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Flowers & Herbs,  Plan - Design - DIY,  Pollinators & Wildlife

Top 23 Plants for Pollinators: Attract Bees, Butterflies, & Hummingbirds!

Last Updated on August 10, 2023

Thinking of adding plants for pollinators to your garden? Right on! First of all, thank you for being here and showing an interest in pollinator-friendly plants. With our increasingly altered and polluted natural world, pollinators can use all the help we have to offer. This article will sum up the top 23 flowering plants for pollinators that will provide essential nectar and pollen for our little friends!

The benefit of creating a pollinator garden isn’t just for the pollinators however. A healthy population of pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, and even ants are the backbone of all life – and our food systems!

“Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse.”

Pollinators are considered a keystone species group. The National Geographic Society describes a keystone species as “a plant or animal that plays a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.” Did you know that pollinators are directly responsible for one-third of all food that humans consume, including everything from fruit and veggies to coffee and chocolate?

Let’s not forget, pollinator gardens directly benefit you in other ways too! The simple presence of pollinators in your garden will bring so much added joy to your life. They certainly do to ours. It is part of the garden therapy experience. One of my absolute favorite experiences in the garden is raising monarch butterflies!

Planting a pollinator garden is a win-win, all around.

How to Add Pollinator-Friendly Plants to Your Space

Can I share something really embarrassing here? If you read my “15 mistakes to avoid in the garden” post you likely already know this, but… when we first started gardening, I literally said “growing flowers is pointless”. I thought that just because it didn’t feed me directly, it was a waste of water, time, and space. That was likely one of the most stupid things I have ever said.

Now, we incorporate flowering plants for pollinators into every nook and cranny of the garden that we can! We tuck them into raised garden beds as companion plants with vegetables, around borders in our more wild spaces, under and around trees, and in containers throughout the property. Moreover, we our garden has become a Certified Wildlife Habitat! Check out this article to learn how to make your space more wildlife-friendly – and get certified too if you wish!

We have also created several designated pollinator spaces like our curvaceous stone raised bed “pollinator island” in the backyard garden, the cobble-stone lined “pollinator zones” in the front yard garden, or the terraced corner from the front yard expansion project. Those spaces are loaded with the plants for pollinators you’ll find in the post. I did a tally, and discovered we are currently growing all but four of the plants on the list!

You’ll have to decide which style or way of incorporating plants for pollinators works best for you. This will depend on your climate, space, and the types of plants you choose too. Even if you don’t have a true “garden” space but have access to an outdoor patio or balcony, you too can have a pollinator garden! Many of the plants included on this list do very well in containers.

A"pollinator zone" in the front yard garden, complete with dozens of plants for pollinators inluding yarrow, scabiosa, echinacea, oregano, salvia, lavender, and more! It is bordered by large pastel cobblestones. Flowers of all shapes, sizes, and colors are present. In the background, there are raised garden beds.
One portion of our front yard is dedicated to raised beds for growing food, but a very large potion is also dedicated to flowering perennials and annuals. Here is one “pollinator zone” in the front yard garden, complete with yarrow, scabiosa, echinacea, oregano, salvia, lavender, and more!

Planning a Pollinator Garden

Acquiring plants

Read through the list of pollinator-friendly plants below. As you do so, consider your climate and growing space. As much as possible, choose varieties that are native to your area. They’re best suited for your growing conditions and for the local pollinators. I wasn’t able to outline where each plant is native to specifically, so you may need to do a little further digging, but the majority of the plants on the list are native to North America. I did not include invasive plants like butterfly bush.

Many of these are simple to start from seed, though it may be quick and easiest to buy certain ones from a local nursery. Selecting plants for pollinators at a local nursery increases the likelihood that they’re suited well for your area. See related: Top 7 Easy Annual Flowers to Grow From Seed.

Include variety

Choose a variety of plants for pollinators that bloom at different times throughout the year! This will help provide staggered and continuous food for our pollinator friends as the seasons change.  Another way to accomplish this is by staggering the time you start various annuals over a few months, referred to as succession planting.

Additionally, try to incorporate a mix of flower structure types – some short and stout blooms, some long and tubular. This will help attract different pollinators, as they’ll choose whatever kind of bloom best suits their tongues! In addition to flowers, include plants like milkweed, fennel and dill – the host plants that butterfly larvae feed on.

Go Organic!

Last but certainly not least, it is critical that we exercise organic gardening practices and avoid the use of pesticides. Especially in a space dedicated to pollinators! The pollinators will be most healthy and happy in an environment that is as natural as possible. As your little ecosystem gets established and blossoms, pests are often times kept in check naturally by wild birds and beneficial insects!

