained to dry summer to late summer 
Aquilegia canadensis  Columbine red  well drained  late spring 
Asclepias incarnata  Swamp Milkweed purple-pink  moist to wet  mid-summer 
Asclepias tuberosa  Butterfly Weed orange  well drained to dry  summer 
Eupatorium dubium Coastal Plain Joe Pye mauve pink  moist to wet  late summer 
Eupatorium hyssopifolium  Thoroughwort white  dry  late summer 
 Helianthus spp. Sunflower  yellow  moist to dry  summer 
 Helenium autumnale Sneezeweed  yellow  moist to wet  late summer 
 Liatris spicata Marsh Blazing Star  purple  moist to wet  summer 
 Lobelia cardinalis Cardinal Flower  red  moist to wet  late summer 
 Lobelia siphilitica Great Blue Lobelia  blue  moist to wet  late summer 
 Monarda fistulosa Wild Bergamot  lavender  moist  summer 
 Monarda didyma Oswego Tea  red  moist  summer 
 Penstemon digitalis Foxglove Beardtongue  white  moist  spring 
 Pycnanthemum muticum Broad-leaved Mountain Mint  silver-green  moist mid-late summer 
 Solidago nemoralis Gray Goldenrod  yellow  moist to dry  fall 
 Symphyotrichum laeve Smooth Aster purple-blue moist to dry fall 
Veronicastrum virginicum Culver's Root white moist mid-late summer
Zizia aurea Golden Alexanders yellow moist to wet spring

Native Perennials for a Shady Pollinator Garden

 Plant Name Common Name Color
Soil Drainage Bloom Time
 Aquilegia canadensis Columbine  red  well drained to dry  late spring 
 Arisaema triphyllum Jack-in-the-Pulpit  gren and brown  moist  spring 
 Eurybia divaricata White Wood Aster  white  moist to dry  fall 
 Phlox divaricata Wild Blue Phlox  lavender  moist  spring 
 Phlox stolonifera Creeping Phlox  lavender  moist  spring 
 Solidago caesia Blue Wreath Goldenrod  yellow  moist to dry  fall 
 Spigelia marilandica Indian Pink  red  moist  summer 
 Tiarella cordifolia Foamflower  white  average  spring 
 Viola canadensis Canada Violet  white  moist  spring to early summer 

Shrubs for a Pollinator Garden

Plant Name Common Name Color Soil Drainage
Bloom Time
 Ceanothus americanus New Jersey Tea white  dry, well drained  summer 
 Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush  white  wet to average  summer 
 Clethra alnifolia Summersweet  white  moist to average  summer 
 Itea virginica Virginia Sweetspire  white  wet to dry  summer 
 Salix discolor Pussy Willow  green, yellow  medium to wet  spring 

Trees for Pollinators

Plant Name Common Name
Soil Drainage
Bloom Time
 Acer rubrum Red Maple  wet to dry  early spring 
 Amelanchier laevis Serviceberry  average to dry  spring 
 Cercis canadensis Redbud  average  spring 

Many of the above native plants can be found in garden centers. Others are readily available at native plant nurseries or native plant sales sponsored by local conservation organizations. 

More Perennials and Annuals to Attract Pollinators

Plant Name
Common Name
Echinacea purpurea Purple Coneflower 
 Lavendula English Lavender 
 Ocimum Basil 
 Origanum Marjoram 
 Origanum  Oregano 
Petrosillum Parsley
 Rosmarinus Rosemary 
 Thymus Thyme 
Zinnia Zinnia 

Created February 2009, updated September 2013, Connie Schmotzer, Penn State Extension

Contact Information

Constance Schmotzer
  • Consumer Horticulture Educator
Phone: 717-840-7408