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a bumblebee sips nectar from a pale purple Monarda flower

Pollinator Plants & Garden Design Ideas For Every Outdoor Space

Over 85% of U.S. households have an outdoor living space. These spaces may vary widely from coast to coast – but each of our homes has the potential to serve as pollinator habitat!

Which pollinator garden plants are best? The ones that provide habitat - including food, shelter, resting and nesting sites for pollinators tirelessly foraging in a changing world. No matter the size of your space, you can help to sustain our delicate ecosystem. 

Read on for our pollinator plant recommendations, creative pollinator garden ideas, and fun facts about pollinators.

What Is A Pollinator Garden?

A pollinator garden, or habitat garden, will help support the lifecycle of pollinators all year round. Pollinator plants create natural habitats that support your local ecosystem. Don't be afraid of bugs in your garden - they're essential for a healthy web of life!

When it comes to pollinator gardens, native plants are a pollinator’s best source of habitat. Native plants strengthen entire ecosystems. Since wildlife and native plants have evolved together for so long, many pollinators have preferred plants for food and shelter. Favorite native plants include Echinacea (or Coneflowers), Rudbeckias (Black Eyed Susans), Bee Balm, Milkweed, Lupines, Asters, and many more.

Some pollinators, like many butterflies and moths, even require specific host plants to survive. The most famous example of a host plant is the essential Milkweed plant for Monarch Butterflies. Native plants are the best sources of food, egg laying and nesting sites, and protective spaces for sheltering from the weather and overwintering. 

There are also many plants from around the world that have become welcomed additions to our North American gardens. Favorite plants include Poppies, Cosmos, Lavender, European Meadow Sage, Sedums, Nepeta, Daylilies, Lilies, Veronica, Thyme, and Clover. In a pollinator garden, their abundant blooms provide nectar and pollen to nourish bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. 


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5 Pollinator Garden Design Ideas For Every Outdoor Space

Getting ready to dig in? For every petite patio or lengthy lawn, or any space in between, we have a creative pollinator garden idea for you! 

1. Pollinator Garden Ideas For Patios, Balconies & Containers

  • Yes, you can even plant for pollinators without a yard! Pollinator pit stops help give bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths a stopping place on their search for food. Imagine if everyone in your building or neighborhood put out a snack for pollinators - it would easily become a feast to support a healthy pollinator population.
  • Try planting pollinator-friendly perennials in flower pots, planters, window boxes, or even a vertical container garden to create an outdoor oasis for you and the pollinators.
  • Low-growing wildflower seed mixes such as our Low-Grow Wildflower Seed Mix or our Picket Fence Wildflower Seed Mix are well-suited for containers.  

2. Small Yard Pollinator Garden Ideas

  • In small yards, you can still plant plenty of flowers to create a pollinator pit stop! This will help nourish bees and butterflies as they fly between larger habitat areas on their search for food. 
  • Create an unexpected flower bed where there were once just patches of turf. Small changes add up - every year you can make the bed a little bit bigger. This approach makes turf removal a less overwhelming project.
  • Planting pollinator plants in a raised bed, containers, and flower pots is a great ways to create extra planting space for pollinator plants.
  • To make the most of a small space, plant in layers from tall to small:
    • Grow tall plants like Sunflowers in the back 
    • Grow mid-height flowers like Zinnias or Cosmos in the middle
    • Grow low-growing flowers like Alyssum or Creeping Phlox for the front row 

3. Sidewalk Pollinator Garden Ideas

  • These spaces may be narrow, but there is a wide variety of plants that will add curb appeal to your yard! These are spaces where we can meadowscape to add unexpected beauty. Plant a garden here to make someone smile, and to help raise awareness for pollinators, too.
  • Sidewalk gardens, also called hell strip gardens or park strip gardens, may be in a high-traffic area, or hard to reach with a hose. Choose hardy, durable plants like an American Meadows wildflower seed mix, or drought-tolerant perennials like Nepeta, Yarrow, Sedum, and Coreopsis.

4. Mid-Sized Yard Pollinator Garden Ideas

  • Try planting pollinator patches around your yard to get started! Remove sections of your lawn to create new flower beds. Small changes add up - every year you can make the beds a little bit bigger. This approach makes turf removal a less overwhelming project.
  • Plant flowers along your fences, side yards, and walkways to encourage pollinators to visit your yard.
  • Where you have space, consider adding a mini meadow with wildflowers for an abundance of blooms. Take a cue from a traditional garden bed and add a border to your mini meadow for an attractive accent.
  • As with small gardens, remember to make the most of your planting area by growing taller plants in the back, and lower plants in the front.
  • Adding flowering shrubs is a great way to provide spring or summer flowers, and year-round shelter. Many shrubs will also provide seeds and berries for bird habitat too.