This was after a trip to three different local nurseries, picking out all the pollinator-friendly plants we wanted to add to our new front yard garden expansion. The pile of plants in the middle of the pathway were added to the empty terraced corner on the top left. Shown are yarrow, lavender, many types of salvia/sage, agastache, milkweed, and trailing rosemary that will flower too.  Planted all around are more of the same. You can also see pollinator-friendly companion plants in the raised beds in the background, like marigold and calendula.
While growing from seed is awesome, I sure do love plant shopping! This was after a trip to three different local nurseries, picking out all the pollinator-friendly plants we wanted to add to our new front yard garden expansion. The pile of plants in the middle of the pathway were added to the empty terraced corner on the top left. Shown are yarrow, lavender, many types of salvia/sage, agastache, milkweed, and trailing rosemary that will flower too. Planted all around are more of the same. You can also see pollinator-friendly companion plants in the raised beds in the background, like marigold and calendula.

Plant Descriptions

When I describe the “zones” below, I am referring to the USDA hardiness zones. If you aren’t sure what your zone is, click here to input your zip code and easily find out! The descriptions provided are intended to be an overview of the plant, not a detailed planting and care guide.

The plants for pollinators will also be described as “annual” or “perennial” (or could be both, depending on the zone). An annual plant is one that starts and ends its life cycle in only one season. The original plant will not come back, though it may spread seed, causing its offspring to grow the following year. On the other hand, a perennial will continue to live for many years to come, even if it appears to die back in the winter.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are….


A photo of front yard garden in teh evening hours. A small blue house is in the background. The yard is full of purple, yellow, and pink flowers, including yarrow, sunflowers, zinnia, salvia, scabiosa, verbena, nasturtium, lavender and more! A man sits on a bench in the middle of the yard, with a few wooden raised garden beds in the garden too. There is no grass, only flower beds surrounded by gravel and stone pathways, and twinkle lights around the beds and house, lit up in the evening hours.
Our front yard garden. A pollinator paradise, full of yarrow, sunflowers, zinnia, salvia, scabiosa, verbena, nasturtium, lavender and more!

1) Calendula ~ Calendula officinalis

Description: Shorter, bushy plants full of orange/yellow, daisy-like flowers that provide both pollen and nectar for pollinators. Note that calendula comes in colors other than the classic orange, like gorgeous Strawberry Blonde flowers. Some of our other favorites include Resina, Orange King, Pink Surprise, and Pacific Beauty.

Did you know that Calendula is technically an herb, and has many medicinal properties? It is cherished by herbalists who use the flower petals to make healing and soothing tinctures, infusions, and salves. The edible flowers also make for a special touch on salads or as a garnish! Their big hooked seeds make for easy seed-saving. Commonly referred to as “pot marigold”, note that calendula is not a marigold. I know, it’s weird and confusing. To read more about growing and using calendula, see this article all about it!

Zones: Annuals, zones 2 – 11

Bloom time: Spring through late fall. They put off continuous blooms up until frost! Deadhead to keep bloom production at peak.

Attracts: Bees & butterflies. In addition to being an excellent plant for pollinators, calendula are an companion plant with veggies because they repel pest insects while attracting beneficials like ladybugs, lacewings, and hoverflies.

Growing Requirements: Sow seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost, or directly outside after the last frost. Fast-growing. Full sun, partial shade in the hottest climates. Adaptable to a variety of soil conditions. Suitable for containers.

Two images. The bottom shows various colors of yellow, orange, pink, and red calendula blooms in a basket. The top image shows planting calendula in and around raised beds as a companion flower, shown with kale, tomatoes, swiss chard.
Calendula comes in a variety of gorgeous shades!

2) Marigold ~ Tagetes

Description: Marigolds are annual flowers that range from red to orange to yellow. Like calendula, they’re excellent companion plants. They repel pest insects like cabbage moths. French marigolds are also reported to deter root-knot nematodes in soil. The plant size can vary depending on the variety, ranging from 6 inches tall or up to 4 feet tall! These Tangerine Gem, are adorable petite plants. If your marigolds grow out of control and start to crowd their companion veggies, marigolds tolerate pruning back very well.

Zones: 2 – 11 in warmer months. Zones 10 and higher can enjoy marigolds virtually year-round.

Bloom time: Continuous blooms from late spring up until frost.

Attracts: Butterflies and moths

Growing Requirements: Easy to grow! Sow seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost, or directly outside after the last frost. Full sun, and warm temperatures preferred. Suitable for a variety of soil types and containers. Maintain soil moist, but not soggy.

Two images of yellow and red french marigolds. One with a mustard green leaf, another showing a huge bush of marigolds in bloom billowing over the side of a raised bed, taking over the bed.
While marigolds make great companion plants, some varieties can get huge and try to take over the world! See the photo on the left. I could hardly walk through the pathways between the beds! Don’t be shy about pruning them back. Your veggies need their space too!

3) Salvia

Description: The term “salvia” includes a massive group of plants, with something like 800 or 900 different species! Culinary sage is a salvia too. Salvia plants and flowers come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors – ranging from massive 5 foot bushes full of tiny blooms, to a few single tall stalks on a petite compact plant. Some are woody, hardy perennial shrubs and some are more tender annuals. Most salvias produce blooms that drive pollinators wild!

