Plants for pollinators and beneficial insects

I have been hearing about how important many blooming plants are for the ecosystem for years, good for our native pollinators, important for many types of beneficial insects ( parasistoids , predators , etc.) I never took it really seriously.
Until …
One day while mowing my very overgrown yard , the belt broke on my ridding mower.
I went in the house to get a spare belt and a beer, went back out and sat next to the mower on “the line” between mowed and unmowed and started to work on the mower.
While sitting there drinking a beer, that’s when I noticed that the unmowed section was ALIVE , wildflowers blooming, buzzing with insect life !
The mowed section was essentially dead. Like many / most suburban yards, a carpet of green with very little life.
It just took that one beer to change my mind about what I was doing. Since then I have a new respect for keeping and allowing to bloom many plants that I formally thought of as weeds.
I now try to mow on a rotational basis , allowing some areas to get tall , bloom, while mowing some areas infrequently, mowing paths mostly so I don’t get snake bit, ticks , etc. I live on a farm that is seldom seen by the public. Not trying to impress anyone here by a well mowed landscape.
In fact ,now I despise a so called , well mowed yard ! Just NO habitat there ! Likely one of the worst things a person could do to a piece of land, in my opinion. But it seems to be the accepted norm… to create a biological Desert around your house.
Sure you could see a tiger or snake out there before it attacks, but that’s usually not the case these days for most people.
The birds and insects. + pollinators are in decline world wide.
I believe this is due to many things ….
Systemic insecticides
Destruction of habitats , mowing / herbicides.
Lack of understanding the whole concept,that many birds eat insects , feed their young on them,mowing / herbicides / weedeaters destroy the plants those insects eat.
No insects = No birds
A upper 90% of insects are beneficial, if not so ,we would be in trouble. As they outnumber us. Most people see insects as bad.
THEY FOR THE MOST PART ARE GOOD.!
In fact they are one of the important parts of our ecosystem.
With out them ,the world would be in serious trouble.
They , many of them , rely on nectar / pollen of plants,
Mostly native plants, so… it’s not that people have to plant plants for them, just don’t mow ALL the native plants down.
Sure ,add a few good plants too. To add diversity.
It’s important to have a continuous bloom all season to provide good habitat. So adding some different plants is good.
Making a nice sign for the yard that says …

Pollinator habitat

Is easier than mowing the yard !

So… I encourage you to enjoy a beverage on “the line “
Between mowed / unmowed , pay attention !
.
,please chime in, what are your best plants for pollinators and beneficial insects ?
More on good plants , to follow …

25 Likes

Out here trailing rosemary is a staple for pollinators. A single shrub works better than a bee box.

4 Likes

i 100% agree! i took my wifes 3/4 acre of lawn and converted into a food forest like set up. everything’s in lines so i only mow a decks with in between rows. i have all kinds of medicinal flowers and herbs growing in between the trees. i have wildflower patches strewn all over the yard. my 100 yrd steep ditch near the road has been converted to wildflowers so i no longer need to mow it. my neighbor across the street is the complete opposite. sprays mercilessly to kill any broadleaf plants on his lawn. he mows religiously every 3rd day whether it needs it or not. only flowers they have are in hanging baskets. fertilizers it every few weeks. most people see that as beautiful. i see it as ugly and a waste of good land. i hate grass and having to mow it. i only do it in a small area near our fire pit to make the wife happy. gladly she let me take over and grow on what was once useless lawn. now i have birds and animals here that 5 years ago weren’t around. saw my 1st ruffed grouse feeding in my big spruces last fall. this year i had a bunch of blue jays hanging around. these are considered big woods birds. yet my property is surrounded with fallow fields with only a 20ft wide strip of wood connecting me to the bigger woods 1/4 mi. up the hill. found a bed 2 years ago under my elderberry. from the look of the hair it looked to be a young moose. its only going to get thicker as every tree and bush matures. hope fully in another 3-5 years i wont have to mow as the trees will shade out that grass creating a tunnel effect while walking the rows. i cant wait!

12 Likes

Here are some things that have recently showed up since i stopped mowing. And things that i am adding as i go… I suspect that since i have created a bird sanctuary that i will continue to enjoy their seed dispersal as they migrate in and out of here…

Bull Thistle- Bees and Butterflies seem to love them. Monarchs too.

Swamp Milkweed and Common Milkweed… i have gathered thousands of seeds from pods near the roadways that nobody cares to look at. Hopefully next year i will see flowers.

Goldenrod- i have zigzag goldenrod that just showed up this year under some oaks. I plan on harvesting a few thousand seeds of wild goldenrod next month by the roadways. These seem like a no brainer…

Crimson Clover- i recently posted a video of fall sowing as a cover crop. Excellent for early forage in gardens or other bare soils that you grow things on. I plan on sewing more on some banks to see if they reseed.

