Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Monday, June 20, 2016

Celebrating Pollinators~The Keystone of our Gardens

Ah, the summer heat and humidity has arrived, making it a real challenge to do any serious gardening. Watering. Weeding. Walking. the garden is about all that gets done on these sweltering days. I prefer to get out at dawn about the time the wren sings his first song. This gives me a few hours to complete the necessary garden chores before I melt away. But, no matter how early I get outside the bumblebees and hummingbirds are already hurrying about their day with some serious oomph. The full service pollinator buffet that is our garden is open.


This week is National Pollinator Week. A week to celebrate all pollinators and their vital role in our ecosystems. This year I decided to share some of our native plants and native hybrids that attract and support bees, butterflies, beetles, flies, birds, moths, and ants in our garden.

Blanket flower, butterfly weed, hypericum, golden alexander,  passiflora incarnata
The photo above is our front walk. We are south facing and this area gets lots of sun plus heat off the brick of the house. Despite the harsh conditions these plants thrive here providing nectar sources, host plants and shelter for bees and butterflies. I often see lizards and anoles skulking about. Birds love to perch in the black locust 'twisty baby' before descending to the ground to pick up an insect to feed their young.

As our garden has evolved I have endeavored to plant communities that are not only appealing to the eye but service the pollinators so (1) they don't have to travel to another garden seeking nectar sources and (2) provide bloom sequences to keep them in our garden throughout the year.

Here is a hot color combo that makes an impact and attracts bees and butterflies. Blanket flowers are low growing and easy for smaller butterflies and bees to access. Butterfly weed provides some height and brings in bigger butterflies in the swallowtail family and the monarchs.

blanket flower with butterfly weed
Milkweed plants not only host monarch butterflies but, milkweed tussock moths, milkweed bug and aphids, an important food source for syrphid fly larva and lady beetles. (Read: Got Milkweed

Another delightful combination is the pastel colors of yarrow, echinacea and  buttonbush. In addition to the vibrant color, this combo offers texture. The shape of the cones on the echinacea are echoed in button bush flowers. These blooms attract an array of bees and butterflies.

Cephalanthus occidentalis, Echinacea, Achillea

If you have the right conditions (moist to wet/sunny) Cephalanthus occidentalis is essential for a pollinator garden. (Read more: Bodacious Button Bush).

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails enjoying Buttonbush blooms

The tall and bold rudbeckia maxima is a ravishing addition to a wildflower garden, naturalized area or cottage garden. The big blue basal leaves are attractive unto themselves but when the giant stalks rise up and tower over the surrounding plants, in my case monarda, goldenrod 'fireworks' and Georgia aster, it becomes a real conversation piece. The tall cones attract butterflies and later in the autumn, goldfinches will land on the tall stalks to forage seeds.

Rudbeckia maxima

This dramatic coneflower is in a class of its own and in my opinion not seen in gardens enough. Wouldn't they make lovely cut flowers too! But maybe its most endearing feature is that deer don't like them.

the developing blooms of Rudbeckia maxima

Vines are a fabulous way to get even more gardening real estate by growing your garden vertically. Tubular blooms like this clematis texensis are enjoyed by our hummingbirds while adding striking color and shape to move your eye upward.

Clematis texensis 'Princess Diana'
Angularfruit milkvine is a high climbing vine in the milkweed family. I picked this plant up a few years ago at our State Botanical Garden's native plant sale. Like other plants in the milkweed family, this is host to the monarch butterfly caterpillars, milkweed tussock moth caterpillars and nymphs of the milkweed bug.

Angularfruit milkvine

It grows in well drained soil in an open woodland setting. The primary visitors are flies and butterflies who prefer to visit rotting fruit, tree sap and manure such as the Red Spotted Purple, Red Admiral, Viceroy and Question Mark. But don't let this deter you, the attractive star shaped blooms and heart shaped leaves are an attractive addition to a garden.

star shaped blooms of Angularfruit milkvine

Passiflora incarnata is a staple vine in our garden. It serves as host plant for the Gulf and Variegated Fritillary butterflies. The showy flowers provide nectar for the adult butterflies but are also adored by carpenter bees, who often get so drunk on the nectar they roll off the blooms.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on passiflora incarnta bloom

Our meadow garden is a pollinator haven. Not only do all the plants here provide nectar sources for a variety of native pollinators, they also help to restore an area of the garden that was dry exposed clay.

Rudbeckia hirta

Blooming in June is Rudbeckia hirta, Hyssop, Partridge Pea, Bergamot, Yellow Coneflower and Switch Grass. The lavendar blooms of Bergamot are faithfully visited by our hummingbirds, day flying moths and bees. Switch grass has quickly become a favorite of mine. It is an attractive companion to most wildflowers and its stiff stems standup well, especially in winter, and provide a dense cover for wildlife.

Bergamot with Switch Grass
Prairie Gayfeather has been difficult to establish in our garden because the voles like to feed on the corms. So far this year a few plants have survived, surprisingly since the voles have eaten so many other plants in our garden. The blooms on this blazing star have a host of visitors including long-tongued bees, bee flies, diurnal moths and a variety of butterflies including swallowtails, painted ladies and skippers.

Liatris spicata
Long-tongued bees are the primary visitor to the Partridge Pea, including bumblebees, leaf cutting bees and long horned bees. The bumblebees are particularly amusing to watch as they circle around inside the bloom collecting pollen and nectar.

bumblebee visiting Partridge Pea
In late summer we welcome the Cloudless Sulphur butterfly, who lays her eggs on partridge pea making this plant an all around winner by providing nectar for pollinators, seeds for birds, leaves for caterpillars and effective erosion control and soil fertility.

Wildflower meadow with partridge pea &  rudbeckia
Pollinators are what hold our gardens together. Because let's face it, without them our blooms wouldn't go to seed and create the plant communities we love. Seed and fruit loving birds would go hungry. Nesting birds would loose their primary food source for their babies and our kitchen gardens would be barren. Here at Southern Meadows, we celebrate pollinators everyday because they are the keystone to our thriving ecosystem. We just can't live without them!