In elementary school, I vividly remember learning about the things a plant needs to grow, things like water, nutrients, and sunlight. However, where the plants came from was oddly skipped over. The reality is that over 30% of all the plants in the
world wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for pollinators. Pollinators are animals that move pollen from one flower to another, fertilizing the plant and allowing it to reproduce. Pollinators include bees, insects, birds, bats, and other animals. In the United States, over 100 crop plants are pollinated by insects and animals, including: almonds, apples, pears, citrus fruits, pumpkins, cucumbers, berries, soybeans, and sunflowers. Needless to say these pollinators are incredibly important and valuable. However, pollinators are on the decline for a number of upsetting reasons. This trend will have a massive impact on food production in the United States if something is not done to combat this issue. (source: Native Pollinators in Agriculture Project)

Whether you’re a small-scale gardener or a large-scale farmer, there are steps you can take to support the lives of pollinators and increase the number of pollinators in your area. You can do this by making the decision to plant pollinator plants– plants that provide essential needs like habitat or nourishment to pollinators such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and others.

Below is a list of the top ten best pollinator plants, though there are certainly more than ten to choose from. This list was compiled using guides* available from the Pollinator Partnership, a national non-profit dedicated to the health and conservation of our nation’s pollinators. The following pollinators were picked based on their potential to benefit both pollinator and gardener or farmer.

 

1. Southern Bush Honeysuckle
Who they benefit: bumblebees, hummingbirds
When they grow: June-August
What they need: moist soil and sun or partial shade
Why these: they are both beautiful and native to the Southeastern U.S.

 

 

 

 

2. Bloodroot
Who they benefit: bees, beetles, flies
When they grow: March-April
What they need: moist soil and shade
Why these: they are able to encourage pollination early in the growing season

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Eastern Swamp Milkweed
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July-September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: a perennial that attracts a wide variety of pollinators

 

 

 

 

4. Fennel
Who they benefit: Bees
When they grow: April-June
What they need: Sun and moist soil
Why these: attract bees while also being able to harvest fennel seeds at the end of the growing season (harvest them green or fully dried)

 

 

 

 

 

5. Wild Petunia
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July-September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: not only a hummingbird favorite, but can also grow in hot conditions

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Monarda (Bee Balm)
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July-September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: the aromatic leaves serve as a substitute for mint and can be dried for tea

 

 

 

7. Sunflowers

Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July-September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: beauty aside, sunflower seeds can be eaten either fresh or cooked or used to extract oil which can be used in cooking

 

 

8. Thyme
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July-September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why this: is extremely useful in a variety of ways from mood-enhancing aromatherapy to soothing upper respiratory problems like bronchitis

 

 

 

9. Poppy
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July-September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: they are just really pretty!

 

 

 

 

10. Dill
Who they benefit: butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, beetles, wasps, flies
When they grow: July-September
What they need: Sunlight and moist soil
Why these: is good to consume for digestive health

 

 

 

 

Above are my favorite pollinator plants, but certainly not the only ones out there! To learn more about pollinators and pollinator plants alike, attend our annual Spring Conference classes on pollinators, including the following: Who Pollinates Your Food?, Plant-Pollinator Interactions, Integrating Pollinators Into the Garden, and Growing Native Plants from Seeds. I’ll see you there!

Jenna Bailey, OGS Spring Conference Volunteer, is a 23 year old AmeriCorps member serving in Knoxville, TN at a non-profit, organic farm called Beardsley Community Farm. After studying sociology and environmental studies in school, she wanted to get her hands in the dirt at a place that combined her passions for combatting food insecurity and teaching sustainable agriculture. Her next move will be to Fiji where she will serve in the Peace Corps and adjust to growing food in a new climate.

Got a bee in your bonnet to learn more about pollinators? We’ve got some great workshops offered at our 2017 Spring Conference HERE:

 

*The guides used to compile this list were for two specific eco-regions: the Central Appalachian Broadleaf Forest and the Southeast Mixed Forest Province. If you do not live in either of these eco-regions, have no fear. The Pollinator Partnership has guides for every eco-region in the United States available on their website for free: pollinator.org.

OGS

OGS

Organic Growers School is a non-profit organization providing organic education since 1993. Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support people in our region to farm, garden, and live organically.