We have at least a dozen different salvia varieties in our garden, but some of the absolute favorites are Hummingbird sage (perennial in zones 8-11), Wild Watermelon Salvia (perennial in zones 7-10), “Mystic Spires Blue” salvia (perennial in zones 7-10), and “Love and Wishes” salvia (perennial in zones 9-11). On my “want” list is also pineapple sage, as a dual-purpose edible herb and all-around awesome plant for pollinators.

Zones: While most varieties enjoy zones 7 – 11 most, particularly as perennials, there are definitely some salvias that are hardy in lower zones! Check out this article that describes some colder-tolerant types, and of course, make sure to check with your local nursery! They will carry what works in your area.

Bloom time: Most prolific spring-fall, though year-round flowers are common in mild climates.

Attracts: Bees, butterflies, but ESPECIALLY hummingbirds. Of all the plants in our garden, the hummers love the salvia most.

Growing Requirements: Most types of salvia prefer full sun, though some can tolerate some shade. For example, hummingbird sage appreciates some shade in the hottest climates. Most are also drought tolerant, so avoid poor draining soil or overwatering.

In the top image, a garden is full of purple, pink and yellow flowers of all shapes and sizes, lined by stone pathways. The bottom image shows a  close up of a fat black and yellow bumble bee enjoying a pink Watermelon Salvia bloom, with his face stuffed inside.
As you can see, salvia is a huge favorite in our pollinator garden! In the top image, the purple blooms in the front, middle right, and large pink-speckled shrubs along the back are all various types of salvia. Up close is a bumble bee enjoying a Wild Watermelon Salvia bloom. Watermelon salvia is also an edible flower, and the #1 favorite for hummingbirds in our garden!

4) Nasturtium ~ Tropaeolum

Description: Easy to grow, sprawling, edible, lovely nasturtium! The peppery arugula-like leaves are edible, as well as the flowers. The blooms come in a variety of colors, and provide pollen and nectar for our garden friends. Readily self-seeds around your garden space. We especially love the hummingbird-magnet tropical beauty Aloha mix, and these pretty variegated Alaska Mix.

Zones: Annuals in zones 4 – 8, possible perennial in zone 9 – 11. Ours live through the winter here!

Bloom time: Early summer through fall in most climates.

Attracts: Bumblebees, hummingbirds, and moths. Aphids also love them, which makes them a good “trap crop”. To prevent the infestation from getting out of control, give the aphids a good hard blast of water.

Growing Requirements: These guys prefer to be direct-sown. Direct sow seeds outdoors after last frost. Low to moderate water. Prefers well draining soil and no standing water. Will grow in sun or shade, but flower more prolifically if they receive at least 6 hours of sun. However, they don’t like extreme heat, so opt for morning sun and afternoon shade in the hottest climates. Will self-seed and spread if the spent flowers are not deadheaded and collected.

A hand holding a many nasturtium blooms. Also an image of nasturtium plants billowing over a garden pathway of gravel and stepping stones, with large round green leaves
Nasties! Aka, nasturtiums. These edible plants and flowers have been self-seeding all over our garden, and I am not mad about it.

5) Lavender ~ Lavendula

Description: Possibly the quintessential plants for pollinators. Tall spikes of lavender blooms over bushy silver/sage green foliage. The size and shape of the blooms and plants vary depending on the variety! Lavender comes in three main types: English, Spanish and French ~ with many varieties within each. We grow a little from each group!

Zones: Perennial in zones 6 – 7 and higher, annual in zones 6 and lower. Plant in spring as an annual. English lavender is said to be hardy down to zone 5, while the others prefer higher zones.

Bloom time: Summer through fall. Potentially year-round in mild climates, particularly when spent blooms are deadheaded.

Attracts: Bees! Repels mosquitoes and flies.

Growing Requirements: Full sun, though it may benefit from some afternoon shade in the hottest climates. Plant in well-draining soil. Add half cactus mix even. The last thing lavender likes is wet feet! Thus, one of the most common lavender care mistakes is overwatering. No need to bother with fertilizer either – it does well in poor to moderate soil. Lavender is slow and can be frustrating to start from seed. We generally buy established plants from a local nursery.

Two close up images of bees on blooming lavender
Lavender blooms ~ English on the left, Spanish on the right. Our bee friends love them all.

6) Cosmos

Description: Annual. These dainty daisy-like flowers atop long slender stems, and come in many colors. Additionally, cosmos make great cut flowers. The plant size can vary from 1 to 5 feet tall, depending on the variety you choose! Therefore, taller varieties may need staking for support. Seashell cosmos are SO stunning (shown below) and we also love this Sensation blend.

Zones: Annuals in zones 2 – 8, possible perennial in zone 9 – 11.

Bloom time: Late spring until frost.

