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5 Pollinator Plants You Should Put in Your Garden Patch

By Ta’Leah Van Sistine, Marketing & Communications Intern

There’s an alarming decline in pollinator populations all over the world. Excessive pesticide use and the conversion of landscapes for humans are what mostly contribute to this population’s decline, but it’s clear we can’t continue to take these creatures for granted. The food we eat, flowers we admire and plants we enjoy are only possible because of pollinators like bees.

Other pollinators such as butterflies, birds, beetles, bats, wasps and flies are important in the pollination process as well. It’s estimated that more than 1,300 types of plants around the world are grown for food, beverages, medicines, condiments, spices and fabric. About 75% of those plants are pollinated by pollinating animals. This is why pollinators need our protection, and you can help by simply putting some pollinator plants in your living spaces, backyards and gardens!

If you’re someone who reorganizes and rearranges the plants in their garden every year, then planting annuals, or plants that are alive for one growing season, will be the best way you can help pollinators.

Not sure where to start with pollinator plants? No problem! Here are a few plants that can be grown as annuals each year to improve the pollinator presence around your home:

CELOSIA

There are several different species of the Celosia genus that will work well, but all of them are great for pollinators. Celosia spicata has a more spiked flower, Celosia cristata a more veined or wavy flower, and Celosia plumosa a fluffier flower head. Our personal favorite here at the Garden is the Celosia plumosa species, whose feathery flowers allow for maximized surface area for pollinators to collect pollen.

purple celosia PC: ballseed.com
First Flame™ Purple celosia (Celosia plumosa ‘PAS1295065’)

These plants are swarmed with bees in the summer, which makes watering them kind of a hazard on warm, sunny days! A couple of the Garden’s favorites include Arrabona Red and the entire First Flame™ series from PanAmerican Seed.

SALVIA

This genus refers to a number of species, some of which can be perennials, so be sure to know which ones you’re growing for your garden.

Of the annual salvia species, Salvia greggii has fewer but larger flowers per plant, while Salvia splendens and Salvia coccinea each have a mass of tightly bundled flowers. Which species you prefer depends on their color, as these all look similar as opposed to the many forms of celosia mentioned above.

white salvia PC: all-america selections
Summer Jewel™ White Salvia (Salvia coccinea ‘Summer Jewel™ White’)

Salvia are great additions to your garden if you want to attract pollinators because their flowers are nectar-rich and welcome honey and native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Our favorite Salvias include the All-America Selections (AAS) winners in the Summer Jewel™ series which do tend to seed out.

PURPLE CONEFLOWER

Don’t let the name fool you! These flowers can be a myriad of colors beyond just purple. These plants are actually hardy to Wisconsin’s Zone 5 climate, but are easily grown as annuals from seed. You can transplant them to perennial beds at the end of the season.

purple coneflower PC: all-america selections
PowWow® Wild Berry Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘PAS702917’)

These flowers are magnets for butterflies and bees in the summer since they have large sets of flowers with large, inviting petals. The Garden has many different varieties of purple coneflowers that are grown as perennials, but we have grown PowWow® Wild Berry or Cheyenne Spirit as annuals, too.

PETUNIA

As a classic flower, petunias are attractive to insects since they show off heaps of pollen and nectar on each flower. Some varieties of petunias grow by spreading over the ground. You can grow these types alongside taller vegetables to help with pollination and weed suppression.

Wave® Carmine Velour Petunia PC: All-America Selections
Wave® Carmine Velour Petunia (Petunia × hybrida ‘PAS1302763’)

Don’t accidentally purchase a double-flowered petunia because they replace the pollen and nectar-producing parts with more petals! Double-petaled flowers can be beautiful to look at, but these plants are difficult for pollinators to pollinate. A favorite of ours is the Wave® series from PanAmerican Seed.

ZINNIA

This genus refers to several zinnia species, including Zinnia marylandica and Zinnia elegans, which are great for attracting both butterflies and bees.

red zinnia PC: all-america selections
Holi Scarlet Zinnia (Zinnia elegans ‘Holi Scarlet’)

The difference between the two species is that Zinnia elegans have double flowers, which limit the pollen and nectar production. Although, the Zinnia marylandica species may be not as pretty, they have a larger landing pad of pollen and nectar sources for pollinators. The Garden’s favorite Zinnias include the Zahara™ and Profusion series.

With these pollinator-friendly plants, you can ramp up vegetable and fruit production in your own plant-filled spaces while also helping care for pollinators like bees and butterflies. Be sure to stop by Green Bay Botanical Garden this summer to see how we incorporate flowers alongside vegetable crops in our Partnership Gardens.

You can also become a pollinator protector by shopping plant sales at Garden Fair on Friday, May 29 or Saturday, May 30. Admission into the plant sale is free and we’ll have a number of garden experts on hand to answer all your questions.

Find out more about pollinators and the plants they love during our second summer of the Butterflies & Blooms exhibit! This time, we focus on butterflies throughout North America. It kicks off on June 1 and is free with Garden admission.

Good luck and we hope you invite all kinds of pollinators to your own living space, whether it’s a front porch or balcony, a couple of window boxes or a backyard garden!