Three All-Star Pollinator Plants

There are many plants that attract, feed and nurture pollinating insects and birds. And, every gardener will have favorites. In my garden, there are three plants that always seem to be covered with bees and butterflies. Here’s the rundown:

Bees swarm anise hyssop from the minute it blooms each summer.

Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is the biggest bee magnet in my yard. Sometimes called giant anise hyssop or hummingbird mint, I can attest to both its size and its lovely scent. I have three of these planted below the window in my garage that faces the back garden. (Check out the photo of the giant trio at the end of this post.) The plants are currently above the garage window sill and covered the blooms. One caveat: They do seed rather freely — like crazy freely! Fortunately, the seedlings are very easy to identify by their appearance and scent and are quick to pull.

orange monarch butterfly on purple flower
Monarch on liatris in Twin Cities garden

Blazing star (LIatris spp.) is a plant both butterflies and bees love. In my Northfield garden, I had ‘Kobold’ liatris in the front garden. This plant has a lovely bottle-brush flower and was a favorite with many butterflies as well as bees. Maintenance could not have been easier. Once it was established, I cut back the old flowers in spring. That’s it. Nothing more. Rarely watered and never fertilized it. For my new back garden, I planted meadow blazing star (L. ligulistylis) on recommendation from pollinator expert Rhonda Fleming Hayes. It’s in its first year in the garden, so it has not gotten as tall as advertised yet. I’m hoping for good things from this one!

monarch on orange flower
Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) is a monarch magnet

Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) is that plant you see all over Instragram with monarch butterflies on it. (Check out my feed to see one.) After milkweed, which is the only plant monarch’s lay eggs on, Mexican sunflower is probably the most popular plant with monarchs that I have ever planted. Once the blooms start doing their bright orange thing, the monarchs are there. Bees also love it. The plant itself is large—4 to 5 feet tall—and the foliage is big and not exactly pretty, but the flowers, the flowers, the flowers. For them and the monarchs, I plant this one.

What are your favorite pollinator plants?

Three giant hyssop plants easily fill the space below my garage window.

State Fair Gardens 2009

I had a fun afternoon at the Minnesota State Fair Wednesday, where I worked at the Minnesota State Horticultural Society booth, selling memberships (a heckuva bargain at $55 with lots of perks and goodies) and visiting with fairgoers. The fair really is a great get-together. Not only did I talk with many readers of Northern Gardener — always a pleasure — I even reconnected with a fellow I knew back in college.

fairgoers with master gardener
The Master Gardeners are always busy at the fair.

Despite its reputation as a fried-food fest, the fair is filled with opportunities to see things and learn. The Hort Society booth is just down the hall in the Agriculture/Horticulture building from the Master Gardeners, who answer questions about bugs, weeds, and any number of gardening problems. The building is also home to the large vegetable displays — check out some of those squash! — as well as flower displays and canning displays.

Outside the building are several State Fair gardens. The hort society garden is designed and maintained by volunteers — many thanks to Ron DuFour and the St. Anthony Park Garden Club who do the bulk of the work. I really liked these colorful tomato cages that Ron designed and built. Just around the building from the MSHS garden was the one sponsored by the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. It had a native plant theme and included some striking wildflowers, such as these woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) and the amazing hyssop (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’) above. This plant was about 6 feet across and covered with blooms and bees.

purple flowered agastache
Agastache is a magnet for bees.
woodland sunflower bloom at fair
Woodland sunflowers brightened the fair garden.

The fair continues through Monday. If you are planning to visit, be sure to check out the gardens on the fairgrounds and visit the MSHS booth and educational displays inside.