Plant a Native Pollinator Garden

Wellfleet Bay Nature Center garden © Laura Fenn
© Laura Fenn

One major way to make a positive impact on pollinators—and beautify an outdoor space—is to plant a native pollinator garden. Native plants are well adapted to our local conditions and support many pollinators; some species rely on them exclusively. Also, some plants, like tomatoes and blueberries, won’t release their pollen unless they experience the wing vibrations of particular bees.

Even small outdoor spaces can provide quality habitat and help us fight climate change. A pollinator garden can range from a decorative planter with native flowers on your porch or small flowerbeds to larger vegetable gardens interspersed with flowers. All these flora are also part of nature’s climate toolkit because they soak up excess carbon dioxide, one of our most rampant greenhouse gasses, like a sponge.

When you are deciding how to create a native plant garden, keep in mind that all pollinators have the same basic needs to thrive:


Cultivate plants that offer food such as pollen, nectar, seeds, and/or fruit.

Places to Raise Young

Offer places for butterflies and other insects to lay eggs and places for bees to nest: 

  • Bare sand for solitary nesting bees & wasps
  • Dead wood for nesting bees & wasps
  • Mud/water for moisture & nest material
  • Wood piles/flaking bark for overwintering

No Toxins

Keep your outdoor areas free of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, and non-organic fertilizers.

Tips for Creating a Native Plant Garden

  1. Plan the type of garden—do you want to convert a lawn into a garden, create a flowerbed, or make a container garden?
  2. Choose a set of native plants that will have some flowers in bloom in the spring, summer, and fall (see the recommendations below). 
  3. Choose a diversity of native plants that attract different types of pollinators such as hummingbirdsbees, and butterflies; plants offer more to pollinators than just pollen and nectar—the caterpillars of butterflies and moths, for example, need leafy food to eat.
  4. Prepare your site for planting—depending on your project, this could include putting down soil, removing sod, etc; if you’re using seeds, start seeds inside or sow seeds in loose soil according to the requirements for each kind of plant.

Native Pollinator-Friendly Plants for Gardens & Landscapes

Spring Bloom

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
Wild Columbine
Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)
Coral Bells
Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)
Virginia Bluebells
Wild Geranium
Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata)
Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis) 
Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
Wild Lupine
Lowbush blueberry

Summer Bloom

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
New Jersey Tea
Hoary Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum)
Purple Coneflower
Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida)
Coreopsis sp. (especially Lance-leaved)
Blazing Star sp. (Liatris)
Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa)
Cardinal Flower 
Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Salvias sp.*
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria)
Virginia Rose

Late Summer & Fall Bloom

Sweet Pepperbush
Asters (New England, etc.)
Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus)
Turtlehead sp. (Chelone)
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Obedient Plant
Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
Joe Pye Weed

Butterfly Larval Host Plants

Milkweed sp. (A. syriaca, incarnata, verticillata, exaltata) 
Oak (young oaks & Bear Oaks)
Grasses & Sedges (especially Little Bluestem)
Parsley family (Yarrow, Dill, etc.)

Plants for Birds (Fruit-Eating)

Mulberry (summer)
Viburnum sp. (summer)
Black Cherry (late summer)  W
Pokeweed (late summer/fall)  W
Virginia Creeper (late summer/fall)  W
Holly (winter)
Chokeberry (Aronia spp.)
Winterberry (winter & spring)
Crabapples (e.g. Zumi) (winter & spring)
Black Tupelo

Plants for Birds (Seed-Eating)

Evening Primrose W

W = Wild *Non-native but highly beneficial

More Information & Resources