Attracts: Birds, bees, butterflies, and moths

Growing Requirements: Easy to direct-sow outdoors. Simply scatter seeds on bare soil in springtime, after the danger of frost has passed, or start indoors the weeks prior. Grows well in beds or containers, and survives even the poorest soil conditions. Drought-tolerant, and prefers warm, dry weather. In the hottest climates, provide partial shade. Avoid fertilizer, as this can result in a lot of greenery but not many blooms.

7) Verbena ~ Vervain

Description: Verbena is a huge family that includes over 250 species of both annual and perennial plants. Most of them produce flowers that pollinators go wild for! A couple of favorite perennial verbena types in our garden are Verbena bonariensis (Lollipop) and Princess Dark Lavender.

Zones: Most species will grow in zones 5 – 11, but as perennials only in zones 7-11.

Bloom time: Deadhead spent blooms to encourage more!

Attracts: Butterflies! Verbena is a central source of nectar for the monarchs in our yard. Supposedly they also attract hummingbirds, though our hummers have other favorites they visit over verbena.

Growing Requirements: Full sun to part shade. Drought tolerant, so provide well-draining soil. Verbena is known to be a bit finicky and slow to start from seed. Depending on the variety, they can take over a month to germinate, so it is suggested to start indoors up to 12 weeks before your last spring frost date. Consequently, this may be one that’s simply easiest to buy started plants from your local nursery. We do. Verbena is susceptible to powdery mildew, so provide plenty of space around it for good air flow and prevention.

A monarch rests on a purple verbena plant, which has clusters of tiny flowers in balls at the end of otherwise bare stems. The blue sky and sun is in the background, illuminating the monarchs orange wings with black borders and white dots
Lollipop verbena is a monarch magnet in our garden! When I release monarchs in our yard, I place them here for their first drinks of nectar. Or, on zinnias.

8) Milkweed ~ Asclepias

Description: There are over 100 species of milkweed with a huge diversity in foliage, flower color, size and appearance! But they all feed monarch butterflies. Check out this article by Monarch Butterfly Garden to find a milkweed native to your area.

Tropical milkweed is a popular option because the monarchs love it, and it is fast and easy to grow. However, tropical milkweed do not die back in winter as other native species do, which can lead to a disruption in the monarchs natural migration pattern. If you choose to grow tropical milkweed, ensure you cut it back for the winter to about 6” and remove foliage no later than Thanksgiving. This also helps prevent the spread of OE, a parasite that inflicts monarchs. To learn about attracting and responsibly raising monarch butterflies, see this post. We are a registered monarch waystation and rear them here!

Zones: Depends on the variety. Find one that will work for you using the link above!

Bloom time: Spring into summer

Attracts: Monarch butterflies. It is the sole food source or “host plant” for monarch caterpillars, and the one place adult monarch butterflies lay their eggs. The butterflies also drink nectar from the flowers. Aphids are also drawn to milkweed. Don’t spray the plants! Just smush the aphids with your fingers and spray them off with water – but watch out for baby monarch cats!

Growing Requirements: Full sun to light shade. With the exception of tropical varieties, most milkweed seeds need “vernalization” (a prolonged period of cold temperatures, such as freezing outside or even in household freezer) to germinate.

Two close up images of black, yellow and white striped monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants
My milkweed brings all the cats to the yard!

9) Borage ~ Borago

Description: Prickly leathery leaves and star-shaped bluish purple flowers.  The edible flowers can serve as a beautiful garnish to any summertime salad or drink! The borage plant is a vigorous, low-maintenance annual plant. In addition to being a great plant for pollinators, the flowers are edible and add a beautiful pop of color to salads or summer drinks. Furthermore, the borage greens are full of nutrients that make them a great addition to compost.

Zones: All zones!

Bloom time: Late spring through summer

Attracts: Bees. Like crazy.

Growing Requirements: Sun to part shade. Direct-sow seeds outside after the last date of frost. Warning: Borage re-seeds itself like crazy! If buy seeds once and plant it, you’ll never have to plant it again! If you do not want it to spread itself, remove the flowers before they go to seed and drop. We let it re-seed and pick out excess plants for the compost. It also makes stellar chop-and-drop mulch for garden beds. We use it on the soil in our cannabis grow bags.

A purple start shaped borage flower, with a bee in flight, coming straight for it.
Borage. A ferocious self-seeder, but a welcome addition in this garden!

10) Agastache (Anise Hyssop)

Description: These tall showy, long-lasting spikes full of hundreds of individual blooms are essential in a pollinator garden! Also called “hummingbird mint”, they’re a favorite nectar source for our sweet little bird friends. Agastache is also deer and rabbit resistant, if that is an issue on your homestead. Beautiful blooms come in lavender, dark purple, blue hues, peach, and more. Of the dozens of types of Agastache, our favorite it Anise hyssop or Agastache foeniculum. It smells particularly amazing, is highly attractive to monarch butterflies and bees, and also makes for amazing tea!

