Feeding pollinators in summer

By Laura Ponder

Extension Agent, Horticulture
N.C. Cooperative Extension
Rutherford County Center

Summer is finally here and we expect the days to start warming up after our slow and gentle spring. There are several pollinator-feeding perennials in flower right now in our demonstration garden beside our NC State Extension office in Spindale.

Coneflower (Echinacea) has 3’ tall open flowers with rosy petals around a dark center. It’s ong lived if divided every 3 years and native to the US. It loves open sunny sites like meadows and attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and all sorts of bees.

Beardtongue (Penstemon) comes on many colors from white to deep reds to electric blue. Its spikes of tubular flowers bloom for many weeks from May through June and attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies then later in the season its seeds feed the songbirds.

Salvia ‘Black and Blue’ is in the sage family and ours here is around 4’ tall with dark indigo flower spikes on black stems attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and many bees.

Other perennials in flower now are Catnip (Nepeta) with 2 to 3’ tall and wide mound of blue flowers alive with bees and Yarrow (Achillea) which comes in a wide range of colors: from white to cream to yellow to orange to red. Butterflies and bees love visiting this native which usually keeps to 2’, sometimes 3’ tall and wide.

It’s not too late to plant out annual seeds for continuous summer color and beneficial insects: Cosmos, Marigolds, Cleome and Zinnias can still be seeded. Though we haven’t had a lack of rain this spring, be sure to keep an eye on the watering as they germinate and become established.

Research suggests that grouped plantings making at least three foot by three foot blocks of an individual species (showing a solid block of color when in flower) make it easier for pollinators to find their food.

Look out for what’s flowering in your local nursery, in your own or a neighbor’s garden and also feel free to come by to see our office display garden for yourself!

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