Swallowtail Butterflies visiting bright orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)Swallowtail Butterflies visiting bright orange Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

The Nectar Garden: The Importance of Planting a Haven for Pollinators

By David Salman, High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturist

Pollinators are the pulse of the planet. To say pollination is an important process would be an understatement.  Pollinators such as native bees, bumblebees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds, need flowers for pollen and nectar to survive. The flowers need them, to help accomplish the pollination process that so the plants can propagate themselves.  A healthy pollinator population means the area of the Earth on which they live is also healthy. 

A large number of the Earth’s edible plants create their fruit and seeds with the help of pollinators moving pollen from plant to plant. We humans, along with the rest of the world’s animals, depend on this essential food cycle for our survival.

Penstemon has nectar-rich blooms, attractive to bees and butterflies.Penstemon has nectar-rich blooms, attractive to bees and butterflies.
Penstemon has nectar-rich blooms, attractive to bees and butterflies.

3 Pollinator Garden Essentials

As gardeners, we are involved in the pollination process even if we don’t think about it.  And that’s because we love planting flowers!  So when we plant an abundant garden or landscape and care for these plants in an organic environment, it provides for us humans too.  This helps to complete the web of life.

To plan and plant a nectar garden for pollinators, we need to provide three basic elements:

  1. Shelter – buildings and gardens provide places where insects and hummingbirds can live.
  2. Water – a source of water is essential.
  3. Food Source – the plants that feed themselves and their young.
Hot Lips Salvia has nectar-rich hot-pink/red flowers to attract butterflies.Hot Lips Salvia has nectar-rich hot-pink/red flowers to attract butterflies.
Hot Lips Salvia has nectar-rich hot-pink/red flowers to attract butterflies.

Food For Pollinators At All Life Stages

The fun part for gardeners is, of course, planting the plants that provide for the pollinators.  We do this with two groups of plants: the food plants for caterpillars (of moths and butterflies) and nectar sources for adult moths and butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

  • Herbs provide an excellent source of leaves for caterpillars. Always plant extra so there is enough for you and the caterpillars. Don’t forget Milkweed (Asclepias) for Monarch caterpillars.
  • Flowering perennials, shrubs, and trees - provide nectar-rich flowers for adult moths and butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

Host plants are the plants that have co-evolved with certain species of insects and are essential for their survival. For example, Milkweed (Asclepias) is the host plant for Monarch Butterflies. Learn more about Monarchs & Milkweed.

Beebalm (Monarda) has tubular shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds.Beebalm (Monarda) has tubular shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds.
Beebalm (Monarda) has tubular shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds.

Natural Nectar For Hummingbirds

I am an enthusiastic hummingbird gardener, so I’m always planting flowering plants to attract them. Want to see the magic of hummingbirds in your garden? Learn more in this helpful guide: Making Your Yard A Hummingbird Magnet.

Some of my favorite hummingbird plants:

Shop Hummingbird Favorite Perennials

Natural Nectar For Butterflies, Moths & Bees

Want to see your garden buzzing with life? Learn more in our helpful guides: Providing Habitat for Bumblebees: Gardening with A Big Buzz and How To Plant A Butterfly Garden.

Some of my favorite plants for butterflies, moths, and all kinds of bees: 

Shop Pollinator-Friendly Perennials

by David Salman

Hot Lips Salvia with Monarch Butterfly
Hot Lips Salvia has nectar-rich hot-pink/red flowers to attract butterflies.

To say pollination is an important process would be an understatement.  A large number of the Earth’s edible plants create their fruit and seeds with the help of pollinators moving pollen from plant to plant. And we humans, along with the rest of the world’s animals, depend on this essential food cycle for our survival.

Pollinators (such as native bees, bumblebees, honey bees, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds) need flowers for pollen and nectar. And the flowers need them, to help accomplish the pollination process that sets the seeds and fruits so the plants can propagate themselves.  A healthy pollinator population means the area of the Earth on which they live is also healthy. Pollinators are the pulse of the planet.

bee landing on penstemon
Penstemon has nectar-rich blooms, attractive to bees and butterflies.

As gardeners, we are involved in the pollination process even if we don’t think about it.  And that’s because we love planting flowers!  So when we plant an abundant garden or landscape and care for these plants in an organic environment, it provides for us humans too.  This helps to complete the web of life.

To plan and plant a nectar garden for pollinators, we need to provide three basic elements:

  • Shelter – buildings and gardens provide places where insects and hummingbirds can live
  • Water – a source of water is essential.
  • Food Source – the plants that feed themselves and their young.

The fun part for gardeners is, of course, planting the plants that provide for the pollinators.  We do this with two groups of plants; the food plants for caterpillars (moths and butterflies) and nectar sources for adult moths and butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

  Herbs – provide an excellent source of leaves for caterpillars. Always plant extra so there is enough for you and the caterpillars. And don’t forget Milkweed (Asclepias) for Monarch caterpillars.

  Flowering perennials, shrubs and trees - provide nectar-rich flowers for adult moths and butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

Hummingbird on Bee BalmBeebalm (Monarda) has tubular shaped flowers that attract hummingbirds.

