Gardening For Bees, Bugs and Butterflies

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A Home Place For Beneficials

It’s not good news that in recent years, local gardeners and those around the globe have noticed a radical drop in pollinators. While honeybees get most of the media attention, thousands of species of native bees are also dwindling. Critter census numbers show that many important pollinators are struggling, from bees to bats, birds and butterflies. Those of us who grow food will find our efforts better rewarded if we also plant for those natural allies. Gardens that attract and host beneficial insects of many kinds thrive by becoming a haven for those tiny helpers. Crop production will improve as pollination rates climb, and many of those same beneficial bugs and creatures also eat troublesome garden pests, eliminating any need for toxic pesticides.

To forward this worthy agenda, many folks designate an area near orchards and vegetable beds to become home ground for beneficials. Organic growers call such areas “bug banks,” since they become storehouses of invaluable insect garden allies. In its simplest form, a slim strip of bug bank might line or abut each row in a veggie patch, holding perennial herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary as well as annual flowers like feverfew and sweet alyssum. The greater the variety of plants on offer, the greater the assortment and quantity of insect helpers that will make themselves at home.

Banking On Northwest Natives

Not surprisingly, native pollinators often prefer native plants, though some are willing to experiment with garden beauties. Early bloomers will lure in numerous insects, including Mason bees, small but mighty, and more efficient pollinators than European honeybees. To get the full benefit of local pollinators, stock your bug bank with Indian plum (Oemleria), flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), and various species of Oregon grape (Mahonia). Native violets, foamflower (Tiarella), Mother of thousands (Tolmia), and fringe cup (Tellima) are also good candidates.

So are all sorts of “weeds,” which are so often more appreciated by insects and other critters than by control-oriented gardeners. The bugbank that supports a few thistles will also support goldfinches, and those dockweeds, buttercups, and dandelions are always in hot demand among the non-human garden users. Most garden herbs are equally popular and often have a haze of humming insects over them in midsummer, including tiny hoverflies and even moths by night.

Making A List, Planting It Twice

Many years ago I attended an exciting workshop on beneficial insects at Interbay P-Patch. The presenter, Sean Phalen, was then the Site Coordinator at Seattle’s Judkins P-Patch, and he had carefully documented the P-Patch’s most popular plants for pollinators through the year. Sean arranged his list of nectar-producing flowers by blooming season to help gardeners make appropriate and attractive planting choices.

Sean’s Plants For Attracting Beneficial Insects

P= perennial;   B=biennial; no notation=annual;   I=intermittent through the year;  F=through to frost;   **=super nectar producer

ULTRA EARLY (through winter)

Autumn croci (**; P; pulchellus, albus, zonatus…)
Hardy cyclamen (**; P; neapolitanum, hederifolium, coum…)
Helebores (P)
Mahonia (**; P, I)
Snowdrops (**; P)
Aconite (**; P)
Borage (I, **)
Calendula (I, **)
Earliest narcissici (**P)


Snow crocus species (**; P)
Early daffodils and narcissi (**; P)
Species tulips (**;  P; tarda, hageri…)
Glory-of-the-snow (**: P; Chionodoxa)
Iris reticulata (**; P)
Rosemary (P, **)
Primrose ( P; early)
Bolting cruciferae (**)


Single daffodils (P)
Species primrose (P)
Scillas (**; P)
Violets (P; **)
Violas ( P, I, **)
Anemones (**; P; Spring-St. Brigid’s mix, monarch de caen…)
Alyssum (annual-I; and perennial; **)


Late Single Daffodils (**;P)
Tulips-single (P)
Dutch iris
Aquilegia (P;columbine)
Armeria maritima (P; **; native-sea pinks)
Candytufts (annual-F, &P, **)
Dianthus (sweet Williams, some F; and per.pinks)
Creeping phlox ( P; **;incl. native P. subulata)
Campanulas (P)
Centaurea (**; A-I; &P)
Digitalis (**:  B; foxglove)
English daisy (B; **;bellis)
Godetia ( F; **;s summer’s herald-native)
Clarkia (F; **; native-mountain garland)
Linaria (F; **0
Lupines  (A&P)
Lunaria (B; money plant)
Pyretheum ( P; painted daisy)
Saponarias (P; soapwort)
Stocks (F, **)
Cal. Bluebells (**, Phacelia campanularia)
Nemophila (**)
Tidy tips (**)
Myosotis ( B; **; forget-me-nots)
Poppies-single (all, A &P, **, California poppies-I)
Sweet peas (**ù)