Zones: Annual in any zone, perennials in many zones (depends on the variety)

Bloom time: Spring through fall, heaviest in summer

Attracts: Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Growing Requirements: Prefers full sun, or partial afternoon shade in hottest climates. Plant in fertile, well-drained soil. Adding compost in the planting hole is good, but no fertilizer is needed. Agastache is drought-tolerant once established. In colder climates, it will die back in the winter and grow as an annual. However, it self-seeds easily in your garden and will keep coming back each year! Press seeds in the soil surface but do not bury. Germination can take several weeks, so patience is key! Purchasing established plants from a local nursery is also a good option.

A green bushy anise hyssop plant with tall skinny light purple blooms. On the purple flower spikes are three orange, black and white monarch butterflies. Anise hyssop is a wonderful plant for pollinators, but also medicinal for people too.
Anise hyssop, another favorite for monarchs, bees, and hummingbirds! It is also smells AMAZING and makes for stellar tea!

11) Heliotrope ~ Heliotropium

Description: These fairly compact plants for pollinators range from 1 to 3 feet high, with dark green fuzzy foliage. The plants produce very fragrant, vanilla-scented flowers that range from blue-purple, lavender, or even white. Some claim they smell more like cherry pie!

Zones: Perennial in zones 9b – 11, annual in all others

Bloom time: Summer through fall

Attracts: Butterflies, hummingbirds

Growing Requirements: Heliotrope prefers moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Compared to other pollinator-friendly plants on this list, these guys aren’t as drought-tolerant. Therefore, in places where summers are very hot, it will benefit from some afternoon shade.

Dark purple small flowers with dark green fuzzy leaves around them. Heliotrope.
Heliotrope. Image from Dave’s Garden

12) Yarrow ~ Achillea

Description: Clusters of small yellow, pink, white, red, or lavender flowers. One of our favorite varieties is “Moonshine” yarrow, which has silvery-sage, fuzzy foliage with yellow and white flowers.  Yarrow is a biodynamic accumulator, meaning it takes up and stores vital nutrients and minerals in its tissues. Therefore, we use the spent, deadheaded flowers as mulch or as an addition to compost. The foliage base of most yarrow varieties stay fairly small, around 2 to 3 feet, but their flowers can exude a floppy and sprawling appearance.

Zones: Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Moonshine yarrow are both hardy in zones 3 – 10

Bloom time: Late spring through fall.

Attracts: Butterflies and bees. We’ve found ladybugs seem to be attracted to yarrow too!

Growing Requirements: Yarrow does well in poor to moderate soil, as long as it is well-draining. As a drought-tolerant plant, ensure it doesn’t get overwatered. Most varieties thrive in hot, dry conditions, though we have found some types with tender fern-like foliage get wilty and a little fried in hot summer afternoon sun. Partial (afternoon) shade is okay for all varieties  Deadhead and compost or mulch spent flowers.

One image shows a ladybug sitting on a white fuzzy flower bloom, and the second shows those blooms opened and turned yellow.
Moonshine yarrow. The image on the left is a fresh flower bud, which will change to yellow as it develops ~ as shown on the right. Mystic Spires Blue salvia is in the background.

13) Oregano ~ Origanum

Description: Yep! This perennial herb is another multi-use all star! Growing oregano provides you delicious culinary seasoning to use fresh or dried, and as long as you allow it to flower, becomes an uber bee-magnet as the season goes on. Its trailing growth habit makes it perfect for sprawling ground cover, in containers, or to trail down the sides of border walls. We love our Italian Oregano patches, though the Greek variety is very popular as well!

Zones: Can be a perennial in all zones, if protected. In zones 7 and lower it will lose its leaves in winter. Cover with mulch or a cold frame for protection at that time. On the other hand, you could keep it in a container to bring indoors during winter. Oregano is an evergreen perennial in zones 8 and higher.

Bloom time: Summer to fall

Attracts: Bees and possibly hummingbirds

Growing Requirements: Full sun, or partial shade in zones 7 and higher. Our fully exposed patch gets a little crispy in the later summer here in zone 9b/10a, and our partially shaded one looks happier. Allow soil to dry out slightly between watering. Provide compost and well-draining soil.

A bee is perched on top of Italian Oregano blooms, which are very small light pink-purple clusters of flowers.
A bee enjoying our Italian Oregano blooms.

14) Sunflowers ~ Helianthus

Description: Annual. Tall, stunning, large-headed flowers. Make sure to choose pollen-bearing varieties for the bees! We love branching, multi-headed varieties that extend the life and number of blooms over time that come from one flower stalk. Sunflowers are heliotropic, which means they turn the face of their flower to follow the pattern of the Sun across the sky throughout the day.

I’ve never met a sunflower I didn’t fancy, but some of our favorite varieties include Evening Colors, Sonja, Goldy Double, Lemon Queen, Autumn Beauty, Mammoth, Strawberry Blonde and Mexican Sunflowers (though not a true sunflower). We choose a lot of multi-headed branching types that boast a longer blooming season.

