Choosing the right plants and herbs for your pollinator garden

By Susan Jongeneel
Media/Communications Specialist, University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

URBANA, Ill. — Bumblebees, honey bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and some other birds are essential for plant pollination, which must take place for fruit to form. University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Kelly Allsup encourages gardeners to choose plants and herbs for next spring’s garden that will attract these pollinators.

Pollinator gardens typically contain native perennials such as the aromatic anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), drought-tolerant coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora), spring-blooming wild indigo (Baptisia australis) and the white-flowering foxglove penstemon (Penstemon digitalis). Native insects have evolved with native plants and prefer them to non-native ornamental plants.

Pollinator gardens also incorporate flowering herbs such as lavender, marjoram, oregano, thyme, chives, fennel and parsley. Their aroma and consistent flowering make them attractive to pollinators, and are sources of nectar and pollen for beneficial insects and wasps.

Provide pollen and nectar sources all throughout the growing season by planting perennials, herbs and ornamentals that flower at different times,” said Allsup.

Plant flowers of different colors and contrasting shapes in the pollinator garden. Butterflies are attracted to orange, red and yellow and need a landing platform. Bees are attracted to blue, yellow and white and can see ultraviolet markings, the nectar guides, leading them to the source of nectar and pollen. Hummingbirds prefer plants with long tubular flowers in shades of red.

Allsup urges gardeners to include a decorative bird bath to serve as a source of water for pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

She warns that chemical pesticides should not be used on pollinator gardens and surrounding areas. Accept some insect damage, or use organic pesticides.

For more about garden pests, beneficial insects, and fruit and vegetable news, visit the University of Illinois Extension’s Horticulture Blog, “Flowers, Fruits, and Frass,” at

From the Nov. 7-13, 2012, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!