WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- The warm days and cool nights of May make this a perfect time to plant. Deciding what to plant can be a challenge, with so many enticing choices at local nurseries and plant sales. Why not choose some plants that will help our challenged pollinators?
The European honey bee typically comes to mind, when pollinators are mentioned, but we have 4,000 species of native bees in the U.S. – approximately 470 species in New York and 320 species in Connecticut.
Native bees can be excellent pollinators, but like honey bees, many species are in decline. You can help bees in your landscape by 1) eliminating pesticides, 2) providing habitat with patches of bare soil in full sun (most native bees are ground-nesters), and 3) planting bee-friendly forage plants.
While not all plants feed all bee species, here are 6 power-packed native perennials to get you started:
Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) – The showy pinky-purple flowers of this spring blooming woodland plant brighten a garden while attracting a wide variety of bees including: mining bees, sweat bees, mason bees, cuckoo bees and bumble bees.
Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) – A bumble bee and hummingbird favorite, Beardtongue is happiest in full sun. Its white, snapdragon-like flowers bloom in late spring, attracting mason bees, bumble bees, digger bees, sweat bees, leafcutter bees, butterflies and Sphinx moths.
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) - A member of the carrot family, this cheery native sports clusters of tiny yellow flowers in spring. Its flowers are visited by short and long-tongued bees such as mining bees, yellow-faced bees, mason bees, sweat bees, bumble bees, as well as beneficial insects. It’s also a host plant for the Black Swallowtail butterfly.
Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) – All Joe-Pye Weeds are great pollinator plants – their statuesque height of 6 to 8 feet or more adds an impressive vertical element to a landscape. Tiny pink florets attract a wide range of butterflies and bees, including the threatened Rusty Patched Bumble Bee, cuckoo bees, leafcutter bees, bumble bees and many others.
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – You don’t need a swamp to grow this hard working native plant – average to moist soil in full sun will do. A native milkweed, it is one of a handful of host plants for the endangered Monarch butterfly, but it does so much more ecologically. Small resin bees, leafcutter bees, bumble bees, honey bees, and numerous adult butterfly species are just some of the visitors to this plant.
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) – A lesser known Monarda, this native thrives in average soil in a sunny spot. Its pale lavender flowers offer a nectar reward particularly valuable to bumble bees that prefer this plant over many others. Also visited by long-horned bees, green sweat bees, small resin bees, leafcutter bees and many butterflies and moths.
Plant a diverse array of native plants with a succession of bloom from spring through fall – the pollinators will thank you!
Kim Eierman, a resident of Bronxville, is an environmental horticulturist and Founder of EcoBeneficial. When she is not speaking, writing, or consulting about ecological landscapes, she teaches at the New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, The Native Plant Center and Rutgers Home Gardeners School.
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