Vetch- Nothing like having a good stand of crown vetch… it rewards you year after year. Hairy vetch- if you can leave it alone it will reseed… and puts on a good show early.

Pussywillows- excellent early forage.

Brown eyed susans… host for alot of insects and bees… im just getting going on these.

Zinnas- I usually buy these in packs of 2 for $1 at the dollar store… i get alot of enjoyment and so do bees and butterflies… for the buck.

Asters- My mind is blown at how many bees are hitting this right now. Bees i didnt even know i had. I have a very very large showing of these on my creek banks and its like its alive with bees. … each plant has a thousand flowers and its mesmerising to just watch them in action.

Jewelweed- A very good thing to have. Bees wear mine out…then behind them the hummingbirds… always something going on.

Honeysuckle- always good to see.

Wild Bergamot- mine is just getting going… high hopes.

I will add more later… good topic!!

If i may add to the list- habitats… I am finding that alot goes on in small brush piles… so instead of composting or burning your limbs and canes and whatnots… leave a pile here and there… insects and bees live in there and makes babies. And sleeps during winter.

14 Likes

Forgot to add Cleome. Long story short… my mom planted this sometime in the 1970’s and it still comes up near where she planted it. Me and my dad have probably mowed it for years straight…then when you dont…it comes back. The seeds must have some kind of prehistoric DNA… it takes a double dormancy to germinate…meaning you plant it and 2 yrs later you have a plant. I think easily the seeds must last underground for decades…because all i have to do is lightly till or move dirt around that area and poof here they come. So in the past 50 years they havent really moved beyond their spot… so not invasive.

Each plant gives a very good show of flowers that are irrestible to bees and butterflies… almost makes them drunk.

The plant itself smells like marijuana… on a good warm summer evening you will swear that someone is smoking weed.

Each plant gives off pods and each plant will have probably several hundred seeds. That fall and wait…and wait…and wait. Nothing eats the seeds that i can tell…so it stays put.

Definately worth growing. $1 worth of seeds for 50 years of forage is a pretty good deal.

8 Likes

Some more thoughts about this topic….

Don’t plant / encourage flowering plants under fruit trees if you spray insecticides there. This is one place nothing but short grass is appropriate. ( I don’t spray my orchard )

A continuous supply of nectar and pollen is important. All season .
Some of these pollinators / beneficials don’t move very far , some I hear only a few hundred feet or so during their whole life.
So provide blooms and habitat ,brushy areas , leaves left on ground ,hollow stems, etc as habitat. Each has its own requirements, impossible to study / provide. For them all, ?
What they likely don’t want is a short mowed, vacuumed lawn.

This does not have to look unkept. Can make habitat/ plants look like it has order / purpose to it. Can start small, expand as you can. Native plants already on sight is a good place to start.
Encourage some of the more promising ones of those is cheep, easy. Well adapted… native plants may be best, but some non native plants and many garden plants provide good beneficial blooms as well.
Mints
Clovers
Umbelifera family , ie, carrot , dill , cilantro , etc.
Aster family
Many good beneficial plants.
I am not just looking for pretty butterfly’s And honey bees.
But , rather trying to encourage our native pollinators and Especially parasitoid wasps that control many of our pest insects.
Some of these wasps are so tiny you really have to pay attention to see them, but they do a big job.

Good sources of info can be found on some podcasts and YouTube ,
I like …
Xerces Society
NRCS
Dr . Douglas Tallamy
Living web farm , native pollinators series
Denise Ellsworth
Heather Holm
Nancy Lee Adamson
Others. , many other good ones
I am all in ,on this venture to provide good habitat, with beneficial plants.
So many plants … hard to discuss them all, but we can try…?

7 Likes

They find an amazing amount of things in aged firewood…i think the little wasps too. They go in there to find the grubs and larvae then lay eggs in those things. Brush piles and stacks of firewood are another thing that people cant stand the sight of… like unmowed grass… i think in a nutshell everything insect and pollinator and beneficial likes what is unsightly to us civilized humans.

Piles of leaves are another thing that keep people up at night worrying about… alot of stuff lives in leaves…and things go in there to eat them…and overwinter.

4 Likes

I’ve tried several times to grow creeping rosemary in zone 6b.
If there’s such a thing
as a warming climate, I’ll be happy if I can finally grow this plant here someday.

Lovely plant in Atlanta or Charlotte.

