Would you like to contribute to pollinators like bees and butterflies but don’t know where to start? Starting a pollinator garden can be somewhat confusing. Instructions include information like providing rich sources of nectar through native plants and selecting annuals throughout the entire growing season while implementing plants that serve as larval sources like milkweed for monarchs.
If you provide lots of sun and well drained soils, you can plant five herbs that are easy to grow and will be pollinator magnets in your landscape.
Lavender flowers will attract bees and butterflies all summer long. English lavender, a hybrid of English and Portuguese, and French lavender cultivars are recommended if you are looking for varieties attractive to insects. The varieties Grosso (blue) and Edelweiss (white) have been shown in recent research to be the most productive in terms of nectar. The commonly grown small Hidcote strain is not reliable as a forage source for insects.
Timely pruning helps lavender stay compact and optimizes flower production. Prune in the spring when the new growth appears. Prune off dead stems down to the first set of green leaves. Newly planted lavender should be watered regularly the first year. Once established, lavender is more drought tolerant.
Thyme’s small, lipped flowers also attract bees and butterflies and is a favorite of bumblebees. It is hypothesized that antibacterial and antifungal compounds produced by the plant may have some benefit. Creeping thyme is recommended by the University of Minnesota in establishing a bee lawn because of its low sprawling habit and prolific flowering. Thyme also attracts hoverflies in abundance. Perennial thyme plants should be divided every four years in the early spring.
Borage is a rich source of nectar for short tongued bees, native bees, hoverflies and honeybees, providing flowers for months. These bright blue star shaped flowers, when planted next to strawberries in a University of Minnesota experiment, improved pollination and increased the size of the berry. Borage is easily grown from seed directly sown in the garden after frost is past. Borage prefers full sun and once established does well in dry soils.
Chives may misbehave at times and self-seed, but are a bee magnet, and much loved especially by short-tongued bees. Pink blooming common chives open early providing an early food source. White garlic chives bloom in the middle of the growing season and attract bees and butterflies. Chives prefer a full sun location and are tolerant of a wide variety of soils.
Parsley is a host plant to the eastern black swallowtail larva. These caterpillars are light green with black stripes and yellow dots and eat the parsley leaves. If disturbed, they send out a scented orange forked gland called an osmeterium. Parsley makes a great ground cover, border or addition to a container. It should be planted about 1/8-inch-deep and plants should be spaced 10 inches apart. It can be slow to germinate, so be patient and keep watering to ensure it does not dry out. Curly parsley grows shorter and flat leaf parsley has a better taste.
It is easy to contribute to the pollinator movement by growing herbs like lavender, thyme, borage, chives and parsley.