Skip to main content

Gardening for Pollinators

What are pollinator or butterfly gardens and why are they beneficial? 

Pollinators (bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other beneficial creatures) transfer pollen from flower to flower, or within flowers.  These hard workers serve a critical role in assisting the reproduction of over 75% of the world’s flowering plants – including our food crops! Recent years have shown a decrease in the numbers of our pollinators, due to such factors as decreased natural habitat, increased use of horticultural chemicals and other impacting factors.  Landscapes and gardens that focus on growing plants that attract pollinators serve an important role in improving our environment and aiding our pollinating wildlife!

 * What are pollinator gardens?

Pollinator gardens are garden spaces filled with plants whose flowers attract pollinators.  The plants in a pollinator garden provide nectar, pollen and shelter to pollinators.

*What are butterfly gardens?

Butterfly gardens are garden spaces with plants that provide nectar, pollen and shelter for pollinators, but in addition include plants that support the complete life cycle of butterflies.  These plants are called host plants.  Butterflies will lay their eggs on these plants and their larvae (caterpillars) will feed on the foliage of these plants, after which the plant foliage will regrow.


 *  Include plants of varying heights and whose flowers have different shapes and sizes to increase the variety of visiting pollinators (e.g., flowers that are daisy-shaped, tubular, clustered, etc.)

*  Install plants that bloom in different seasons to attract more of a variety of pollinators.

*  Install plants in masses of the same color.

*  Incorporate some plants in shadier areas, if possible.

*  Bees are attracted to the colors blue, purple, violet, white, yellow.

*  Butterflies are attracted to the colors red, yellow, orange, pink, purple.

*  Incorporate as many native plants to attract native pollinators.

*  Avoid hybridized flowers, especially “double” flowers.

*  Avoid the use of toxic chemicals in or near garden areas.

*  Provide shallow source of water (and keep clean!)

*  Provide open sandy area for ground-nesters.

*  Incorporate evergreen plants for winter interest.

Why not both? In practice, including both nectar AND host plants in a garden will increase the life and vitality of your school garden!


The following list is only a beginning – a tiny representation of the world of pollinator plants! These plants are easy-care plants that are usually commercially available for purchase.  The emphasis is on Florida native plants, but the list also includes non-native plants.


TREES: (these are small to medium sized trees):  Dahoon holly, or other holly varieties; redbud, Chickasaw plum, bottlebrush

LARGE SHRUBS:  Firebush (the native species), jatropha, plumbago, firespike, dwarf powderpuff

SMALLER SHRUBS:  Pentas (preferably red), red shrimp plant, highbush blueberry

WILDFLOWERS:  Cocinnea sage, gaillardia, coreopsis, aster (climbing aster, elliott’s aster), starry rosinweed, monarda bee balm, black-eyed susan, goldenrod (small variety)

NON-NATIVE PERENNIALS/ANNUALS:  Sunflowers, zinnias, marigolds

HERBS:  thyme, basil


CORKYSTEM PASSIONVINE:  host for the zebra longwing (Florida’s State Butterfly), and for the gulf fritillary (Gulf fritillary prefers plants in sun; Zebra longwing prefers plants in shade).

PIPEVINE:  host for pipevine swallowtail

HERBS:  carrots and members of the carrot family: dill, parsley, fennel – host for black swallowtail

MILKWEED: recommend native milkweed species; host for monarch and queen


 A successful garden must include basic garden concepts.  Your Polk County Master Gardeners can assist you with information on:

* Basic garden design

* Garden bed preparation

* Resources on plant selection

* How to Install plants correctly

* How to install a microirrigation system

* How to use organic mulches

* Garden maintenance

Molly Griner has been a UF/IFAS Extension Polk County Master Gardener since 2003.

For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or visit us online at  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at


2 Comments on “Gardening for Pollinators

  1. Is there a particular store that is best to find plants etc to attract and care for hummingbirds?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *