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. Rose Swamp Milkweed

    Asclepias incarnata ‚Rose‚ (Swamp Milkweed) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for ad...

    Learn More
    Rose Swamp Milkweed Rose Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
    As low as $13.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Asclepias incarnata 'Rose' (Swamp Milkweed) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for adult butterflies. Also known as Swamp Milkweed, it grows best in moist or wet soils.
  2. Verbena peruviana

    Verbena peruviana ‚Red Devil‚ (Perennial Verbena) is a perennial variety that grows as a groundcover and blooms all summer with a dazzling display of brilliant red flower...

    Learn More
    Red Devil Perennial Verbena Red Devil Perennial Verbena Verbena peruviana
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Verbena peruviana 'Red Devil' (Perennial Verbena) is a perennial variety that grows as a groundcover and blooms all summer with a dazzling display of brilliant red flowers. 3" tall x 15-18" wide.
  3. Little Trudy® Nepeta, The Undaunted Garden Managed By Lauren Spring

    Nepeta x psfike ‚Little Trudy®‚ PP#18,904 (Catmint) is a compact, long-blooming Catmint with warm purple flowers that bloom from late spring through summer, attracting b...

    Learn More
    Little Trudy® Nepeta Little Trudy® Nepeta Nepeta x Psfike PP#18,904
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Nepeta x psfike 'Little Trudy®' PP#18,904 (Catmint) is a compact, long-blooming Catmint with warm purple flowers that bloom from late spring through summer, attracting bees and butterflies. Finely textured aromatic foliage will help to deter deer and rabbits.
  4. Red Monarda Jacob Cline, Monarda Jacob Cine

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

    Learn More
    Jacob Cline Bee Balm Jacob Cline Bee Balm Monarda didyma 'Jacob Cline'
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Monarda didyma 'Jacob Cline' (Bee Balm) 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.

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

  1. Lavandula angustifolia Mitcham Gray Lavender

    ‚Mitcham Gray‚ is a rarely offered cultivar of English Lavender similar to ‚Hidcote Superior‚ with a compact growth habit, dark lavender-blue flower spikes, a...

    Learn More
    Mitcham Gray English Lavender Mitcham Gray English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia 'Mitcham Gray'
    As low as $13.99 Sale $13.29
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    'Mitcham Gray' is a rarely offered cultivar of English Lavender similar to 'Hidcote Superior' with a compact growth habit, dark lavender-blue flower spikes, and gray-green foliage. But it is a faster grower than the slow-to-mature 'Hidcote Superior'.
  2. Common Milkweed, Asclepias Syriaca, with pollinators

    Asclepias syriaca ‚Common Milkweed‚ is a gorgeous plant that produces purple/pink flower clusters that wildflower gardeners love and spreads quickly. This native perennia...

    Learn More
    Common Milkweed Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca
    As low as $13.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Asclepias syriaca 'Common Milkweed' is a gorgeous plant that produces purple/pink flower clusters that wildflower gardeners love and spreads quickly. This native perennial is a primary food source for the Monarch butterfly providing large leaves for caterpillars and big pink globe-like flowers that provide nectar for the adult butterflies. Planting it will help to support Monarch populations. Perennial.
  3. Rose Swamp Milkweed

    Asclepias incarnata ‚Rose‚ (Swamp Milkweed) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for ad...

    Learn More
    Rose Swamp Milkweed Rose Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnata
    As low as $13.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Asclepias incarnata 'Rose' (Swamp Milkweed) is a showy pink blooming Asclepias species that is a food plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars and a nectar source for adult butterflies. Also known as Swamp Milkweed, it grows best in moist or wet soils.
  4. SunSparkler® Wildfire Stonecrop, Sedum 'Wildfire'

    Sedum rupestre ‚SunSparkler® Wildfire‚ PP#28621 (Stonecrop) blazes with ruby red petals edged in hot pink. Late summer brings clusters of long-blooming pink flowers. It&...

    Learn More
    SunSparkler® Wildfire Sedum SunSparkler® Wildfire Sedum Sedum 'Wildfire' PP#28,621
    As low as $11.99
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Sedum rupestre 'SunSparkler® Wildfire' PP#28621 (Stonecrop) blazes with ruby red petals edged in hot pink. Late summer brings clusters of long-blooming pink flowers. It’s an attention-worthy groundcover that will naturalize to fill a sunny, dry area. In fact, the more sun, the brighter the color. A perfect easy-to-grow addition to a rock garden, container, or any sunny spot that needs a water-thrifty color boost. Deer and rabbit resistant.
Text and Photos By David Salman

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