Planting native pollinator magnets

Saturday I finally finished planting the native plants in my full-sun pollinator garden. 

In September bought a lot of natives at Hummingbird Hill Native Plant Nursery in Crozet, Virginia, with help from a grant I received from the Alliance for The Chesapeake Bay (

Hairy Beardtongue is a native wildflower with a very weird name (because of a tuft of yellow hairs that come out from the flower’s throat). Pale purple blooms look similar to foxglove or snapdragons, and they bloom late May to July. Bumblebees love to crawl up inside the flowers to get nectar, and to cover themselves in pollen.

Meadow Phlox is another native wildflower. It has pink-purple blooms with a sweet fragrance, great for cuttings. They bloom in summer and attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. It is a host plant for some moths as well.

Lanceleaf Coreopsis is also a native wildflower with yellow, daisy-like flowers that bloom from spring to fall. They are also called tickseed, because the seeds look like ticks. I planted Threadleaf Coreopsis (also native) in the part-sun section of my garden. I plan to leave the seed heads on all of them over winter for birds, especially goldfinches, who love the seeds.

I planted two Turk’s Cap Lily bulbs. They will grow 6 feet or taller, and can have up to 40 blooms on each stalk in summer. The blooms are orange and look very similar to Tiger Lilies, but Turk’s Cap Lilies are native. They are very fragrant. They almost became extinct a few decades ago, because many people ate the bulbs, adding them to stews and meat recipes. But they are making a comeback.

Calico Aster is 3 to 4 feet tall and completely covered in tiny daisy-like flowers late-summer to mid-fall. Many butterflies and bees are attracted to it as a nectar source, and it is also a butterfly host plant. Small bees and flies are especially attracted to the little blooms.

Joe Pye Weed is named after a Native American medicine man who made concoctions from the plant to cure typhoid fever and stop an epidemic in Colonial Massachusetts. It grows 6′-8′ tall with “clouds” of mauve flowers with a sweet vanilla scent which attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. They bloom mid-summer to early-fall.

I also planted some seeds I ordered from Prairie Moon Nursery that require cold stratification (they need a few months of exposure to cold temps before they sprout in spring): Rose Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Golden Alexanders, Giant Ironweed and Wild Bergamot.

Rose Milkweed, aka Swamp Milkweed, has a nice vanilla fragrance and large rosy pink flowers that bloom in July and August. Like other milkweeds, it is the only host plant for Monarch butterflies. The nectar attracts bumblebees, honey bees, hummingbirds, and many species of butterflies.

Common Milkweed is a native perennial that grows 3′-4′ tall with fragrant pinkish-purple flower clusters that bloom from late-spring to mid-summer. It is a host plant for Monarchs, and the nectar attracts many other butterflies. The leaves and stems are filled with a milky sap that is poisonous to birds. When Monarch caterpillars eat it, their bodies become poisonous to birds, so birds leave them alone.

Golden Alexanders have small yellow flowers that bloom April through June (before most pollinator plants are in bloom). They are a member of the carrot family. Flowers are followed by ornate seed clusters. Used by many small-tongued bees and insects, this is the host plant for Black Swallowtail Butterflies. Golden Alexander also attracts and hosts a number of beneficial insects that are predatory or parasitoid on many common garden pest insects.

Giant ironweed has purple blooms on 6 to 9 foot stalks from late summer to early fall. They are an important late-season source of food for butterflies. Hummingbirds and bees also enjoy the nectar. It provides food for birds and nesting place for woodcocks (a game bird that migrates south from Canada to Virginia each winter and lives in the woods.)

Wild Bergamot, aka Bee Balm, has violet colored tube-shaped blossoms and aromatic foliage. Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies love the flowers, which bloom from July through September. It is native to most of North America. Native Americans used it as medicine: poultices for boils and lacerations; tea infusions for headaches, indigestion, colds and flu.


3 thoughts on “Planting native pollinator magnets

    • I hope it will be busy! This summer it was busy because this area was filled with zinnias, which are gone now. I am hoping all these natives will bring even more pollinators. 🙂


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