Zones: All zones.

Bloom time: Summer into fall, depending on when they’re planted.

Attracts: Bees and birds

Growing Requirements: Full Sun. Some may require staking for support. Most varieties are drought tolerant, so don’t overdo the water! Direct sow seeds outside after the last frost. For an early start, seeds can be started indoors the weeks prior to frost. If you choose to do so, provide ample light so they don’t get too leggy!

Three close up images of various sunflower heads. One is red with many heads. One is huge and yellow. The last is orange in the middle with yellow tips, and a monarch butterfly sits in the middle of the flower. Sunflowers are a highly attractive plant for pollinators.
A few of the sunflowers from our summer 2018 garden. While the huge single heads are lovely, we’ve been growing more and more multi-headed types (like the red on the left) to extend the flower time!

15) Coneflower ~ Echinacea

Description: Daisy-like coneflowers of various colors attract and provide pollen for pollinators, and are also a staple in home apothecary gardens! Even though they’ll die back in winter and need a good deadheading, these plants are hardy perennials. Purple coneflower, or Echinacea purpurea, is the most popular and well-known plant for pollinators. However, it comes in many other stunning colors. Check out this colorful coneflower mix!

Zones: 3-10

Bloom time: Midsummer through mid fall.

Attracts: Bees, butterflies and songbirds

Growing Requirements: Prefers full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Plant in soil rich with compost, but ensure it is well-draining. They’re drought tolerant and enjoy heat!

A single pink coneflower, with large spikey middle dome and down-ward pointing flower petals around it. Pollen is visible on the flower center. Blurred in the background are other flowers, also plants for pollinators.
Echinacea in our backyard pollinator island. Check out that pollen! More moonshine yarrow is below it.

16) Zinnia

Description: Zinnas are one of our favorite plants for pollinators, and our monarchs love them even more! Large poofy flowers on tall stems standout as showstoppers in any garden. Furthermore, zinnas come in dozens of sizes and colors. Best of all, they’re very easy to grow, mature quickly, and bloom heavily over many months.

Zones: Annual for all zones. Frost will kill zinnias.

Bloom time: First blooms can appear 60-70 days after sowing seeds. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage prolonged blooms. Additionally, seeds can be planted in succession to stagger blooms.

Attracts: Butterflies and bees. A huge favorite for our monarchs!

Growing Requirements: Prefers full sun, but will tolerate a little shade. Plant in soil rich with compost, but well-draining. Direct sow outside after the last frost. Zinnias are said to not tolerate starting indoors and transplanting well, though we have with no issues. Our zinnia were prone to powdery mildew – until we found these awesome PM-resistant varieties from Johnny’s Seeds. I’m also quite fond of Giant Coral, Purple Prince, Giant Yellow, Queen Red Lime and many more.

Two close up images of zinnia flowers. One is a large yellow flower with full petals, and a monarch butterfly resting in the middle with it's orange, black and white wings open. The other image is a close up of a pink zinnia flower with a bumble bee resting on the petals near the middle, with pollen on the flower and its legs.
Who doesn’t love a good zinnia? The bees and butterflies sure do!

17) Blazing Meadow Star ~ Liatris

Description: I wish these bad boys were native to our area! Showy, tall, fuzzy spears of purple flowers covered in monarch butterflies anyone? Blazing Meadow Star is a known “monarch magnet”. These perennial plants for pollinators can reach over 4 feet tall.

Zones: 3 – 8, native to midwestern prairies

Bloom time: August and September

Attracts: Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds

Growing Requirements: Full sun to partial shade. Average water requirements – enjoys occasional deep watering, but do not overwater frequently.  Deer and rabbit resistant.

Purple fluffy flowers on tall spikes, with four monarch butterflies on it at once.
Blazing Meadow Star, upholding its reputation as a monarch magnet. Photo courtesy of my dear friend Meg @seedtofork

18) Penstemon

Description: This is another diverse group that encompasses hundreds of species and options! You should be able to find a perennial penstemon to suit every zone and garden. Penstemon range from less than a foot tall to over 5 feet tall. The nectar-rich flowers also come in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes.

Zones: 3 – 10

Bloom time: Spring through fall, dependent on variety

Attracts: Bees and hummingbirds

Growing Requirements: Mostly full sun, but will benefit from afternoon shade in hot summer climates. Not fussy and do well in poor soil, as long as it is well-draining. Therefore, clay soils aren’t ideal, and sandy loamy soil is best. Deep but infrequent water. Drought-tolerant once established.

Two photos of light pink and dark pink tube-shaped penstemon flowers,with other colorful flowers and plants for pollinators in the background.
A couple pretty penstemon blooms in our front and back yard pollinator garden areas.

19) Aster

Description: Perennial. Pretty daisy-like blooms grow on plants that vary in size and color, depending on the variety. The most common is beautiful purple Aster alpinus, which is native to North America.