3 Likes

I recently bought seeds for this with pollination in mind:
image
“Jasmine, Tobacco Seed is a fast growing ornamental that can be planted in early spring. It starts blooming in only 3 weeks after transplant and produces a profusion of sweet smelling flowers that last all summer long. The flowers close during the day and reopen in the late afternoon. Jasmine has one of the sweetest fragrances of any flower we have grown and its scent will fill the evening air in the surrounding area. It is also very attractive to Hummingbirds.”

I’m excited to try it out next season.

9 Likes

Every year I’m turning a bit more of the lawn into flowers. I started a tray of anise hyssop and bee balm and unsurprisingly, the pollinators love it. I’m already planning out what I’m going to grow next year and thanks to this thread, I’ve added cleome to my list.

7 Likes

I’ve been managing my orchard, and to a large extent my yard, to encourage pollinators and other native insects. The two plants that seem (no scientific study, just several years of observation) most popular among the bees and wasps are clustered mountain mint and various goldenrods. The mint is very hardy once established, even outcompeting crabgrass, and will have 10+ species of pollinators on it when in bloom. The goldenrods bloom late and are very showy.

A plant that I try to encourage is maypop, passiflora incarnata. There are several threads about this native fruit on the forum. The fruit can be excellent, bumblebees love it, the flower is absolutely beautiful, and the frittilary butterflies rely on it as a host plant.

6 Likes

I have lots of lavender plants and a privet hedge, there are always bees buzzing around. In fact I once discovered a beehive not too far from my house.

1 Like

I have a variety of native and native-ish plants that I’ve been adding to my 1/4 acre. Most of them are popular with the bees, wasps, and butterflies, but my #1 performer has been anise hyssop. It has a long bloom time from June to frost. It’s always covered with bees and wasps, plus the occasional butterfly, an the hummingbirds really enjoy them as well. The look great in bloom, and they provide a nice architectural element in the winter if you leave the stalks standing.

I’ve also got sweet goldenrod, wild bergamot, bee balm, New York aster, New Jersey tea, and sweet Joe Pye weed. I should also have native lupines, golden Alexanders, columbines, woodland phlox, hairy penstemon, and wild geranium blooming starting next year, and I keep adding more species every year. It’s been amazing to watch all the activity develop as these native plantings have matured.

I also want to point out some overlooked, but very important, sources of nectar and pollen for bees and wasps. In early spring, willow and maple flowers are some of the first and most abundant flowers available, and the bees flock to them. Having a few of each on or near your property are a critical component of maintaining a healthy bee population.

10 Likes

One of my projects for the next day or so …
Is to get these in the ground.
Plants sourced from Gale Of…
https://nativesinharmony.com/
at the Ohio Pawpaw festival pollinator tent. Was so glad to meet her there and get these plants with out paying shipping from somewhere .she is the best source of info about these plants I have found so far. Very knowledgeable!
I don’t think she ships plants.



10 Likes

Yes, anise hyssop, is one of my best plants for Pollinators and beneficial insects.
Bubble bees love it here, also many small beneficial wasps , etc.
A real work horse.!
Makes a wonderful tea too.!

6 Likes

Chicory is worth growing… considered a ‘honey plant’ for bees… also beetles, flies etc cant resist it… bonus is that yellow finches can perch on the stems in fall and they eat the seed…and disperse. Free seeds available along the roadside if you can beat the finches to it.

I just got these going… and am looking forward to them.

Cotoneaster

4 Likes

if there is room for annuals (that you can save the seed and plant every year)…

I enjoy lemon queen sunflower… its usually sold at the dollar store 2 packs for a dollar. However there is something that goes differently if you save the seeds. Not sure on the science behind it but if you save the seeds and replant them they come back with more heads the next year. You can easily get decades of enjoyment out of $1. Forage for bees and things…and food for birds… home for things in the spent stalks.

image

6 Likes

I like sunflowers , a good beneficial plant. But the deer have prevented me from growing them in recent years.
In fact the deer have eaten , almost to extinction many of the native good plants around here. A real problem . A situation many people have not noticed,… have not been paying attention … too how things ( plants ) used to be , not that long ago.
The main pollinators the deer have helped increase is… carrion flies during Pawpaw bloom . :grinning:

7 Likes

Nice.

Chicory is good people food, and deer love it too…but it’s a pollen plant, not necessarily a honey plant for bees. Pollen is white and scratchy.

3 Likes

It is my scientific evaluation since we are pretty close neighbors…that one cannot be a deer lover and a lover of things that grow for fruit or pollinators at the same time.

I have learned to embrace the look of cages around things… and plant things that i enjoy inside of fences.

I hate the prison warden job that i have. but its a duty i must endure for not living in the city behind picket fences.

5 Likes