Anagalis ( P; blue pimpernel)
Bidens (P; golden goddess)
Achilleas ( P; I; F; **; incl. native A. millefolium)
Nasturtiums (F, **)
Chives (**; P; both garlic and regular)
Parsley (**: B)
Cilantro (**)
Dill (**)
Mints (**)
Dymorphotheca ( F; African daisy)
Dahlberg Daisy (F)
Shasta Daisy-single ( some F)
Geranium ( some F; NOT Pelargonium)
Gilia ( **; birds eyes)
Purple tansy (**; Phacelia tanecetifolia)
Silene (**; P;  catchfly)
Hesperus matronalis ( P;  **; sweet rocket)
Linums (**; A & P)
Lobelias (A- F; &P)
Monarda (**; P)
Nepetas ( **; P;F; catnip, catmint…)
Potentillas (P, F)
Spireas (P)
Viscaria (**; rose angel)
Thyme (**; P)


Agastaches (**; P; licorice mint…)
Asclepias (**; b-fly weed)
Asters-single (A&P; F; **)
brachymone ( F; swan river daisy)
Basils (**)
Catananche (P; cupid’s dart)
Centranthus ( P; F; jupiter’s beard)
Cleome ( F; spider flowerù)
Annual chrysanthemum (F)
Convolvulus (F)
coreopsis (F; **)
Cosmos ( F; ; A&P)
Dianthus ( F; A &P; carnations, ann. pinks… singles)
Eupatorium ( **; joe pye weed)
Gaillardia (F; **;  A & P)
Gazania (transvaal daisy)
Hollyhocks-singles (**; P, B & A; singles)
Marigolds ( **; F; singles-“gem” series T. signata)
Summer savory
Zinnias ( **; F; singles; Africans “profusion”series)
Salvias and sages ( some F; **; A & P)
Oreganos ( **; P)
Malvas (P)
Penstemons ( P; some F; incl. natives)
Gauras ( P; F; **)
Phlox ( F; A & P)
Physostegia (F; P;  obedient plant)
Portulaca (F)
Sunflowers-singles ( **; F; A & P)
Tahoka daisy (**; F)
Torenia (F; wishbone flower)
Trachymene ( F; **;blue lace flower)
Verbenas ( F; **; A&P)
Verbascums (**; P)
Veronias ( P; **; F; speedwell)
Lilies (**; P)
Daylilies-singles (**,P;some F)


Asters-singles ( F: A&P: late)
Amaranthus (F)
Echinaceas (**; P; F; coneflowers)
Calliopsis( **; F)
Rudbeckias-singles (**; F; P;  black-eyed susans)
Ratibida (**; F; P; prairie coneflower)
Ornamental grasses (P- nesting material)
Oenothera (**; P; F; evening primroses)
Sedums (**; F; P; incl. natives)
Early, single mums (F; P)
Tithonia (**; F; Mexican sunflower)
Solidagos (**; F; goldenrods)


colchicums (**; P)
late single mums (F; P)
late sedums (**:F; P)
fall anemones(**; F; P)
saffron crocus (**;P; all autumn crocus)….

Peace and plenty for pollinators!

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6 Responses to Gardening For Bees, Bugs and Butterflies

  1. Tamara Mitchell says:

    Great list!

  2. Alyson says:

    This summer I planted a border with Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, Salvia Caradonna, Mexican Feather Grass, buttery-yellow nasturtiums, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, with some lilies interplanted. The salvias hadn’t been in more than half an hour but the bees came flocking to them, along with white cabbage butterflies settling on the nepeta. Amazing how quickly the word travelled along the pollinator pipeline.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Right? Plant it and they will come! I enjoy stretching the garded year at both ends and seeing which creatures come to enjoy the bounty, early or late.

  3. Michele Erskine says:

    I have a pest attacking only my coreopsis plants in large numbers
    It looks like a striped larger lady bug.
    I have photo I could forward . Do you know what it is? How can
    I treat it?

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Michele,
      The easiest way for you to find out what’s bugging your coreopsis is to take pictures to an independent nursery (not a box store) or find a Master Gardener booth at a farmers market and ask them to give you an ID and an idea of what to do about it. Ask for a non-toxic method, of course! When I’ve got a plant in trouble, I usually start by hosing it off hard with plain water. That’s often enough to take care of the problem, especially with tiny critters like aphids, for whom the trek from soil to stem is a long journey. Good luck!

  4. Beth says:

    Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a wonderful host to many kinds of bees and wasps. It can be grown as a perennial in Seattle, growing to 6 feet tall with golden yellow flowers in August, and it works well at the back of a border. I have one growing right next to my back door, and yet have never been stung by the many bees or wasps on it, as they are too busy foraging to be bothered by me.

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