In the height of summer, when most farms are busy with the harvest of summer's sumptuous fruits and vegetables, pollinators are busy drinking nectar from our seed farm's various crops: towering lettuces, branching broccoli, skyscraping parsnips, globeing alliums, and many more crops in the first stages of developing seed. Since basically everything we grow on the seed farm flowers and produces pollen, our seed sanctuary doubles as a pollinator sanctuary too. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement. Without pollinators, our work saving seed would be impossible, and in turn, the world would miss out on three-quarters of the flower and vegetable crops in cultivation.
While much could be done on a large scale to help protect these valued members of the eco-system, we can all help out in a small way by creating habitats for pollinators in our own gardens, terraces, porches and yards. Here are three tips to keep in mind when planning your space and choosing varieties, followed by 20 variety recommendations to consider this year:
1. Plant a variety of species. A broader variety of plant species can attract a broader variety of insect species too. In addition, planting a variety of flowers that bloom over different periods will give food to pollinators over a longer period.
2. Create undisturbed spaces. While honey bees may reside in bee hives, not all pollinator habitats are so obvious! Many dwell and nest under ground, and some are reared on plants themselves. Be sure to have areas in and around your garden where soil and plants are undisturbed, preferably near or under one of your planted spaces so you will reap the benefit of their habitat.
3. Let there be flowers! As proven by the seed farm, you need not simply limit yourself to traditional flowers when creating a pollinator habitat. Many herbs and vegetables are attractive to many pollinator species as well. Whatever combination of plants you choose, just remember, let them flower.
1. Gift Zinnia made the number one slot because the bright orange-red blooms attract slews of hummingbirds, bees and butterflies--so many that it makes the farm seem magical! 36" high plants begin blooming mid-season until frost. (Note: Any zinnia variety is great!)
2. Borage not only produces tasty little blue flowers, but it feeds bees well with its high nectar production too. Blooms early in the spring, and if allowed to self sow, it will bloom in the fall too.
3. While all sunflower varieties attract several species of bees and beetles, we like the petite Teddy Bear Sunflower, since they can be planted in compact spaces. Reaches 24-36" high. Blooms mid-to-late season.
4. Spider Flower, aka Cleome is a striking wildflower with white, pink and purple flowers that attract bees, butterflies and moths. Plants reach up to 48" high, but can be squeezed into small garden spaces. Blooms continually starting mid-season.
5. Let the healing properties of Yarrow Mix extend to the eco-system of your space. The coral-red, yellows and whites in this blend attract bees, butterflies, moths. A great perennial choice if limited on space. Blooms mid-season.
6. The Balloon Vine crops in 2012 and 2013 created the loudest buzz on the seed farm--figurative buzz that is. These tall vines are covered in small white flowers that attract bees like no other. Requires trellising. Blooms mid-late season. Recommended only in northern zones.
7. The white blooms of the evening-opening Moon Flowers attract night pollinators such as Luna moths. Blooms late season. Vines reach 12' high and are good in small spaces (or large spaces) with trellises or structures to climb on. (Note: Interested in attracting evening pollinators? Check out Evening Primrose and Polar Bear Zinnia too.)
9. Echinacea's purple flowers attract several species of butterflies, as well as bees. Established plants are a gem in the landscape, producing an abundance of flowers in one season. Blooms mid-late season.
10. Get more variety in one pack with Good Bug Blooms. It was formulated to attract all sorts of beneficial insects--including bees and butterflies. Blooms over a long period, mid-late season.
11. Polka Dot Mix Bachelor Buttons secrete nectar even when they aren't flowering! The high sugar content of these plants is food for many insects. Blooms early.
12. While Mammoth Long Island Dill produces the biggest, most abundant flowers, Bouquet Dill is a nice choice too. The broad yellow blooms attract bees. Blooms early t0 mid season, depending on the timing of the planting.
13. The purple-pink blooms of Common Sage attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Compact plants require little fertility. Blooms early to mid-season in the second year.
14. An Oregano patch is a forever companion--it never goes away! Let it flower in the spring after you've had your fill and you'll notice the bees and butterflies will be grateful. Blooms early season and often again in the fall as well.
15. Chives, both common and Garlic, are great pollinator attractors. Common Chives have pink blooms that open early, providing food in the spring when not much else is flowering. Garlic Chives bloom mid-season with white blossoms that attract mostly bees but some butterflies too.
16. While the gardener in you might hate to see basil flower, you might let some go for your pollinator friends. The sweet, numerous blooms are great food for bees, butterflies, moths and beetles. Blooms early to late season, depending on the planting.
Many of our beloved vegetables require the work of pollinators. because of their co-evolution, they are quite attractive to the species that pollinate them.
17. Members of the Brassica rapa species, aka Asian Greens, are quick to bolt once the heat of late spring sets in. Instead of ripping them all out, consider leaving some in. The yellow flowers and high nectar production are attractive to bees. Blooms early to late season depending on the planting date.
18. Squash plants attract both bees, beetles and flies with their large orange male flowers, full of sweet nectar. Violina Rugosa Butternut Squash have long vines that produce flowers over a long season. Blooms mid to late season. Requires 6' per plant.
19. Brassicas have co-evolved with pollinators. To produce viable seed, they require the help of bees to carry pollen from one plant to the next, since they can't self pollinate. After cutting the first head of Broccoli, let the side shoots flower on a couple plants and just watch the bees do their work.
20. You might not notice in a regular garden setting, but lettuce is in the same family as many beloved flowers, Asteraceae. While lettuce's cousins Flashback Calendula, German Chamomile, and Tiger Paw Aster might be obvious, and excellent, pollinator attracting choices, we also like Flashy Butteroak for its succulent leaves and broad base that can support a tall, flowering stalk.
It was hard to choose just 20 varieties! There are many many more varieties in our catalog that could be added, and even more species of flowering shrubs and trees that provide nectar in early spring and are great pollinator habitats. Be sure to check with your local native nursery for more variety recommendations.