Top 5 - Zone 3 Perennials for Pollinators

 As gardeners we are all aware of the importance of pollination. Here are a couple of facts to throw your way right off the top. It is a well- known fact that one third of our food supply is the result of insect pollination.  Yes, one third!  And 65% of all flowering plants require insects for pollination.  After digesting those two facts, the current and ongoing reduction of pollinators all over the world is understandably cause for great concern.  Fortunately, through education, reduction in use of insecticides, participation in growing pollinator friendly plants and providing habitats in our own back yards is certainly helping bring back these beneficial creatures.  Here are some things you can do to attract pollinators to your neighborhood!

Create a perennial/annual bed devoted to plants that attract various pollinators. Choose plants that grow and thrive in Zone 3.  Be sure to include some native plants. Include plants that bloom in spring, summer, and fall.

Encourage pollinators to stay in your area by putting up bee houses, bat houses and have water available.

Do not use insecticides as they will kill pollinating insects as well as the bad guys.   


A plant’s goal in life is to grow, flower, produce seeds and disperse those seeds through many vectors such as wind, birds, water, and human help. 

For a plant to create seeds, it must flower, and those flowers must be pollinated. Plants attract pollinators by bright colors, flower shape, smell, and the time of day the plant blooms – yes, some plants only flower at night – bats and many insects are out and about all night long.  Once a plant is pollinated it produces seeds.


But really, what is pollination?   Pollen is produced by the male anther of a flower.  Flowers can be self-pollinating (the plant can fertilize itself).  Pollen grains are transferred from the pollen producing male anther to the female stigma of the same flower. Other plants are cross-pollinated.  A pollinator such as an insect, or the wind takes the pollen to another flower of the same species.  See Diagram 1. 

The most important part of this process are the pollinators!  Without them the natural world would be an entirely different place.  Pollinators can be bees, wasps, flies, bats, hummingbirds, moths, and crawling insects in general.


Top 5 Zone 3 Perennials for Pollinators

- Catmint

- Black-Eyed Susan

- Liatris

- Salvia

- Beebalm 

Catmint (Nepeta spp.)  Full Sun

Catmint attracts bees, butterflies, hummingbirds

Flower Color:  White, pink, lavender, blue.   

Catmint tops the pollinator friendly list due to its long bloom period, amount of bloom spikes and ease of care.  Shear back after the first flush of blooms to encourage a second flush. 

Height & Spread: It varies depending on the variety grown.  One of the hardiest is Nepeta racemose ‘Walker’s Low’ which is 60 cm x 60 cm.

Plant catmint in well draining soil.  Do not fertilize too often – compost applied in spring is the best. Water well in the first year to establish.  Catmint will tolerate some drought once established. 

Deer Resistant. 

Propagate: By division / cuttings.


Black-Eyed Susan   (Rudbeckia hirta -native to North America) Full Sun

The fall and summer blooms attract bees, leaf cutter bees, green metallic bees, and butterflies.

Flower Color:  Dependent on variety/cultivar.  Large blooms of oranges, yellows, and reds with prominent flattened cone-like center.   Deadhead to promote new blooms. 

Height:  Again, dependent on variety/cultivar.  Anywhere from 30 cm. to 1 meter.  Height and spread for each is listed on the pot’s plant tag.   Blooms June to October.

Rudbeckia thrive in sandy loam soils.

Provides seeds for birds over the winter.


Blazing Star or Gayfeather (Liatris spp.)  Full Sun/Light Shade

Liatris spicata is a native prairie plant that attracts honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  Birds feed on the seed in winter.

Flower Color:  Liatris spicata has purple bottlebrush flowers.  There are named cultivars such as ‘Kobold’ (a shorter purple Liatris) and ‘Floristan White’ (tall with white flowers).

Height:  Liatris spicata: 30 cm to 1 meter.  Wide:  30 to 60 cm.  Cultivars are varying mature heights and widths.

Liatris plants grow from corms that live in less -than- ideal soil conditions.  The plant and flower stems will flop over if grown in too rich a soil. Provide proper drainage as they do not like having wet feet.   Fertilization is not necessary.   Do water regularly in the first year after planting to establish a good root system.

Propagate: By digging up and separating the root corms of mature plants.  Do this every few years to rejuvenate older plants.


Wood Sage (Salvia spp.)  Full Sun/Light Shade

The resulting hybrids of Salvia x sylvestris and Salvia nemorosa are known as the hardiest salvias for Zone 3 gardens.  Salvia attracts pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and   hummingbirds.

Flower Color:  Spikes of indigo blue, pink, lavender, purple, and white

Height:  Varies with variety/cultivar – generally anywhere from 45-90 cm.

Spread: 30-90 cm.

Sages are part of the mint family.  They are drought tolerant once established, but occasional watering is beneficial.  Plant in a neutral to slightly acidic well drained soil.   Fertilize once in early spring with a balanced perennial fertilizer or compost.  Salvia blooms in late spring, summer, and fall.  Deadhead regularly to encourage more blooms.

Propagate: By seed or cuttings.

Deer and rabbit resistant.

Bee Balm or Bergamot  (Monarda spp.)  Full Sun

Monarda is another showy native plant that is a member of the mint family.  The leaves smell faintly of bergamot orange.  Wild species have light purple, red and pink flowers. 

Flower Color: Monarda hybrids are common (over 50 cultivars) and there are many colors and sizes in that group.  They are usually sold as perennials in colors of pink, white, red, and purple.    

The clustered flowers are tubular in form and attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.

Be forewarned:  Deer like this plant!

Plant Bee Balm in a rich, well-drained soil.  Keep evenly moist.  The native species tend to be stronger; one being Monarda didyma (red).

Propagate: By stem cuttings or root division.  Monarda spreads somewhat by underground rhizomes.  Divide every 2-3 years. 


These are just five plants of many that will contribute to a pollinator friendly perennial bed.



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