Creating and maintaining pollinator friendly habitat

Many types of insects feed on pollen and nectar, although two types of pollinators receive the most attention: bees and butterflies.

Butterfly milkweed.
Do you call it butterfly milkweed or butterfly weed? Both are common names. The scientific or Latin name is always Asclepias tuberosa. Photo by David Cappaert,

Many types of insects feed on pollen and nectar, although two types of pollinators receive the most attention: bees and butterflies. The best way to encourage bees and butterflies is to grow many different types of flowering plants that produce nectar and pollen. Consider how much lawn you maintain and whether any of it could become habitat for pollinators by adding a diverse collection of plants. Consider allowing clover, ground ivy, black medic, vetch, dandelions and other flowering weeds to grow in your lawn, educating others about the benefit of flowering weeds, and helping change local ordinances that prohibit these “weeds” from growing in your area. Incorporate more flowering annuals, perennials including bulbs and herbs, shrubs and trees into your yard and garden so there is always something blooming throughout the season from early spring through autumn.

For natural areas of the yard and garden, or border areas, see the list of native plants below or find a region-specific list of pollinator-friendly plants, like one available at the Michigan State University Native Plants and Beneficial Insects website: Native plants are strongly recommended, but there are also many non-native ornamental plants that are excellent food plants for bees and butterflies. See our lists of plants that provide pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies.

There are several reasons why it is important to use the genus/species name (scientific name) when you investigate and buy your plants, trees and shrubs. Common names may be regional and could refer to a different type of flower depending upon local tradition. Also, be sure to find the exact species listed below because other species in the same genus may not be attractive to bees. Salvia, for example, is a popular annual bedding plant, but red salvia, which is a popular annual in the north central region, is not highly attractive to bees while blue salvia, Salvia farinacea, and several types of perennial salvia (Salvia nemorosa) are. Also, some cultivars of flowers may be more attractive than others.

The way you care for your plants also impacts whether blooms are available. Think about pruning plants such as Nepeta to encourage repeat bloom and slow to deadhead those such as Hosta that won’t bloom again so bees have a change to forage on their blossoms.

Read the next article in this publication series: Better habitat for bees

Or return to the beginning of this publication: How to protect and increase pollinators in your landscape

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