Bee Notes

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March 23, 2022

Selecting the best plants for pollinators
Two great lists to get you started

At this time of year, we get questions about what to plant for pollinators. The first list has lots of research behind it. The second list has many of the same plants, plus helps you grow plants to support bees for all seasons. 

Top 10 Plants for Pollinators:
The Garden Ecology Lab at OSU has done a lot of research on plants for pollinators. These top 10 Oregon native plants for pollinators are ones you can consider for your gardens. Chose plants that bloom throughout the season with a variety of flower shapes and sizes. 

View as a printable PDF

Yarrow – Achillea millefolium
Perennial. Blooms June-October. Drought tolerant and deer resistant. Plant in spring or fall 

Though yarrow commonly appears on pollinator planting lists, many people are not convinced that it’s a great bee plant, because it is not typically buzzing with activity like we may see on Goldenrod or Douglas Aster. Instead of hosting an abundance of visitors, yarrow supports a high diversity of insect visitors.

Oregon Sunshine – Eriophyllum lanatum
Perennial. Blooms June-September. Drought tolerant. Plant starts in spring or fall or sow seeds in the fall

Oregon Sunshine is a widespread perennial in the sunflower family (Asteraceae). It provides resources to a great diversity of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths, and caterpillars. This native sunflower is a great late summer nectar plant with wide yellow flowers (sometimes up to 2″ across).

Pearly Everlasting – Anaphalis margaritacea
Perennial. Blooms June-October. Drought tolerant, deer resistant. Full sun to part shade. Plant starts in spring or sow seeds in fall

Pearly everlasting is an excellent nectar resource for pollinators, and is especially attractive to many butterfly and moth species. It makes an important larval host plant for American Lady and Painted Lady Butterflies whose seasonal feeding can leave Pearly Everlasting foliage slightly tattered, but nothing that the plant can’t recover from.

Varileaf Phacelia – Phacelia heterophylla
Biennial/annual, typically grown as an annual. Blooms April-July. Shade tolerant, drought tolerant. Full sun to part shade. Sow seeds in fall or starts fall or spring after last chance of frost

Varileaf Phacelia is the epitome of an underappreciated pollinator plant! This annual with petite white flowers attracts both an abundance and diversity of insect visitors. It may appear “weedy” to some gardeners, but as an annual, it could easily be interspersed with more attractive annual face flowers (such as California poppy, meadowfoam, farewell to spring, or baby blue eyes) to create a colorful and nutritious pollinator garden.

Canada Goldenrod – Solidago canadensis
Perennial. Blooms July-October. Moderately drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant. Full sun, but tolerates some shade. Plant starts in spring or sow seeds in fall.

Goldenrod is a wonderful late-flowering plant for pollinators; it hosts a moderate abundance and a high diversity of insect visitors. We love combining goldenrod with Douglas aster for a beautiful late-season floral display of yellow and purple. The pyramidal inflorescences are lined with tiny composite flowers that brim with nectar and pollen. Goldenrod supports many late season butterflies, moths, bees, beetles and some wasps. Goldenrods (the genus Solidago) are known to be a very difficult plant to identify to species. It is highly recommend purchasing plants from a local native plant nursery or grower that sources their seeds within your region! 

Common Madia (aka Tarweed) –Madia elegans
Annual. Blooms July-September. Full sun, will tolerate partial shade. Drought tolerant, deer resistant, seeds for birds. Sow seeds in fall, stratify seeds if growing indoors.

Common Madia is an ideal plant for pollinator gardens due to its long bloom duration and attractiveness to bees, caterpillars, and butterflies. Madia was found to attract both a high abundance and a high diversity of bee visitors. Due to it’s late-summer bloom period, Madia can act as a great source of forage for its various visitors when there may not be many other plants flowering in the landscape. Madia flowers, which close at dusk and reopen in the morning. if you’re lucky, you may be able to find male long-horned-bees sleeping in groups within the flowers.

Farewell-to-Spring – Clarkia amoena
Annual. Blooms June-September. Drought tolerant, deer resistant. Sow seeds in fall or early spring for best results. 

Farewell-to-Spring hosts a moderate abundance of bee visitors, but the diversity of bees it hosts is among the highest found in the study! With a long flowering season, Farewell-to-Spring blooms when spring wildflowers are beginning to turn brown. Bloom duration can be lengthened by occasional watering over the summer, although Farewell-to-Spring are drought-tolerant and survive with minimal summer irrigation. This flower is an annual, but will reseed itself readily.

Globe Gilia – Gilia capitata
Annual. Blooms May-June. Full sun. Drought tolerant, tolerant to various soil types. Sow seeds in fall, seeds can be stratified indoors for over wintering for spring planting

Globe Gilia is truly a powerhouse of an annual plant: it supports a highly diverse and abundant community of native bees! Gilia’s globe of flower heads provide pollinators with plenty of foraging spots to choose from, and the dense mass also allows easy access for both small and large pollinators, by acting as a nice landing pad. The flowers contrast wonderfully with many other mid-summer blooms, such as poppies, Oregon sunshine, asters, and Clarkia.