Zones: 3 – 11, depending on variety

Bloom time: mid or late summer to fall

Attracts: Butterflies and bees

Growing Requirements: Full sun in locations with cooler summers and moist conditions – which is what they prefer. Choose partial shade in warmer climates. Plant with compost in well-draining soil. Maintain regular moisture. Disease and deer resistant.

Bright purple daisy like aster flowers in a cluster.
Aster alpinus – Photo from Farmer’s Almanac

20) Goldenrod ~ Solidago

Description:  Spears of fluffy golden yellow blooms reach anywhere from 1 to 5 feet tall, averaging around 2 to 3 feet for most modern cultivars. Goldenrod is part of the Aster Family. There are over 100 varieties of goldenrod, and many are native to North America.

Zones: There are varieties suitable for every zone.

Bloom time: Late summer through fall

Attracts: Bees and butterflies, as well as other beneficial insects.

Growing Requirements: Full sun to partial shade. Goldenrod will tolerate poor soil, as long as it has good drainage. It requires very little care or water once established. Warning: These plants for pollinators can get huge, and spread aggressively. Considered invasive outside of its native range.

Long fuzzy bright yellow spikes of goldenrod blooms, with bees flying around them. While it is a good plant for pollinators, it can also be invasive in areas where it isn't native.
Goldenrod in bloom. Image from

21) Bee Balm ~ Monarda

Description: Fragrant, nectar-filled flowers perch on top of tall stalks in interesting round clusters. Blooms can appear in red, pink, lavender, and more! Bee balm is part of the mint family, but unlike other mints, it stays in clumps and does not rampantly spread by underground rhizomes. This hardy perennial can also be used to make tea. This stunning variety of bee balm is on my “must have” list ~ coming soon to our garden!

Zones: 3 – 9

Bloom time: Late Spring through fall, depending on variety

Attracts: Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds

Growing Requirements: Sun to partial shade. Some shade is preferred in hot climates. Prefers rich, moist, slightly acidic soil.

A photo of bee balm, a popular plant for pollinators. It is a round flower bud with interesting spiky individual flowers coming out of it in a circle. They're hot pink.
Magical bee balm flowers – Image courtesy of Farmer’s Almanac

22) Pincushion ~ Scabiosa

Description: Round, frilly, tufted flowers that appear in lavender, blues, pink and white. Most varieties are fairly short, averaging around a foot tall. Because they’re compact, these cute plants for pollinators are well-suited for containers and borders. Both annual and perennial varieties exist.

Zones: 3-8, mostly. They do not like overly wet conditions, or hot and humid weather. If you’re in a more mild version of zone 9-10 like we here on the Central Coast, they do just fine!

Bloom time: Late spring through fall, depending on variety

Attracts: Bees – and Butterflies especially!

Growing Requirements: Sun to partial shade. Some shade is preferred in hot climates. Pincushions prefer rich, well-draining soil. Including some compost in their planting hole will keep them happy! Average water is preferred – not too much, but they aren’t necessarily drought-tolerant either.

Light purple pincushion flowers, a dainty and easy plant for pollinators.
Scabiosa in bloom, as seen in our backyard pollinator island.

23) Bachelor’s Buttons ~ Centaurea

Description: Last (but not least) on our plants for pollinators list, Bachelor’s Buttons. These annuals are also called cornflowers. Their 2” thistle-like blooms bring interest to the garden, attract butterflies, are edible, and are perfect for cut and dried flower arrangements. Classic colors include blue to purple hues, but also are available in red, white, pink, and others.

Zones: 2 – 11

Bloom time: Late spring to mid-summer. Blooms can be extended into fall with deadheading, which also helps prevent the spread of seed.

Attracts: Butterflies

Growing Requirements: Sun to partial shade, and some shade is preferred in hot climates. Sow indoors early, or direct sow outdoors around the time of last frost. Very little water or fertilizer is needed. Bachelor’s buttons are not fussy plants, although the tallest of plants may need staking for support.

Blue purple bachelor button blooms
Blue Jubilee Gem Bachelor’s Button from Adaptive Seeds

I don’t have a good image of a hummingbird eating from flowers in our garden (yet!) but they are with us every day almost year round. They’ve even been nesting in our yard lately. This post wouldn’t be complete without a photo of these little sweeties! Here is one of our hummer friends, enjoying a rest in our California Sycamore ~ a favorite perching tree for hummingbirds. The littlest branches suit their tiny feets so well!

A close up of a hummingbird sitting in a sycamore tree, shot from the under side. You can see its tiny black feet wrapped around a thin branch, and its little fluffy white butt feathers.  It has a black neck, green sides, grey chest, and blue and green back.

And that, my friends, concludes the list of the top 23 flowering plants for pollinators!