5. Large Yard Pollinator Garden Ideas

  • In large yards, you can truly create a pollinator paradise! The more flowers, the better (just in case you needed an excuse for more plants.) Whether you add clover to your lawn or replace the whole space with perennial plants and wildflowers, more flowers mean more food sources and habitat for pollinators.
  • Wildflower yards are a growing trend, and we’re excited to see so many gardeners embrace meadowscaping. In your large yard, you can grow a beautiful meadow as a pollinator paradise. 
  • In large spaces, you can even leave some lawn remaining where kids and pets can play. In spaces where you want low-growing solutions, consider adding clover to your lawn for extra pollinator-friendly flowers Clover lawns mean healthier soil and no need for the pesticides and herbicides that harm pollinators!
  • You’ll have room for larger plants such as trees, shrubs, and ornamental grasses, which provide important resting and nesting areas for pollinators.

Pre-Planned Pollinator Gardens


7 Tips For Every Pollinator Garden

1. Grow Non-Stop Flowers

To provide a steady supply of nectar and pollen for our flying friends, plan for 3 seasons of blooms. That means growing a mix of plants so you always have something in bloom from early spring through summer and fall.

An easy way to do this? Plant a wildflower seed mix from American Meadows! Our mixes are designed to bloom all season.

  • Early to Late Spring blooms for pollinators: Crocus, Creeping Phlox, Woodland Phlox, Trilliums, Virginia Bluebells, Grape Hyacinth
  • Late Spring to Mid Summer blooms for pollinators: Salvia, Nepeta, Columbine, Lupine, Yarrow, Blue Flax, California Poppy, Alyssum
  • Mid-to-Late Summer blooms for pollinators: Coneflower, Milkweed and Butterfly Weed, Lavender, Sunflowers, Zinnias, Salvia, Joe Pye Weed, Hyssop, Heliopsis, Black Eyed Susan, Bee Balm, Coreopsis, Butterfly Bush, Veronica, Poppy
  • Fall blooms for pollinators: Aster, Goldenrod, Helenium, Sedum, Russian Sage
  • Hint! Looking for flowers to fill a gap in your garden? Use the “Bloom Season” shopping filters on our site to find the right plants. 

2. Safety In Numbers

Cluster single species of pollinator plants in groups of at least 3 or more. This makes the plants in your garden easier for pollinators to see and smell, and helps make their work finding food a little easier. Studies show that 5-7 of the same plant is optimal.

3. Encourage Snacking

If you find your plants a bit nibbled, that means you’re doing it right! If something isn’t eating your garden, then you’re not really part of the ecosystem. Providing habitat for pollinators means providing food, too. But don't forget to add a source of drinking water for your bee neighbors, too! Shallow bird baths or pots with pebbles in the bottom will allow for the bees to hydrate without drowning. They generally need to stand while they drink, so make sure your water is not too deep, or at the very least, they have little landing pads nearby to perch on.

4. Leave The Leaves

Groundcovers and leaf litter create shelter for caterpillars and ground-dwelling pollinators, like bumblebees. Leaving your pollinator garden undisturbed at the end of the season helps provide a winter home for them. In spring - wait for temperatures to reach at least 50°F so that these flying friends can wake up from dormancy before cleaning up your garden.

5. Help Build Homes

Twigs, logs, and rock features are also helpful landscaping elements that can provide habitat and shelter for pollinators. You can also leave areas of bare dirt for the ground bees to burrow into. Or you can make or buy a bee hotel, which is a great option if you don't have a lot of space.

6. Skip The Sprays

Most importantly, avoid using chemical pesticides and herbicides! These have long-lasting damaging effects on pollinators, people, and soil health. Look for plants that are neonicotinoid free for a healthy habitat! (All of our wildflower seeds and bee-friendly plants are neo-nicotinoid free)

7. Spread The Word

Pollinator garden signs can help spread the word about pollinators, and encourage your neighbors to put their outdoor space in the fight to make things better! Our friends at Pollinator Partnership, a non-profit whose mission is to promote the health of pollinators, offer free downloads of Pollinator Garden Signs that you can print and post in your garden to help raise awareness.

6 Fun Facts About Pollinators

1. One monarch caterpillar can eat at least 20 milkweed leaves before becoming a butterfly. Grow at least 10 plants in your butterfly garden for a Monarch Waystation.

2. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds are some the most recognizable pollinators, but bats and moths are also critical - but often overlooked - nighttime pollinators.

3. Most native bees are solitary, meaning they nest alone, rather than in a hive like honeybees. Bumblebees are the exception, as they nest in small groups of 50 to 400.

4. Pollinating insects are cold-blooded and need to warm up to become active. You can help by providing a sunny stone for them to rest and revive.

5. Most butterflies and moths spend the winter in the larval stage - otherwise known as caterpillars. Leaving leaves and groundcovers in your garden will provide overwintering habitat for them.

6. There are over 4,000 bee species native to North America. Honeybees are not native to North America!