We all want to attract pollinators, but many times we don’t have the space to include every plant an insect might find valuable. What is the best way to break down the massive lists of pollinator plants? Let’s look to the research.
From 2012-2015, Master Gardeners from Penn State Extension studied 86 native plant species and cultivars for their attractiveness to pollinators. The winner? Hands down, it was Pycnanthemum muticum or Clustered Mountain Mint. Oh no, a mint you say? Although it looks like a mint and smells sort of like a mint, it doesn’t always behave like a mint spreading everywhere (although I can’t lie, in some soils it does).
If you have space to grow it, Clustered Mountain Mint will attract the largest number of different pollinator species to it’s tiny white flowers. Bees, flies, wasps and more are frequent visitors. The great part is that these insects are so intent on feeding, that they could really care less about you observing their feast. The plant will be alive with activity, almost humming, which is a delightful observance. (Learn more about Clustered Mountain Mint)
Another great plant that did very well in the trial was Eupatorium dubium (Eutrochium dubium) or Coastal Plain Joe Pye Weed. This Joe Pye has a shorter stature than many, topping out between 3-4’ for me. It is also more tolerant of dry soils which is great for folks with drier soil who REALLY want to be able to grow a Joe Pye!
Coreopis ‘Zagreb’ while a cultivar, placed in the top 20. While this Coreopsis might seem common place to some, the fact that it blooms earlier in the season is great for the pollinators in early summer. Aster ‘October Skies’ (Symphyotrichum) is another great flower in the top 20, with a lovely blue flower in the fall.
While any of the top 20 plants would be great additions to your garden, don’t feel like you should limit yourself to only these 20 plants. Biodiversity in nature is important, and if your entire neighborhood plants the same 20 plants, you could miss out on some really cool insects! Like a specialist bee that only visits Helianthus (Sunflower), or only visits a certain Heuchera (Coral Bell). Let’s get planting!