California Poppy –  Eschscholzia californica
Annual/Perennial. Blooms early spring to late summer depending on seeding date. Drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant. Seed in fall for spring bloom, seed in spring for mid-summer bloom.

California poppy’s range extends from Washington to northwest Baja California and east towards Arizona and southwest New Mexico. A popular flower for roadside plantings, California poppy survives well in average to poor soil that is well-draining. It survives mild-winters as an herbaceous perennial and reseeds itself readily. California poppy is an all-around easy pollinator plant to grow, and growing it pays off, as it attracts an incredible diversity and abundance of bees with its remarkable volumes of pollen.

Douglas Aster – Symphyotrichum subspicatum
– Perennial, July-November- drought tolerant, deer resistant, starts in spring or early fall
Douglas aster has an impressive ability to spread and a high volume of flowers that buzz with pollinator activity throughout its long bloom season hosting a high abundance and diversity of bee visitors, Douglas aster is a pollinator plant superstar. It is particularly valuable as a late-season pollinator plant, able to provide both nectar and pollen to its visitors when these resources may otherwise be scarce in the landscape. People often have strong reactions towards Douglas Aster – they either love it, or find it to be “weedy” in appearance. Douglas Aster abundant blooms has common visitors that include bumblebees, green bees, long-horned bees, small sweat bees, and butterflies, including the woodland skipper and the occasional grey hairstreak (Strymon melinus).
From The Garden Ecology Lab

Top 25 plants for attracting pollinators

Bloom winter through early spring (February through April)
Vine maple (Acer circinatum): Native, deciduous large shrub or small tree that can be trained to a single or multi-trunked form. Good as an understory plant under tall evergreens

Tall Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium, formerly Mahonia): The Oregon State flower, this native evergreen shrub busts out with huge can’t-miss-them clusters of yellow flowers.

Camas (Camassia spp.): A native bulb with tall foliage and an even taller stalk of blue flowers.

Crabapple (Malus floribunda): Deciduous tree with masses of pink or white blooms, followed by red berries. 

Willow (Salix spp.): Many different types of this deciduous shrub or tree, depending on which you choose. Some have a graceful weeping form. 

Bloom spring through early summer (April through June)
Western serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia spp.): Native deciduous shrub or small tree with star-shaped white flowers followed by maroon-purple berries. 

Borage (Borago officinalis): An annual herb with fuzzy foliage and delightful clusters of blue flowers; will re-seed year to year. An ancient plant that is used for medicinal purposes.

California lilac (Ceanothus spp.): Tough evergreen shrub with knobs of blue flowers that cover the plant like a blanket. Drought tolerant. There are many cultivars. 

Tickseed (Coreopsis spp.): An adaptable perennial prized for its bright yellow flowers, often with a red eye, and drought tolerance. 

Geranium (Geramium spp.): These perennials are not the blustery blooming annual plants that we’re all familiar with; they are tough, hardy perennials with five-petaled flowers in many shades of purple and pink. 

Globe gilia (Gilia capitata): A native annual that’s very adaptable to different situations. Sports puffs of lavender flowers. May re-seed.

Lupine (Lupinus spp.): Tall spikes of flowers make this perennial a distinctive plant in the garden. The most common is blue, but hybrids run the gamut from pink and red yellow and white and even bi-colors.

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana): A native deciduous shrub or small tree with pendulous white flowers and attractive bark. 

Bloom mid- to late summer (July through September)
Blue giant hyssop (Agastache foeniculum and spp.): A sturdy perennial with rods of lavender-blue flowers. Smells like anise when crushed. 

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica): The familiar, friendly orange perennial wildflower that’s as tough as it comes. Drought tolerant. 

Oregon gumweed (Grindelia stricta or integrifolia): A native plant bearing school-bus yellow, daisylike flowers. Great for the beach. 

Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale): Another native, yellow-blooming perennial with daisylike flowers and a big cone in the center. 

Showy tarweed (Madia elegans): This yellow-blooming native plant is an annual herb, and a beautiful one at that. Flowers are centered with a red ring.

Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii): A pretty, pest-free perennial with gray-green, fragrant foliage and spikes of small flowers in shades of blue and purple. 

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia): Airy clouds of lavender flowers distinguish this heat-loving, low-water perennial. 

Phacelia (Phacelia spp.): A fast-growing perennial with fernlike foliage topped with fascinating blue flowers that unfurl in a fiddlehead shape. 

Stonecrop (Sedum spp.):  There are any species of this succulent, both tall and low. Groundcovers normally put out small yellow flowers; tall have blooms in shades of pink. Drought tolerant. Various hardiness.

Bloom late summer to fall (September through November)
Michaelmas daisy (Aster amellus): An easy-to-grow perennial with daisy-like flowers in various shades of purple and pink. There’s even a white one. 

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis): A native perennial with abundant sprays of sunshine yellow. 

Douglas aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatum): An adaptable, very-long blooming native perennial with lavender-blue, daisy-like flowers.

 – List compiled by Signe Danler, OSU Horticulture Department


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