Attracting Beneficial Insects with Pollinator Plants

Perennial pollinator plants, such as fall-blooming asters, improve the look of your garden while attracting pollinators and other friendly insects for years to come.

Bee on milkweed flowers

Attract pollinators to your fall garden by planting nectar- and pollen-rich plants, such as milkweed (Asclepias genus).

Photo courtesy of www.RareSeeds.com

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Which plants work best for attracting beneficial insects to my organic garden?

Fall is the perfect time to plant flowers for attracting pollinators. Perennial plants come back year after year, and in many cases they’ll cover more ground each season.

Because these plants are meant to outlive the gardener, they need a good home. Compost or other organic matter should be incorporated into the bed or planting hole. Compost gives the plants everything they need, so they’re more likely to thrive.

When considering which perennials to plant for attracting beneficial insects, it’s important to know that bugs get pollen or nectar from plants. Coneflowers are great perennial pollinator plants because their riches are readily available. If a coneflower has been bred to create a double flower, however, then it’s nearly impossible for the pollinators to access what they need from the bloom. That’s one of the reasons natives and heirlooms have become so popular.

One way to encourage monarch butterflies is to plant anything from the Asclepias genus, which is the milkweed genus that adult monarchs lay their eggs on and their larvae feed on. But there’s more to it than that; the butterflies also need food at the end of the season to prepare for their long flight back to Mexico. Monarchs enjoy fall-blooming asters and goldenrod — two plants that are beautiful and easy to grow. Wild geranium, monarda, black-eyed Susan, and phlox are other good options. Ideally, you’ll find plants that will make both you and the beneficial bugs happy.

The list of pollinator plants is long and diverse — and don’t forget shrubs and trees. Take your time and explore your local nursery; many areas have places that sell only natives.

When gardening with the mission of attracting pollinators, you’ll want to make sure the garden stays chemical free so you can invite the beneficial pollinators that help us out in return. Nature creates a balance between “good” bugs and “bad” bugs; it’s when we disrupt that balance that trouble starts.

For more advice from Doug Oster, see:

Expert Gardening Advice for Growing Root Vegetables
Is Vermicomposting Tomato Plants a Good Idea?


Feeling stumped? Write to us!

All of this issue’s questions were submitted via Facebook. For a chance to see your gardening question answered in print, email it to Letters@HeirloomGardener.com, post it on our Facebook page, or share it on Instagram with the hashtag #HeirloomGardener.


Doug Oster is the home and garden editor at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and is co-host of The Organic Gardeners on KDKA radio. Doug’s book Tomatoes Garlic Basil contains even more useful information.