Pollinators and the flowers that attract them live together in a mutually beneficial relationship. Flowers attract pollinators to ensure pollination; pollinators seek out flowers for lunch.
After a long winter, the first spring flowers emerge from the soil offering sustenance to early risers. To establish a resident pollinator population in the landscape, provide the earliest spring bloomers.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are the very first bulbs to make an appearance in my garden. Bees climb into their nodding, snow white flowers to forage for much needed nectar. (Read more about snowdrops.)
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) follows quickly, offering pollinators another choice. Their bright yellow flowers ring the dinner bell for bees.
Crocuses color the landscape like none other! From the earliest Crocus tommasinianus to Crocus vernus and Crocus chrysanthus, they are available in a rainbow of colors. As bumblebee queens wake from their winter slumbers, they buzz with delight at the nectar found inside the goblet-shaped blooms.
Grape hyacinths are another pollinator favorite. Their stems are packed with tiny nodding, bell-shaped flowers most commonly found in shades of blue – from the palest azure to the color of midnight.
Walk by a bench filled with sweet alyssum at the garden center and the perfume stops you in your tracks. Plants are carpeted with tiny blooms in white, lavender or purple. You can’t resist plunging your nose into the flowers to inhale their fragrance, but be careful – the bees may be dining in.
Lucky for pollinators, pansies are a favorite of most gardeners for spring containers.
Ground-hugging perennials are preferred by pollinators on windy spring days. Armeria maritima, commonly called sea thrift shows off cute rounded clusters of tiny, pollen-rich, pink flowers.
Rock Cress (Aubrieta deltoidea) blooms without restraint in early spring. Phlox subulata, or creeping phlox, brightens the spring garden with a carpet of lavender, pink, purple or white. Both of these perennials put out a springtime buffet for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
Bees love to forage for nectar in the downward-facing blooms of hellebores and buzz around the anemone-like flowers of hepatica. The tubular flowers of lungwort (Pulmonaria) draw a crowd of pollinators.
Trees & Shrubs
The fuzzy catkins of pussy willows are pollinator magnets. Weeping willows, another member of the Salix family, are also valuable sources of nectar.
Pollinators play a pivotal role in a backyard orchard, and fruit trees attract them with their early to mid-spring blooms.
Serviceberries, crabapples, and redbuds provide nectar for butterflies, bees, flies and beetles while painting the landscape with spring color.
Early-blooming shrubs that pollinators favor include forsythia, fothergilla and witchhazel.
Even weeds provide nectar early in the season. Why not enjoy the golden yellow flowers of dandelions as bees sip their sweet nectar? Wait to pick dandelion flowers until they begin developing seed heads so bees can drink as long as possible.
In addition to this sampling of plants pollinators need for nourishment, there are more actions to improve our landscapes for our pollen-distributing friends.
- Plant a variety of native plants in a wide range of colors to serve up nectar for the diverse population of native bees. Plan to have flowers in bloom from early spring to late fall.
- Plant in drifts to attract more pollinators.
- Provide habitat. Offer areas of sunshine, bare ground, a brush pile and a source of water.
- Eliminate the use of pesticides.
If your landscape is not pollinator friendly, plan to take steps to improve it this season. Garden with me!