This post was written and provided by Michelle Z. Donahue from the Plough & Furrow blog.
Though the flower shows are mostly done for the year, fall is a great time to get some planting done to bring your favorite fauna to the yard next year.
You’ve probably read up on the different flowers that bring butterflies flocking, or the best types of plants to build a hummingbird garden.
But knowing why your winged visitors are drawn to these plants is important, and can help you bring even more activity to your garden.
Over millions of years, flowering plants and their pollinators changed shape and features together for their mutual benefit, a term biologists call co-evolution. (Kind of like what happens when people are married for a long time!)
To get their friends to come and take a closer look—and ensure its reproductive success—plants had to get creative with their flowers.
It’s one reason why hummingbird plants tend to have long, pipe-like flowers. The design is just as much to bring the bird in for a nectar snack as it is to enlist her in pollination efforts. A hummingbird’s head is the perfect shape to collect pollen, which she’ll take to the next flower in line—completing the pollination cycle.
A flower’s shape and color, as well as whether or not it has a nice aroma, are tip-offs to what kind of pollinator tends to seek out that plant. Pick your pollinator by choosing the right kind of plant!
For The Birds
Our feathered friends can see really well, but have awful sniffers, so plants attractive to birds are often bright red or orange. Anything with a tube-shaped flower almost guarantees a visit from a hummer.
Recommended Plants for Birds:
agastache, native columbine, coral honeysuckle, hibiscus, lobelia, penstemon, tall phlox, salvia.
Bees See in UV
Beesperceive flowers in a completely different spectrum: ultraviolet (UV) light. To them, blue, purple and yellow blooms pop like a neon sign. Many bee-friendly flowers also have soft, delicate scents.
Bee-friendly flowers also often feature “landing strips,” or platforms where bees can alight, along with patterns of lines that act to guide their visitors in for a landing.
Recommended Plants for Bees:
blanket flower, borage, bee balm, butterfly bush, coneflower, fall asters, goldenrod, hosta, native passionflower, sedum.
Butterflies Love Nectar
Like hummingbirds, butterflies often target flowers in red, orange and purple, but color is really less of a factor than the flower’s overall shape—butterflies probe deep wells for nectar. This keeps other insects out, and the butterfly’s foraging also passes on pollen to neighboring plants.
Recommended Plants for Butterflies: aster, blazing star (Liatris), coneflower, goldenrod, milkweed, joe-pye weed, garden phlox, sedum.
Feed the Night-Flying Moths
Indulge in a moon garden by planting white-flowered, night-blooming plants to feed moths, which are mainly active at night. Lucky gardeners who visit their bloomers by the light of a full moon will be rewarded with a garden full of strong, sweet smells, and perhaps a chance encounter with the huge, ethereal luna moth.
Bonus! Most moth plants also attract butterflies.
Recommended Plants for Moths:
angels’ trumpet, hosta, lavender, lily, nicotania, thyme, valerian, yucca.
Send Out the Bat-Signal
Bats are known for eating tons of bugs during their nighttime outings, but in warm, tropical areas they’re important pollinators. If you like tequila, you’ll be especially interested to know that agave, the plant source of the tipple, is almost wholly pollinated by bats.
In temperate areas, bats follow their food to night-scented flowers, so moon gardens also encourage bats to visit.
Recommended Plants for Bats:
Agave, banana, cocoa, guava, nicotania, phlox.
Bowls for Beetles
Though bees have been in the spotlight lately as an uber-important pollinator, beetles actually do a majority of the pollinating work in the plant kingdom. They’re thought to pollinate 88 percent of all flowering plants—there are over 30,000 species in North America alone!
Beetles love wide, bowl-shaped flowers or large, tightly clustered flowerheads, which tend to be deeply aromatic and pale yellow or white.
Recommended Plants for Beetles:
goldenrod, magnolia, poppies, sweet shrub, pond lily.