attracting wild pollinators

15 ways to quickly attract pollinators to your yard

To grow that awesome pollinator garden, you need to get started. There’s something you can do in nearly every season.

Here are fifteen easy ways to attract pollinators to your yard or garden. Although winter is at its peak, it’s not too soon to start planning for the season to come.

  • Plant clover in your lawn. White Dutch clover planted in your lawn will attract dozens of pollinators. In addition, it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into a form the grass can use, resulting in a beautiful green lawn without the use of chemical fertilizers.

  • Plant at least some native species. Native plants attract native pollinators. Check with your local extension office if you are unsure of what is native. But remember that not all your plantings need to be native, just some.

  • Plant herbs. Herbs, especially those in the mint family, are very attractive to pollinators. This family includes thyme, oregano, sage, basil, peppermint, lavender, catnip, and rosemary. As an added bonus, you get to use the herbs yourself.

  • Select plants with a wide range of bloom times. Native bees need food from spring until fall so plan to have something in bloom all season long.

  • Plant larval host plants. Some plants are not considered especially attractive in the garden but are necessary for certain species of pollinators. Milkweed, for instance, is vital to the larval stages of Monarch butterflies. Plant them in an inconspicuous place if you prefer, but have them available for the pollinators.

  • Avoid hybrid varieties. Many flowers that have been bred for beauty have lost the nectar or pollen that made them valuable to pollinators. Plants with double or triple rings of petals, or plants with unusual colors or variegated patterns are probably over-hybridized.

  • Leave open patches of soil. Many ground-nesting bees need open patches of soil for their homes or for building materials. And remember, the large majority of bee species are ground dwellers. In addition, even some cavity dwellers, like orchard mason bees, need mud for their nests.

  • Provide a water source. It doesn’t need to be large or fancy. Just a wet spot under the end of a hose can help the insects. A leaky drip irrigation head works too.

  • Avoid excessive mulch. Too much mulch blocks entry to the ground. Ground-burrowing insects often cannot penetrate a heavy layer of mulch.

  • Add sea salt or wood ash to a bare patch of earth. Pollinators are often seen collecting minerals from salty or ashy areas. Your patch needn’t be large and it shouldn’t be overworked. If the insects need it, they will find it.

  • Provide nesting sites. Collections of reeds or holes drilled in wooden blocks provide great nesting sites. Tubes or blocks should be replaced periodically to limit disease build-up.

  • Leave dead trees and reeds standing. If a dead tree can safely stand, it should be left as a habit for bees, birds, and small rodents. Dead and standing reeds are a favorite of wild bees.

  • Leave an unmowed patch of grass and weeds in a protected spot. Tall grass provides protection, shade, and hunting grounds for many species of pollinators. Some pollinators—such as hover flies—feed on insects as well as nectar, so they do best in a place that provides an alternate food source.

  • Put a flower pot on every porch . . . and encourage your friends to do the same. The more plants that are available, the healthier our pollinators will be.

  • Use no pesticides. Until we reduce dependence on pesticides, items 1-14 are all for naught.

Even weeds attract pollinators. Here, a bumble bee nectars on a blackberry blossom.
To attract pollinators, plant a wide variety of plants. Even weeds, like this blackberry vine, provide both pollen and nectar for wild bees. © Rusty Burlew.

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  • We have planted all of the above, in the past 12 years. Almost every herb there is, plus a huge garden every year. You cannot walk from one end on our property, to the other, without some sort of pollinator crashing into your forehead.

    I just sit and watch, and I always see another type of tiny pollinator working, that I have never seen before. There must be thousands of species. It is absolutely amazing, and I love it. I don’t know why, I just do.

    I grow some salsify, which the smaller pollinators love. They get into the flowers and roll around like they’re taking a bath! It’s amazing. Our place is BUZZZZING all summer long.
    My neighbors hate me and all my stuff growing over and through the fence. Too bad.

  • Doug,
    I like your style. Let the neighbors moan. But when jelly or wine time comes around they sure know who has fruits in abundance! To bad most people don’t realize that many so called “weeds” are edible and delicious as long as they are not sprayed. We love to wild forage too. Made 5 gallons of wild grape wine, a dozen jars of honeyed crabapples, made sumac and beauty berry jelly, just on wild foraging alone this year. Not to mention the 26 gallons of cider from two old apple trees and many days of mulberry, raspberry, blackberry, aronia berry, nanny berry, elderberry, cranberry, currents, gooseberry, garlic, sunchokes, strawberry, and lots of herbs all from our perennial beds. Gotta love those pollinators, take care of them and they return the favor!

      • Rusty maybe you can give me a bit of advice on attracting bees to my garden. I, like so many of us, certainly have noticed we are in dire straights with our pollinators with the extensive use of pesticides that are killing our wonderful natural resource.

        I noticed you had a good recipe but it appears this is intended for the health and maintaining a hive or hives.

        I don’t currently have a hive and was wondering if I could prepare a batch of one of the recipes and say put the liquid in a pan in order to draw the bees to my garden where I have hundreds of blossoms waiting.

        Just wondering and thanks for all the info you provide!!

        • Charles,

          I think the best way to attract bees to a garden is to have many flowering plants that bloom at different times. You are correct that the recipes for bee feed are mostly to supplement hives of honey bees when food resources are low, but all bees do best on a diet of nectar and a supply of pollen for the brood. To attract the most bees select native plants, flowers that are blue or purple, flowers that are not hybrids, flowers grown in clumps rather than single plants, and flowers that were not raised with pesticides. I’ve never had much success with putting out feed (especially for wild bees) but a water source (not too clean) is usually helpful and areas of bare soil are popular too.

    • Cindy, I remember my late grandmother taking me with her to forage wild greens. She had a method and could pick a huge bunch in no time. Of course as a young boy I didn’t like that TV kind of food but now I wish she was here to take me through the fields again.

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