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. Agastache rupestris Glowing Embers, Glowing Embers Licorice Mint Hyssop

    Agastache Glowing Embers is a fantastic selection of Licorice Mint Hyssop (Hummingbird Mint) with fragrant foliage and glowing orange-red tubular flowers that are a favorite with hum...

    Learn More
    Glowing Embers® Agastache Glowing Embers® Licorice Hummingbird Mint (Hyssop) Agastache rupestris Glowing Embers®
    As low as $10.49
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Agastache Glowing Embers is a fantastic selection of Licorice Mint Hyssop (Hummingbird Mint) with fragrant foliage and glowing orange-red tubular flowers that are a favorite with hummingbirds. Plant in containers to enjoy this plant in the eastern U.S. Exclusive. 24-26" tall x 24-28" wide.
    Learn More
  2. Red Monarda Jacob Cline, Monarda Jacob Cine, Jacob Cline Hardy Bee Balm

    Jacob Cline Beebalm (Monarda Jacob Cline) is one of our most spectacular native Beebalm hybrids with heads of long tubular deep red flowers. Discovered in a Georgia garden, it has ex...

    Learn More
    Jacob Cline Bee Balm Jacob Cline Bee Balm Monarda Jacob Cline
    $10.49
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Jacob Cline Beebalm (Monarda Jacob Cline) is one of our most spectacular native Beebalm hybrids with heads of long tubular deep red flowers. Discovered in a Georgia garden, it has excellent mildew resistance and blooms for a month or so in mid-summer.
    Learn More
  3. Raspberry Delight® Salvia

    Exclusive. Raspberry Delight® is an outstanding native Salvia hybrid with a summer-long display of stunning raspberry-red flowers and excellent cold hardiness (once established)....

    Learn More
    Raspberry Delight® Salvia Raspberry Delight® Hybrid Bush Sage Salvia Raspberry Delight®
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $10.99 Sale $9.89
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Exclusive. Raspberry Delight® is an outstanding native Salvia hybrid with a summer-long display of stunning raspberry-red flowers and excellent cold hardiness (once established). The aromatic foliage has a sweet herbal scent. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric). A High Country Gardens introduction.
    Learn More
  4. Cardinal Penstemon Close Up of Red Tubular Blooms

    Cardinal Penstemon (Penstemon cardinalis) is a rare, cold hardy wildflower from the southern mountains of New Mexico. Tall, impressive spikes of dark red flowers bloom in mid-summer,...

    Learn More
    Cardinal Penstemon Cardinal Beardtongue Penstemon cardinalis
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Cardinal Penstemon (Penstemon cardinalis) is a rare, cold hardy wildflower from the southern mountains of New Mexico. Tall, impressive spikes of dark red flowers bloom in mid-summer, making this favorite source of natural nectar for hummingbirds. A must-have for your pollinator garden. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
    Learn More

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

  1. 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
    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
  2. Vic Bruno's Albuquerque Thyme Lawn

    1" tall x 18" wide. Pink Chintz Thyme (Thymus Pink Chintz) is a tight, low growing creeping thyme with thick stems of woolly green foliage that blooms in mid-spring with a profusion ...

    Learn More
    Pink Chintz Creeping Thyme Pink Chintz Creeping Thyme Thymus serpyllum Pink Chintz
    As low as $7.99
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    1" tall x 18" wide. Pink Chintz Thyme (Thymus Pink Chintz) is a tight, low growing creeping thyme with thick stems of woolly green foliage that blooms in mid-spring with a profusion of salmon-pink flowers.
    Learn More
  3. Phenomenal Lavender Plant,  Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal field

    Phenomenal French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Phenomenal' PP24193) is a French hybrid lavender notable for its outstanding cold hardiness and tolerance to heat and high hu...

    Learn More
    Phenomenal Lavender Phenomenal Lavender Lavandula intermedia Phenomenal PP#24,193
    As low as $12.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Phenomenal French Hybrid Lavender (Lavandula intermedia 'Phenomenal' PP24193) is a French hybrid lavender notable for its outstanding cold hardiness and tolerance to heat and high humidity. The plants grow into a beautiful mounded shape, with purple flowers on tall stems in mid-summer.
    Learn More
  4. Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires

    Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires (Blue Spires Russian Sage) is the best large growing Russian Sage selection blooming with dark blue flower spikes appearing in mid-summer. Though...

    Learn More
    Blue Spires Russian Sage Blue Spires Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires
    $10.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Perovskia atriplicifolia Blue Spires (Blue Spires Russian Sage) is the best large growing Russian Sage selection blooming with dark blue flower spikes appearing in mid-summer. Thought to be a hybrid of two species, this plant has amazing vigor and blooms for many months.
    Learn More
Text and Photos By David Salman

© All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republication is prohibited without permission.