How to Grow Wildflowers and Help Pollinators

Which wildflowers are best for bees and butterflies

June 17, 2019

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Growing wildflowers in your own garden benefits pollinators, lifts your spirits, and boost harvests, too! We’ll show you how to plant wildflowers—and which wildflower varieties are best.

Bees and butterflies are loved by us gardeners for the incredible work they do pollinating our crops. But with native wildflower meadows becoming scarce, pollinators need our help. What better time than National Pollinator Week (June 17–23, 2019) to show our native pollinators some appreciation and support?

Planting wildflowers is the perfect way to provide these amazing insects with the pollen, nectar and habitat they need to survive.

Attracting Bees, Butterflies, and Other Beneficial Bugs

The right wildflowers should not only attract bees and butterflies, but also beneficial predatory insects such as hoverflies and ladybugs. Together, they help to boost harvests and keep common pests like aphids under control.

Flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen offer the most food for these insects. Wildflowers are best because they usually have simple, single flowers that are easier for flying insects to access. And it figures that native bugs will be more familiar with native or naturalized wildflowers.

Know Your Growing Conditions

To grow well, wildflowers need the right growing conditions. Some wildflowers such as yarrow (Achillea) and coneflowers (Echinacea), cope very well with sandy, free-draining soils that are prone to drought. Others, like buttercups (Ranunculus), are better suited to heavy clay soils.

Your local climate and soil will determine what you can grow. Take time to research which wildflowers are native to your region and avoid ones that are considered invasive or non-native. Then, make sure they’ll grow in whichever kind of soil you have. 

Here is a list of wildflowers that are widely adaptable.

Plan for Flowers Year-Round

Plan to have flowers throughout the year if you want beneficial insects to set up a permanent home in your garden. Shrubs such as witch hazel flower from late winter, and let’s not forget the plethora of bulbs – snowdrops and crocuses, followed by daffodils, fritillaries and tulips. Native bulbs will naturally spread over time to become a permanent and very welcome feature of your garden.

Late-flowering plants such as Oregon grape, snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, ivy, and sedum are useful and attractive when there’s little else in flower.

Choose Self-Seeding Wildflowers

Many wildflowers are self-seeders, meaning they naturally drop seeds that germinate and grow on with little or no intervention from you. This is a major advantage to growing wildflowers; often you only need to plant once for a lifetime of blooms. Once you get your eye in, their seedlings are easy to spot and removing unwanted plants takes very little effort. Many self-seeders, such as Mexican fleabane, will happily establish in cracks within paving or walls.

Popular self-seeders include calendula, borage, and poppies, as well as a number of biennials or short-lived perennials like teasel, hollyhock, and foxglove.

To introduce self-seeders in the first place simply scatter seeds onto prepared ground then rake in. If you want to grow them among your vegetables sow them in rows between crops or to the side of the plot as a ‘pollinator strip’. Alternatively, start seedlings off in pots then transplant them to where they are needed.

Create a Wildflower Meadow

Wildflower meadows are both beautiful and a feast for visiting bees and butterflies. By simply leaving an area of lawn alone through spring and summer—uncut, unfed, and unwatered—you’ll be able to see if any wildflowers are already there. Then once you have seen what’s there you can easily supplement the display by planting plugs or bulbs of other wildflowers.

Another option is to sow a wildflower mix onto empty ground. Cornfield mixes are excellent for this purpose, providing a riot of color with an accompanying throng of insects mere months after sowing. Rake dug over, weed-free soil to a fine tilth then broadcast the seeds evenly over the surface. Rake again so the seeds are in contact with the soil then pat the surface down with the back of the rake. If it’s dry, water the sown area to speed germination along. The seedlings should appear within a couple of weeks.

The Almanac Garden Planner

The advice comes courtesy of the Almanac Garden Planner which includes a helpful selection of flowers, including several wildflowers, that are perfect for growing within a fruit and vegetable garden.

  • Click the ‘i’ Information button next to the plant in the selection bar for details of their cultivation and suitability as companion plants to popular crops. Drop them into your plan, and see how easy it is to incorporate flowers among your edible plants.
  • Alternatively, select one or more vegetables in your plan and click the heart-shaped Companion Planting button to see plants that are beneficial to grow together.
  • You can mark out areas of wildflower meadow on your garden plan by selecting the meadow texture from the palette, then choose a solid shape and add it to your plan.

Wildflowers are great for bees and butterflies, and to be honest they’re pretty darn good for the soul too! Please drop us a comment below to share your favorite wildflowers for attracting these beneficial bugs.

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