Pollinator Gardening

These are the parts of a flower

These are the parts of a flower.
Walker Massey, Clemson University

In 2007, the U.S. Senate designated a week in June as National Pollinator Week to increase the general public’s awareness of the importance of pollinators to food production. What is pollination? Pollination is the movement of pollen from the male flower part (anther) to the female flower part (stigma) on the same plant or between two plants of the same species. Proper pollination is critical for the development of many fruits and crops.

Approximately one third of the food that ends up on a plate is there because of pollinators. When pollination is mentioned, most people think of honey bees but there are so many other insects that help get the job done such as native bees, beetles, flies, wasps and butterflies.

A Monarch butterfly, bumble bee & honey bee on a Sunflower (Helianthus annuus).

A Monarch butterfly, bumble bee & honey bee on a Sunflower (Helianthus annuus).
Millie Davenport, ©2015 HGIC, Clemson Extension

A honey bee pollinating a Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

A honey bee pollinating a Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Millie Davenport, ©2015 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Of these, bees are a very important group for pollination because they deliberately harvest pollen to feed their offspring; they visit similar flower species per foraging trip and accidentally transfer pollen along the way.

A small pollinator garden with Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculm).

A small pollinator garden with Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) and Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculm).
Millie Davenport, ©2015 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Planting a pollinator garden will encourage the presence of native pollinators. Like all living things, pollinators need food, shelter, and water. Start by selecting a sunny area in the landscape and evaluating the area for existing nest sites, nectar sources and habitat. Then add plant species to the area that will increase nectar and pollen sources for pollinator insects through the spring, summer and fall months.

See the chart below for plant suggestions. Creating a diverse habitat that consists of multiple plant species will attract multiple species of insects. Start with 8 to 10 plant species to attract a greater diversity of pollinators. If possible, group the same plant species in at least 3 feet wide masses for a greater visual impact; this will also make the flowers easier for insects to find and navigate more efficiently as they gather nectar and pollen. If pollination is desired for an edible crop in the landscape, consider planting the pollinator garden nearby. Foraging distance varies among bee species. In general, larger species (i.e. bumble bees) travel further distances than smaller bee species (i.e. sweat bees).

This is an example of a mason bee nest box.

This is an example of a mason bee nest box.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2015 HGIC, Clemson Extension

Next, create nesting and overwintering sites. This can be accomplished by simply leaving un-mulched areas with well-drained soil and full sun to be used by solitary ground nesting bees. Wood nesting bee species prefer rotting logs, stumps or twigs with pithy centers.

These areas can be replicated by supplying nest boxes made using untreated lumber. Drill holes 3∕32” to 3∕8” in diameter on ¾” centers. The holes should be smooth on the inside and closed at one end. Tunnel depth for holes less than ¼” wide should be 3- 4 inches deep and holes greater than ¼” wide should be 5 – 6 inches deep. Place nest boxes three to six feet high in a sheltered area on a building, against a fence or in a tree where it will receive morning sun.

Lastly, reduce pesticide use in surrounding area. If any pesticide, organic or synthetic, is deemed necessary then choose the least toxic option and apply it in the evening when pollinators are less active.

Native Plants for Attracting Pollinators.

Common Name Botanical Name Season Flower Color
Painted Buckeye Aesculus sylvatica Late Spring Yellow / Green
Serviceberry Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Spring White
Pawpaw Asimina triloba Late Spring Maroon
Eastern Redbud Cercis canadensis Spring Pink
White Fringtree Chionanthus virginicus Late Spring White
Flowering Dogwood Cornus florida Spring White
Green Hawthorne Crataegus viridis Spring White
Persimmon Diospyros virginiana Early Summer Yellow
American Holly Ilex opaca Late Spring White
Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera Late Spring Yellow
Southern Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora Spring White
Umbrella Magnolia Magnolia tripetala Spring Pale Yellow
Sourwood Oxydendrum arboreum Summer White
American Beautyberry Callicarpa americana Late Spring Pink
Oakleaf Hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia Summer White
Virginia Sweetspire Itea virginica Early Summer White
Carolina Rose Rosa carolina Early Summer White
Rabbiteye Blueberry Vaccinium virgatum Spring White
Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis Spring Red / Yellow
Swamp Milkweed Asclepias incarnate Summer Pink
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca Summer Pink
Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa Summer Orange / Red
Whorled Milkweed Asclepias verticillata Summer White
White Wild Indigo Baptisia alba Spring White
Wild Indigo Baptisia australis Spring Blue
Green and Gold Chrysogonum virginianum Spring Yellow
Blue Mistflower Conoclinium coelestinum Summer Purple
Threadleaf Coreopsis Coreopsis verticillata Summer Yellow
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Sum to Fall Purple / White
Rattlesnake Master Eryngium yuccifolium Sum to Fall White
Joe Pye Weed Eutrochium spp.  Summer Pink
Spotted Geranium Geranium maculatum Spring Pink
Sneezeweed Helenium autumnale Summer to Fall Yellow / Orange
Swamp Sunflower Helianthus angustifolius Summer to Fall Yellow
Dense Blazing Star Liatris spicata Summer Blue / White
Cardinal Flower Lobelia cardinalis Late Summer Red
Great Blue Lobelia Lobelia siphilitica Late Summer Purple
Wild Bergamont Monarda fistulosa Summer Dark Pink
Spotted Beebalm Monarda punctata Sum to Fall Yellow
Eastern Smooth Bluetongue Penstemon laevigatus Early Summer White
Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana Late Summer / Fall Pink
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia fulgida Sum to Fall Yellow
Brown-eyed Susan Rudbeckia triloba Late Summer Yellow
Rough-leaf goldenrod Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ Late Summer / Fall Yellow
Showy goldenrod Solidago speciosa Late Summer Yellow
Stokes’ Aster Stokesia laevis Early Summer Lavender
Blue Wood Aster Symphyotrichum cordifolium Late Summer / Fall Blue
Spiderwort Tradescantia spp. Late Spring / Summer Purple
Giant Ironweed Vernonia gigantea Summer Purple
Golden alexander Zizia aurea Spring Yellow
Coral Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens Spring / Summer Red
Purple Passionflower Passiflora incarnata Summer Purple

Warm Season Annuals for Attracting Pollinators

Spiderflower Cleome spp.
Cosmos Cosmos spp.
Sunflower Helianthus annuus
Basil Ocium spp.
Mexican Sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia
Zinnia Zinnia spp.

Document last updated 2/23 by Millie Davenport.

Originally published 12/15

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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