Monday, March 31, 2014

Mindful Monday: Plants for Pollinators

It's Spring!  Well, according to the human calendar it is.  Mother Nature, as she is likely to do, has been showing us that we don't dictate when one season ends and another begins.  Regardless, with small piles of snow still lurking, the season of rebirth and renewal is just around the corner.

That means that the pollinators will be showing up very soon, and if you want to see them you'll need to have plants that attract them.  I'm sure most people know of the troubles our honey bees and other beneficial insects have been facing lately.  These problems make it even more important to offer more of the plants these insects use for food.  

Today I'm going to give you a list of the plants I have that are popular with the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  (If you are reading this outside of Plant Hardiness Zone 7, check to be sure these plants will survive in your zone before planting them.)

Disclosure:  I do not have a garden planted specifically for pollinators.  Flowers aren't really my thing, but some of these were here when we moved in.  The rest are conveniently associated with my herbal affinity.

Rose of Sharon flower
Rose of Sharon ~  This is one of the most popular flowers in the garden, loved by all the nectar drinkers.  It blooms from all summer, from about June through September.  Sometimes the bees get so heavily covered in pollen they can't fly.  We'll see them staggering around on the ground, and we say they're "nectar drunk." It's quite comical.  There are even times when they pass out inside the flower, it closes over them for the night, and they stagger out when it opens again in the morning.  Every so often, I see one fall out of a flower, too.  Silly bees.
Full Bloom

Butterfly Bush ~ The name speaks for itself.  This bush gets big, although there are dwarf versions.  It will begin blooming about May and continue through the entire season.  My big one usually has it's last flowers in early October.  The cone-shaped sprays start blooming at the bottom, and open row by row up to the tip.  They die off in the same fashion.  It comes in a few colors: pink, white, purple, red, and blue, plus a few multi-colored varieties. Like the Rose of Sharon, it's very popular with all the pollinators.  The one thing this bush attracts that isn't as easily seen on any of the others is the Sphinx Moth.  Fabulous creatures, those.  They have lobster-shaped "tails," bumble bee bodies, butterfly tongues, and hummingbird wings. 

Mint ~ There are so many kinds of mint.  On my deck I have: peppermint, spearmint, orange mint, apple mint, and chocolate mint.  (*Note: Mint is an invasive perennial, and so is better kept in containers unless you are willing to fight a hard battle.)  As a rule, I don't let my mint flower.  Once it flowers, the flavor quality plummets because the plant is putting all of its energy into producing seed.  Also, mints will cross-pollinate, which could create issues for your crop in the coming years.  But this year I let my orange mint go to flower, and I discovered that the bees loved it.  There was also some sort of wasp that frequented the sprays of tiny lilac-colored flowers.  
Wasp on Mint Flowers
Orange Mint Flowers

Bee Balm ~ The name says it all.  This perennial comes in varieties with pink, red, and white flowers.  Mine is red.  The flowers are bursts of color at the ends of long stems with thick foliage beneath.  Because they are tubular (and red), the flowers also attract the local hummingbirds.  As with the mint, it is a dual purpose plant, being delectable to the pollinators and edible for humans, too.

Salvia ~ This is sage in its many forms.  I have had Pineapple Sage, which was an amazing plant to grow.  Aside from the fabulous pineapple aroma, the bright red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.  (I loved infusing sun tea with bruised leaves.)
Pineapple Sage

Squash ~ Yellow, zucchini, butternut, pumpkin.  Even gourds and cucumbers.  The bees love the bright orangey-yellow blooms on all of these plants.  (And the white flowers of the gourds, too.)  In the heat of summer, this area of my garden buzzes with the sounds of bumble and honey bees flitting around in the shade of the huge leaves.  Again, here we have a plant that feeds both insects and humans.  (I imagine the hummingbirds probably like them, too, but I haven't seen them personally.)
Bumble Bee inside Yellow Squash flower

Lavender ~ This is listed on "best for pollinators" lists, and it makes sense, but I haven't seen enough action around mine to say I would plant it for the purpose of attracting them.  That could be, though, because my lavender is very near my bee balm and mints.  (I felt it deserved mention from what I've read.)
Lavender just starting

Borage ~ While I have heard that this herb has several good uses--salads, deterring tomato worms, attracting bees--I had problems just getting it to grow.  Apparently, it doesn't do well in anything but well-drained soil.  I had one plant with a couple flowers.  They are pretty, and I love the benefits they are supposed to offer, so I will try again.  Until then, this herb from the "best for pollinators" lists is really untried in my garden.  I'm mentioning it because it is listed on so many lists, and I do plan on trying it again.

Happy Pollinating!

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