How to Plant a Pollinator Garden

Bird and bee populations are shrinking. You can help bring them back by planting a habitat in your own yard.
Flowers Combo

Photo from Getty Images

Choose the Right Plants

These online resources can help you identify the best plants for your area, based on ZIP code.

Native Plant Finder
This National Wildlife Federation site ranks (based on Doug Tallamy’s research) plants on how many moths and butterflies they support.

Plants for Birds
The Audubon Naturalist Society’s native plant database ranks the best plants for birds.

Plant NoVa Natives
Find the ideal plants for any Northern Virginia setting (including plants that are naturally deer- and rabbit-resistant), along with sample landscaping designs and supported species.

Pollinator Partnership
Consult this regional guide for advice on attracting pollinators where you live.

Powerhouse Native Plants

Caroline Haynes, an Arlington master naturalist and Audubon at Home ambassador, advises gardeners to “plant with a purpose,” such as supporting pollinators or attracting a specific species. To support wildlife year-round, aim for plants that bloom from spring to fall, and do your research to make sure the species you choose match your site. Consider these Virginia beauties.

Perennial flowers
Thirteen species of native bees need goldenrod pollen, and you can find different varieties of goldenrod for different conditions, from sunny to shady. Milkweed provides critical egg-laying territory for monarch butterflies (ask for native varieties). Also try asters, sunflowers, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, boneset, ironweed, cardinal flower, mountain mint and phlox. Perennials will need extra water the first two years, Haynes says, but once established, they will be easier to maintain than non-native plants.

Shrubs
Arrowwood viburnum and highbush blueberry support local pollinators, caterpillars and birds. Also try serviceberry, spicebush, Virginia sweetspire, American beautyberry, inkberry holly, chokecherry, elderberry, buttonbush, Clethra and witch hazel.

Vines and ground cover
Virginia creeper and coral honeysuckle support pollinators, caterpillars and birds. Also try green-and-gold, wild geranium, native sedges and purple passionflower.

Trees
“No plant makes more moths than oaks,” says entomologist Doug Tallamy. Oak trees also sequester carbon and support our watershed with their roots. Black cherry supports pollinators, moths and birds, and is best suited for natural-looking (as opposed to manicured) areas. Also try American holly, birch, Eastern redbud, Eastern red cedar, black willow and beech.

You’ll find native plants for sale at local nurseries, including Merrifield Garden Center and Meadows Farms and via retailers such as Earth Sangha, Nature by Design and Izelplants.com. Plant NoVa Natives lists seasonal native plant sales.

To see native plants in thriving conditions and gather some gardening inspiration, visit the local nature centers, parks, libraries and botanic gardens listed at plantnovanatives.org/visit-native-gardens.

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