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Annual plants can attract pollinators too

Master Gardener
Colorful annuals placed near a water source may attract a diversity of pollinators. Submitted Photo

Gardeners landscape their property with native plants and perennials to attract pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. Annual plants, who live for one season, have a place in our landscapes to attract pollinators. A four year study, whose findings were reported by the University of Minnesota Extension, found nine annual plants that attracted the most pollinators. When looking to add color, interest, and pollinator-friendly annuals into your landscape, consider these varieties.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are a multi-blooming annual that grow in an array of colors and sizes. The dwarf variety “Music Box Mix” was highly attractive to honey and bumble bees. A second sunflower variety, “Lemon Queen” was visited by bees for pollen and birds for the seeds. This heirloom variety grows 7 to 8 feet in height with heads that are about 2 feet in diameter. Sunflowers prefer full sun.

Lisa Marie Bernardo, PhD, RN

Salvia (Salvia coccinea) was another popular annual that attracted bumble bees. “Summer Jewel™ Pink” has pink and white blooms whose protruding anthers allow bees to easily access pollen and nectar. The purple flowers of Salvia verticilliata (var Purple Fairy Tale) was visited by honey and bumble bees. Both salvia varieties prefer full sun and will reseed themselves and will rebloom when spent blossoms are removed.

Two varieties of Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) were popular with pollinators and insects. “Orange Fudge” and “Prairie Sun” were continuous bloomers sporting vivid colors. These plants will reseed and will grow best in full sun.

Butter Daisy (Melampodium paludosum, var Showstar®) produces small golden flowers throughout the summer. A low grower, Butter Daisy is useful in borders, drifts, and backgrounds in full sun locations. Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum, var “Dakota Gold”) was a favorite of native bees and syrphid flies (hover flies). Its rounded form, with bright yellow flowers and attractive foliage, make appealing borders.

Zinnias (Zinnia elegans) are a garden staple. Their bright colors and open flower form make them easy for pollinators to access. The variety “Envy” has pale yellow-green to lime green flowers and was visited by all types of bees.

Creeping gloxinia (Asarina erubescens) attracts hummingbirds. Submitted Photo

Many varieties of pollinator-attracting annuals are available for sale at local nurseries and stores. When visiting nurseries and greenhouses, watch for the pollinators visiting annual plants. Read plant tags for information on annuals’ attraction to pollinators. Seek out reputable websites for information about specific annuals that would complement your existing pollinator-friendly landscape.

Penn State Extension has information on how to choose and grow annuals at https://extension.psu.edu/annuals as well as new annuals for 2022 based on garden trials conducted in 2021 at https://extension.psu.edu/annuals-to-look-for-in-2022-flower-trials-in-allegheny-county and

If you have questions about growing annuals for pollinators call the Butler County Master Gardener Garden Hotline at 724-287 4761, ext. 7, or email the Master Gardeners at butlermg@psu.edu.

Lisa Marie Bernardo is a Penn State Extension Butler County Master Gardener.