I am an enthusiastic hummingbird gardener, so I’m always planting flowering plants to attract them.

Some of my favorite hummingbird plants in this category include:

  1. Red Agastache Red Happiness, Agastache Red Happiness, Red Happiness Hummingbird Mint

    'Red Happiness' Agastache is a cold hardy, red flowered Hummingbird Mint that blooms for many weeks from mid-summer. Outstanding for attracting hummingbirds. Exclusive....

    Learn More
    Red Happiness Agastache Red Happiness Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop) Agastache Red Happiness
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    'Red Happiness' Agastache is a cold hardy, red flowered Hummingbird Mint that blooms for many weeks from mid-summer. Outstanding for attracting hummingbirds. Exclusive.
  2. Aquilegia chrysantha, Golden Spur Columbine flower closeup

    30-36" tall x 18" wide. Golden Spur columbine yellow blooms for months beginning in late spring with a profusion of large, cheerful yellow flowers that attract hummingbirds. Allow th...

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    Golden Spur Columbine Golden Spur Columbine Aquilegia chrysantha
    Sale Price I Save 30%
    $9.99 Sale $6.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    30-36" tall x 18" wide. Golden Spur columbine yellow blooms for months beginning in late spring with a profusion of large, cheerful yellow flowers that attract hummingbirds. Allow the plant to reseed itself to form colorful long lived colonies. (seed propagated).
  3. Pink Agastache neomexicana, Agastache neomexicana, New Mexico Hummingbird Mint

    New Mexico Hummingbird Mint (Agastache neomexicana) is a smaller growing species with narrow spikes of aromatic lavender-pink flowers. A very upright grower, Agastache neomexicana at...

    Learn More
    Agastache neomexicana New Mexico Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop) Agastache neomexicana
    $9.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot

    New Mexico Hummingbird Mint (Agastache neomexicana) is a smaller growing species with narrow spikes of aromatic lavender-pink flowers. A very upright grower, Agastache neomexicana attracts butterflies and bees to its nectar rich flowers.

  4. Aquilegia canadensis Little Lanterns Employee Photo From Our Test Gardens

    Little Lanterns is a dwarf selection of a columbine native to the Eastern US. The nodding bright red and yellow flowers appear in late spring and are magnets for hummingbirds....

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    Little Lanterns Columbine Little Lanterns Columbine Aquilegia canadensis Little Lanterns
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Little Lanterns is a dwarf selection of a columbine native to the Eastern US. The nodding bright red and yellow flowers appear in late spring and are magnets for hummingbirds.

Some of my favorite plants for butterflies, moths and all kinds of bees, I recommend:

  1. Echinacea purpurea Magnus

    Magnus is a distinctive, vigorous and large growing cone flower cultivar. The bright reddish-pink petals of its huge flowers are held flat as they radiate out from the cone, instead ...

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    Magnus Echinacea Magnus Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Magnus
    $10.49
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Magnus is a distinctive, vigorous and large growing cone flower cultivar. The bright reddish-pink petals of its huge flowers are held flat as they radiate out from the cone, instead of curving backwards as is typical of most coneflowers.
  2. Select Blue Catmint, Nepeta faassenii Select Blue

    Nepeta 'Select Blue' (Select Blue Catmint) is a fantastic xeric perennial with dramatic lavender-blue flowers and handsome gray-green foliage. A recurrent bloomer, the first flush of...

    Learn More
    Select Blue Nepeta Select Blue Catmint Nepeta faassenii Select Blue
    As low as $10.99 Sale $7.69
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Nepeta 'Select Blue' (Select Blue Catmint) is a fantastic xeric perennial with dramatic lavender-blue flowers and handsome gray-green foliage. A recurrent bloomer, the first flush of flowers comes in late spring, and again later in summer. A long-lived, easily grown perennial, this is an excellent plant for beginners.
  3. Blue and Purple Lavandula angustifolia Munstead Violet, Lavandula angustifolia Munstead Violet, Munstead Violet English Lavender

    This HCG introduction is a selection of English lavender has some of the darkest colored flowers you'll ever see making it a stand-out in your garden! Faster growing than other dark ...

    Learn More
    Munstead Violet English Lavender Munstead Violet English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia Munstead Violet
    As low as $13.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    This HCG introduction is a selection of English lavender has some of the darkest colored flowers you'll ever see making it a stand-out in your garden! Faster growing than other dark colored Lavender selections like 'Hidcote'.
  4. Black Eyed Susan Goldsturm, Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm

    Rudbeckia Goldsturm blooms in mid-to-late summer with an eye-catching display of golden flowers. Black Eyed Susan is very attractive to butterflies and the seed heads provide winter ...

    Learn More
    Goldsturm Black Eyed Susan Black Eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida Goldsturm
    As low as $9.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Rudbeckia Goldsturm blooms in mid-to-late summer with an eye-catching display of golden flowers. Black Eyed Susan is very attractive to butterflies and the seed heads provide winter food for seed-eating songbirds as well. Reliable and tough, Rudbeckia tolerates both drought and clay plus easy to maintain.
Text and Photos By David Salman

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