As you can see, nearly every type of plants for pollinators on this list can be grown in a wide range of zones. Maybe only as annuals instead of perennials, but that is absolutely okay. Add them to containers, raised beds, in-ground… anywhere you can! If you want to take it a step further, consider adding water sources, places to nest, and turning your yard (of any size!) into a Certified Wildlife Habitat – see this article to learn more.

In closing, I hope this list helps you narrow down a handful (or more!) of plants for pollinators you can include in your garden. The pollinators and our planet thank you! Feel free to ask questions, and share this post to spread the pollinator love. Finally, happy plant shopping!

DeannaCat's signature with Keep on Growing


  • Kat

    A while back the bees here had nearly disappeared, with the exception of a few “guard” bees around the house. I’ve been trying to get some small flower beds going outside my little veg patch for the last 7 or so years. Mostly perennials cause buying a bunch of new stuff every year is not sustainable on my tiny budget. Anyway, 4 years ago I saw the first honeybee in years! And the next year and last year, more and more bees! Honeybees, bumbles, things I’d never seen oh my! Then the polar blast killed off several of my plants, including the 2+ lavender, all the rosemaries, one of which was so massive it was bigger than me! I used it for a Christmas tree! The hummingbirds and honeybees loved it and it was always in bloom. I think the creeping phloxes were the first to bloom this year. There were a few bumblebees and butterflies at first but a few weeks later they pretty much disappeared. My remaining sage plants have now been blooming for a few weeks and normally would be a constant buzz of activity, but I’ve only seen one bee on them in all this time! The bees and butterflies are just GONE! Any ideas?? There are some other flowers around, and I’m trying to get my seeds to sprout, and grow (that’s a whole other story and frustraion) for more flowers but there aren’t any bees around. Even the guard bees are gone and that’s just weird. I’m lost!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Kat, that’s too bad about the pollinators in your area, while I can’t say why they have disappeared, I would just continue to build a pollinator friendly garden space, focusing on flowering perennials that won’t be killed off by normal winter weather in your location and they will last for many years, making them much more cost effective. It may be good to invest in some frost cloth that you can use to cover your more vulnerable plants if incredibly cold weather is on the horizon as the weather seems to be a lot more unpredictable these days. Hopefully as the weather warms, the bees and other pollinators will be filling your garden space with their buzz. Hope that helps and have fun growing!

    • Vivian Maio

      Last Fall, I covered up my two lavender plants with straw, and then with plastic storage boxes, put a rock on top to keep in place. they did even better than just survive! They were still green in the spring, then growth just took off! Doing it again for the coming winter!

      • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

        Hi Vivian, thanks for sharing and that’s great you found a way to overwinter your lavender plants, have fun growing!

  • Amanda

    I was wondering about layout as well. If you decide to grow some from seeds, do you keep each type in its own area? I feel like I could easily end up with a mix of things everywhere. My space I’m wanting to plant us smaller 8-10ft by 8-10 ft. Should that make a difference in my pollinator choices or layout?

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Amanda, your layout of plants will just depend on what type of look you are after, the size of the plants once fully mature and the specific climate you are growing in. We like to mix a variety of plants into a specific space, if you are worried about annuals reseeding each year and potentially crowding your space, mixing in more perennial type plants that grow year round or grow back once the weather warms in spring after they died back over winter is a way to keep your pollinator space to the specs that you first started off with. We like to mix in a number of perennial plants but also plant a few annuals here and there and if they reseed, the seedlings are often very easy to remove if necessary, but again, a lot can depend on your growing climate, the size the plants reach once mature, and how long of a growing season you have. Hope that helps and reach out if you have any other questions.

  • Jay

    Hi-great article-I’m looking to add pollinators around my avocado tree-can you recommend a ground cover pollinator? I can use a few of your suggestions in this article but eventually the avo tree will take over-the tree is only 2 years old with a 3 feet canapy.


    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Jay, at our old property we hand nasturtiums and various other pollinator plants, some annual and some perennials planted underneath and around one of our avocado trees but I can’t think of an exact ground cover you should use. I wouldn’t choose anything too permanent but I would suggest using wood chips as mulch if you aren’t already doing so. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Cat

    I enjoyed this post. I am establishing new planting beds around my new (to me) home. Have you thought about possibly providing a recommended guide to laying out these pollinators. I am so overwhelmed at which plants should be placed where so that the lower growing ones don’t get buried beneath the taller plants. I realize everyone’s sitwill be different and depends on which direction the sun will project on your flower bed. It would be helpful though to start with a layout that assumes a south facing garden or whatever is recommended. Thanks for all the information you share. I hope to start a small vegetable garden and front flower beds this growing season. Cheers..

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Cat, that is a good idea. The main thing to think about is how large the plants may get with time, if you have two plants that grow 2×2 feet each, you will have to space them accordingly. Don’t overthink it too much either, just plant them out in a way that looks good to you (while taking plant size, sun needs etc. into consideration) and you can always change things in the future. Hope that helps and good luck on getting your garden and flower beds going this year, it should be a lot of fun!

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