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. Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'

    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild popula...

    Learn More
    Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild population in its Indiana habitat. Grow this special native cultivar to add unexpected color and an interesting conversation starter to your pollinator garden. A 2021 High Country Gardens Introduction.
    Learn More
  2. Pink and Orange Delosperma Fire Spinner, Delosperma Fire Spinner, Fire Spinner Ice Plant

    Delosperma Fire Spinner® has vibrant tri-colored flowers of orange, red and lavender that are unique in the world of perennial flowers. Outstandingly colorful. An evergreen groun...

    Learn More
    Fire Spinner® Ice Plant Fire Spinner® Ice Plant Delosperma Fire Spinner®
    As low as $7.99 Sale $6.39
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Delosperma Fire Spinner® has vibrant tri-colored flowers of orange, red and lavender that are unique in the world of perennial flowers. Outstandingly colorful. An evergreen groundcover, this ice plant blooms in late spring. A 2011 Plant Select winner. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
  3. Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster, Aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolius 'Dream of Beauty'

    Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many A...

    Learn More
    Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster Dream of Beauty Aromatic Aster Aster (Symphyotrichum) oblongifolius 'Dream of Beauty'
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Dream of Beauty Fragrant Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolius) is big on blooms from mid-summer to fall, providing easy-care, long-lasting garden color. Shorter in stature than many Asters, it will brighten the garden with dense foliage and sweet pink flowers. A favorite of butterflies, this native cultivar is essential for late-season blooms in the pollinator garden.
    Learn More
  4. Purple Liatris, Liatris aspera, Gayfeather

    Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star, Button Blazing Star, Gayfeather) is a large growing, showy drought tolerant species from the Mid-West. The large pink flowers are highly attractiv...

    Learn More
    Rough Blazing Star (Liatris) Rough Blazing Star Liatris aspera
    Sale Price I Save 20%
    $7.99 Sale $6.39
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star, Button Blazing Star, Gayfeather) is a large growing, showy drought tolerant species from the Mid-West. The large pink flowers are highly attractive to bees and butterflies. Drought resistant/drought tolerant perennial plant (xeric).
    Learn More

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

  1. Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'

    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild popula...

    Learn More
    Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Prairie Gold Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa 'Prairie Gold'
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    'Prairie Gold' Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a beautiful golden-yellow form of this popular native wildflower. This selection is grown from seed collected from a wild population in its Indiana habitat. Grow this special native cultivar to add unexpected color and an interesting conversation starter to your pollinator garden. A 2021 High Country Gardens Introduction.
    Learn More
  2. Superstar Aster Collection

    Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. F...

    Learn More
    Superstar Aster Collection Superstar Aster Collection
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $47.95 Sale $43.15
    Per Collection of 5
    Our Superstar Aster Collection is an easy solution for late summer to fall color. Native Asters are important late-season food sources for bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. Featuring five varieties of Asters for an array of colors and varying heights, this collection will refresh the garden with late season flowers, just as summer’s blooms begin to fade. Collection of 5 plants. (Symphyotrichum)
    Learn More
  3. Monch Frikart's Aster, Aster x frikartii 'Mönch'

    One of the first asters to bloom, Monch Frikart's Aster (Aster x frikartii Monch) flowers from mid-summer into fall, with lavender-purple petals surrounding golden-yellow centers. Th...

    Learn More
    Monch Frikart's Aster Monch Frikart's Aster Aster x frikartii 'Mönch'
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    One of the first asters to bloom, Monch Frikart's Aster (Aster x frikartii Monch) flowers from mid-summer into fall, with lavender-purple petals surrounding golden-yellow centers. This easy to grow hybrid is mildew resistant. Once established, Asters are drought-tolerant, vigorous, long-lived perennials that provide an important source of and late-season food for pollinators.
    Learn More
  4. Blue Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus, Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus, Hyssop

    Blue Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus) is one of the very best Old World plants for attracting and feeding bees and bumble bees. A medicinal herb, its aromatic foliage, an...

    Learn More
    Blue Hyssop (Hyssopus) Blue Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus
    As low as $10.99 Sale $8.79
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Blue Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ssp. aristadus) is one of the very best Old World plants for attracting and feeding bees and bumble bees. A medicinal herb, its aromatic foliage, and bright blue flowers are a highlight of the mid-summer garden. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More
Text and Photos By David Salman

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