Perennials For Pollinators

A close-up of a bee pollinating a purple flower
Learn how to attract bees and other pollinators to your yard.
June 19, 2017

What’s the big buzz in gardens today? Planting for pollinators—the bees, butterflies, moths, and other creatures that spread pollen from bloom to bloom. Most flowering plants can’t reproduce without this help from animals. The pollinators depend on a ready food supply, and you can help by planting with them in mind.

September is a good time to plant or divide perennials. Try these pollinator-friendly plants, found at the Arboretum but just as much at home in your garden.


Bee on golden flower petals

Prairie tickseed (Coreopsis palmata): At only 12 to 18 inches tall, this species is relatively compact for a prairie plant. You can find many cultivated varieties and hybrids of coreopsis, but as with coneflowers, the ones closest to the natural form are the most use to pollinators.

Bee on purple flower

Jeana tall phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’): All varieties of the native tall phlox are excellent nectar plants. This variety is a particular magnet for swallowtail butterflies, such as the eastern swallowtail shown here, as well as hummingbird moths. Plant in full sun to light shade in well drained soil.

Bee on small light purple flowers

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta): This plant’s cloud of tiny white blooms attracts many kinds of busy bees starting in midsummer. It’s a reliable, drought-tolerant plant for full sun that mixes well with other sturdy sun-lovers, such as catmint, ornamental grasses, and daylilies.

Bee on purple coneflower

Pica Bella coneflower (Echinacea ‘Pica bella’): Of the many coneflower hybrids and varieties sold today, this is one of the best, according to Todd Jacobson, head of horticulture at the Arboretum. Coneflower varieties with the natural, open, daisylike flower form of the native species are most accessible to pollinators. Plant coneflowers in full sun and well-drained soil.

Butterfly on purple flower

Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa): This native of moist prairies is a balm not just to bees, but to many kinds of butterflies and moths. Plant it in full sun and well-drained soil.

Small orange flowers

Butterfly weed (Ascelpias tuberosa): Don’t let the common name turn you off. This Midwestern native is no weed, but a drought-tolerant dazzler with bright orange late-summer blooms. Since it’s a kind of milkweed, it provides habitat for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies as they make their annual multigeneration migration from Mexico to Canada and back.

Bee on yellow coneflower

Yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata): This tallgrass prairie plant can grow up to four feet tall, so it works best in a combination with grasses or other tall perennials. It would be a good drought-tolerant choice for the back of the garden site in full sun and well-drained soil.

To learn more about pollinator plants, reach out to the experts at our Plant Clinic