Attracting pollinators to your garden increases yields and helps our struggling planet.

Last year, we added two raised planters to our vegetable garden. Before this we’d always included flowers in our vegetable rows–a few cosmos, nasturtiums and marigolds–but this year, we filled two 3’ x 3’ raised beds with a rainbow of blooms. Purple and yellow coneflower. Russian sage. Four different kinds of salvia, and more.

The number of pollinators visiting our garden skyrocketed. Bees buzzed from flower to flower. Hummingbirds sipped their tube-shaped favorites. Butterflies drank nonstop from the plentiful blooms. Our garden became a haven for pollinators, which meant better yields for our squash, berries and more.

A little research showed us why. Pollinator gardens–even those as small as ours–help ensure pollinators stay in the area longer to pollinate our crops for ongoing food production. Across the United States, about 75% of food crops depend on pollinators. Our home gardens are no different.

Who are our pollinators?

Most of us know about bees and butterflies, but there is more to pollinators than these familiar insects. Across North America, more than five thousand species help pollinate our gardens and wild spaces every year.

The most efficient pollinators are bees. Female bees, in particular, visit thousands of flowers in their lifetimes, collecting both pollen and nectar. Other bees, flies, wasps and butterflies visit flowers to collect nectar, transferring pollen from flower to flower as they move.

most common pollinators schematic

Our most common pollinators include a wide variety of species. Top row, left to right: butterflies, bumblebees, solitary bees, honeybees. Bottom row: wasps, hummingbirds, beetles, hoverflies.

In addition to helping the crops we eat flourish, pollinators are an integral part of nature’s web. Both birds and fish rely on these insects for their food. They also play a key role in supporting native ecosystems.

Why do pollinators need help?

It’s no surprise that many pollinators are in decline. Urban growth and industrial agriculture have taken their toll on pollinator habitat and health. Rising temperatures caused by burning fossil fuels creates a cascade of challenging conditions.

Today, over half our native bee species are declining; one in four species are at risk of extinction. In the western USA, 450 butterfly species are rapidly disappearing due to warmer autumns.

As climate change prompts native flowers to bloom earlier or not at all, pollinator gardens become even more important. You can create a haven for hummingbirds, bees and other insects, while improving the results for your own crops.

Related: Help Fight Climate Change With Regenerative Gardening

Getting started

The location, size and type of plants you choose for your garden will depend on a number of factors.

Best plants for pollinators

Native plants are traditionally best for pollinators, but adding a variety of plants with different bloom times can help bridge the gap if your area is seeing plants bloom off season. The not-for-profit group, Pollinator Partnership, produced region-specific guides to help you select the best pollinator plants for every region in the United States.

If you opt for non-native plants, consider choosing those in colors favored by pollinators (yellow, blue and white for bees; red, orange or white for birds; and anything bright, particularly red and purple, for butterflies). Be sure they produce both pollen and nectar, and that they haven’t been treated with pesticides or neonicotinoids.

bee pollinating flower

Some pollinator favorites include sunflowers, salvias, lavender, lilacs, lilies, catmint, rosemary, snapdragons, borage, daisies, zinnias and coneflowers.

Planter size

The larger you can make your pollinator garden, the better, but since many homeowners don’t have a lot of space, aim to plant 3 to 5 varieties in clusters of 3-7 plants. This will help pollinators better hone in on their favorites.

Planter location

Butterflies like to bask in the sun, while bees tend to seek shelter when the temperature gets too high. Choosing a sunny location that gets some dappled shade in the late afternoon is a good compromise in this time of changing weather. Also be sure to locate pollinator plants close to your garden for best effect.

Growing medium

Native plants will have their own particular needs depending on your region. In general, they grow in a wide variety of soil types and don’t need a lot in the way of amendments, particularly if native soil is still onsite. If you choose to grow in planters, lighten your soil and prevent compaction by adding shredded bark or coconut coir. Perlite is also useful for keeping soil absorbent and light.

Planting your pollinator garden

Spacing your plants

If growing from seed, sow your plants 1-2 inches apart and thin as they emerge. Space purchased plants according to the grower’s instructions.


Drip irrigation is great for conserving water, but for smaller plantings, soaker hoses work equally well. Water seeds and new plants frequently until established. If you live in a hot, dry climate or are planting into raised beds or elevated planters, daily morning watering may be necessary.

Related: Drip Irrigation vs. Soaker Hoses: Which is Better?

raised bed pollen garden with echinacea

Adding a planter or plot dedicated to pollinator favorites has many benefits. Pictured here: 3′ x 3′ natural cedar raised bed.

Other ways to support pollinators

  • Don’t use pesticides in your garden. Instead, use companion planting to address any problems or try a mini insectary to encourage beneficial insects.
  • Participate in ‘No-Mow’ May. Leaving your lawn wild at this time of year can help pollinators at a critical time: when they emerge from hibernation. Learn more about the plethora of insects and other helpers that thrive when you take a break from your lawn care routine.
  • Leave areas of your yard wild all year round. Sticks and logs on the ground provide homes for insects. A muddy puddle or two is great for butterflies, who will stop to get nutrients from the moisture.
  • Add a bee nest, bug hotel or other backyard pollinator habitat. Solitary bees are excellent pollinators, and different-sized bee houses will help them set up home in your yard.
  • Add an insect water dish. Fill a shallow dish with pebbles and add water, leaving the tops of the pebbles exposed. You can also add sand at one end if you want this dish to attract butterflies.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn or transition to alternative ground covers and low-maintenance grass blends.

Frequently asked questions

How many pollinators are there in the North America?

There are more than 6,500 species of pollinators in North America. About four thousand species are bees.

Why are pollinators so important?

Pollinators are responsible for the growth and development of all land-based ecosystems on Earth. They pollinate 75% of American food crops.

What animals are pollinators?

While most pollinators are insects, bats are also considered pollinators in some areas. Hummingbirds are another common pollinator.

What is the most common method of pollination?

Pollination falls into two categories: pollination by animals, and pollination by wind, weather/water. About 80% of all plant pollination occurs with the help of animals (e.g. insects, birds, and bats).

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