Give your garden a beautiful boost and help out wild pollinators too!

Johanna Silver
April 16, 2020
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Wild pollinators, like birds, bees and butterflies, are responsible for an estimated one out of every three bites of food we eat—but many are under threat. So return the favor with what you plant in your garden this year. Below are five plants to include in your garden that bees, butterflies and hummingbirds will flock to.

Melissa Garden

Basil

Humans aren't the only basil fans—pollinators also go gaga for it. Gardeners typically pinch flowers off to make the plant focus energy on its flavorful leaves, but there are some types that are bred specifically for their abundant blooms. Magic Mountain and Wild Magic flower all summer, attracting bees and others and grow wonderfully in containers. (Culinary basil, such as Genovese, works too. But while it's tastier for you, it doesn't have the same flowering power.

Penstemon

There's a penstemon (aka beard tongue) for every garden, whether you want something bright orange or pale purple, petite or towering. It's a draw for various pollinators, but red flowers will attract the most hummingbirds. Try the Venus or Palmer's penstemon if you live in the Western U.S., large-flowered penstemon in Midwest regions and smooth penstemon in the East.

Melissa Garden

Aster

Asters' daisy-shaped faces pop out right when many flowers close up shop in late summer and fall, making them an important source of nectar for butterflies, moths and bees when food is in shorter supply. Petals come in various hues of purple, pink and white. Try planting smooth blue aster in the East and Midwest, and Pacific aster or Douglas aster in the West. Short on garden space? This is another plant that grows just fine in pots.

Lupine

In shades of blue, purple, white and yellow, these tall flower spires—which bloom atop gorgeous, textured foliage—are a major draw for all types of bees and many butterflies. Perennial (wild) lupine is most common in the East. Silvery lupine is native to the Great Basin, Rocky Mountains and Southwest, while West Coasters can look for the yellow-flowered annual golden lupine.

Melissa Garden

Milkweed

Milkweed is the only host plant for the -monarch butterfly, meaning it's the one place females lay their eggs and young caterpillars feed. It offers nectar to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds too. Consider planting the widely available swamp milkweed and butterfly milkweed.

Danita Delmont/Offset

Not sure what variety to choose? When in doubt, ask your local nursery which will grow best in your region. For more on plants and gardening, check out Plant Your Plate.

This story originally appeared in EatingWell Magazine May 2020.