Havens For Beneficial Bugs

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Bees are beautiful

Nurturing pollinators yard by yard

Despite dire daily news about climate change and ecological destruction, I’m heartened to observe increasing interest in protecting and nurturing pollinators. Cute, fuzzy honeybees still get the most media attention, but there’s more understanding that thousands of species of native bees and other pollinators are also dwindling. Researchers report that hundreds of important pollinators are struggling, from bees to bats, birds, butterflies, and more (mosquitoes pollinate bog orchids, who knew?). Those “important” species aren’t just those with immediate impacts on humans; it’s been amply demonstrated that the loss of any single species of any kind adversely affects at least 30 others in their interconnected foodweb. That said, it’s probably easiest for gardeners to relate to the loss of bees, our most obvious natural allies. When our gardens attract and host beneficial insects of many kinds, both gardens and critters thrive. When we make our gardens into havens for those tiny helpers, we reap benefits from better food production to healthier plants, since many beneficial bugs and birds feast on bothersome garden pests.

The single most important way to create a safe haven is to make sure that no toxic pesticides (including herbicides) are used on your land. If neighbors persist in using chem-lawn services (however “green” the name), ask them for safety paperwork for each chemical used on their property, as wind may cause chemical drifting that’s just as deadly as a direct application. On your own land, find places that can become “bug banks”, protected zones where native plants, certain “weeds”, and garden escapees will provide food and shelter for an astonishingly wide range of critters. Such hospitable safety zones can be as small as an untended strip between neighboring properties, behind the chicken coop, along a woodland edge, or in any out of the way place where it won’t offend the eye of the tidy minded. The nearer such areas are to orchards and vegetable beds, the better they will serve both you and the pollinators.

Banking With West Coast Natives

Not surprisingly, native pollinators largely prefer native plants, especially specialist bees which restrict their foraging to specific families. Like honeybees, other native pollinators are generalists, happy to feast on garden plants from pretty much anywhere in the world. 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 huckleberries, Indian plum (Oemleria), flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), native rhododendrons, and various species of Oregon grape (Mahonia), often the first and longest to bloom. All these shrubs can be blended into ornamental borders and woodland gardens, sharing space with garden imports from camellias to hydrangeas. Native violets, creeping veronica, foamflower (Tiarella), Mother of thousands (Tolmia), and fringe cup (Tellima) are often volunteers that are commonly weeded out if unrecognized as valuable and pretty natives with a pollinator following of their own.

Eradication is also the usual fate of “weedy weeds,” which are far more appreciated by insects and other critters than by control-oriented gardeners. The bug bank that supports a few thistles will also support goldfinches, and those dockweeds, buttercups, and dandelions are much appreciated by 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. Food growing gardeners can edge veggie beds with perennial herbs, including various kinds of oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary as well as annual flowers like feverfew, calendulas, California poppies, and sweet alyssum. The greater the variety of plants on offer, the greater the assortment and quantity of insect helpers that will call your garden home.

That Promised List

I’ve shared this list many times over the years, as I’ve never found one more comprehensive. I was first introduced to it at a workshop on beneficial insects at Interbay P-Patch some 30 years ago. You’ll note the dearth of native plants because at that time, very few edible gardens-or gardens of any kind-included natives. Just know that any native plants you leave or add to your own garden will quickly attract native pollinators with no effort on your part. Back then, the presenter, Sean Phelan, was 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 Non-Native 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; true geranium-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)
thymes (**; 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)
Cal´liopsis( **; F)
Rudbeckias-singles (**; F; P; black-eyed susans)
Ratibida (**; F; P; prairie coneflower)
Ornamental grasses (P- important part of beneficial bugs’ life-cycle)
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)….

Remember, slugs are pollinators too!

Flower Slug mosaic by Raquel Stanek

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5 Responses to Havens For Beneficial Bugs

  1. Sharon Skleinhen says:

    Hi Ann,
    Just wanted to say thanks for all your garden and worldly vision and sense. I have been a reader of your stuff for years, dating back to the Seattle PI. I used to have one of your books too, but loaned it to someone….you know how sometimes they don’t find their way back?
    But the reason I was finally prompted to write is the lovely mosaic slug at the bottom of your post! I believe I was gifted a similar one years ago, in blue, silver and white tiles. Many times people have asked me about it, and who made it, but I didn’t know. I tried to google Rachel Stanek, but didn’t find much. Do you know a way to contact her? Or, if you know her to just say Hi to, please convey that Big Blue, as he is called, is doing well, and this year especially has done a fine job of keep his like away from my edibles!

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Sharon, Raquel Stanek lives here on Bainbridge Island and I’ll happily pass along your message next time I see her! Her name is Raquel, not Rachel, though it’s easy to confuse the two. It’s quite likely that she made your garden slug, as she is endlessly creative with her mosaic work.

  2. A really useful list. Thank you!

  3. Mike Nance says:

    How does one safely rid their Bainbridge property of japanese knotweed?

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