It’s no secret that cut flowers make a beautiful addition to any home, but some of the most popular varieties also play an essential role in attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies to the garden.
By planting a few of the following pollinator-friendly flowers, you can enjoy a colorful display of blooms from summer to fall while also helping to support our struggling pollinator populations.
Here are some key points for each flower on this list. You’ll find many more details about each flower further in this article.
|Large, flat flowers are perfect for bees to land on
|open, airy flowers are ideal for butterflies
|small, tufted flowers with pollen for bees
|various nectar-rich flower shapes and colors
|Black eyed Susan
|dark centers produce seeds for birds
|sprays of dainty white flowers host beneficial insects
|spike stems with small tubular flowers for hummingbirds
|umbrella-shaped blooms with ferny leaves are pollinator landing pads
|small, fragrant blooms on vines are a source of nectar for bees
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Are cut flowers good for bees and other pollinators?
Cut flowers are excellent for bees and other pollinators because the flowers provide a source of food and nectar for them. Additionally, flower varieties grown for cutting tend to keep up a higher rate of flower production than other flowers, which means more blooms for the pollinators to take advantage of.
Certain qualities make some flowers more appealing to pollinators than others. Large, flat blooms provide ready access to pollen and nectar, while certain colors and fragrances can draw pollinators in.
When choosing which plants to include in your cut flower and pollinator garden, look for heirloom and organically-grown varieties, taller plants that are easier to spot, and native species that are well adapted to your local pollinator populations.
Why plant flowers for pollinators?
Growing your own cut flowers at home and being able to create floral displays from your backyard is a gratifying experience.
But when your cut flower beds also serve as pollinator habitats, attracting the magnificent displays of swallowtail and monarch butterflies, hummingbirds’ brilliant colors, and honeybees’ hum, that reward becomes even more significant.
At a time when pollinator populations are suffering, and habitats are being destroyed, backyard refuges for native pollinators are becoming increasingly important.
Small backyard habitats, even container gardens, can provide enough nectar and pollen to support pollinator populations, helping to ensure that pollinators have enough food and shelter as they travel from place to place.
Here are a couple of statistics to illuminate the importance of pollinators:
- According to the USDA, about one-third of global food production relies on pollination by bees and other insects.
- According to the Bee Informed Partnership, from April 2020 to April 2021 alone, US beekeepers have lost 45.5% of their managed honey bee colonies.
So not only do we need bees and other pollinators for more than 30% of our food production, but those very pollinator populations have been cut almost in half.
I understand if it seems counter-intuitive to plant flowers for pollinators and then harvest them for bouquets. Fortunately, most flowers produce more blooms than you will need to cut to have one or two fresh bouquets per week.
Plus, many cut flowers are called “cut and come again,” meaning that the more stems you cut, the more the flower will produce. So harvesting a handful of blooms will actually promote more flowers that pollinators can come to visit.
Nine cut flowers that are good for cutting and pollinators alike
Although many flowers work well in both cut flower and pollinator gardens, some flowers are preferred by pollinators for reasons such as a specific color or particular bloom shape.
Below are some of the best plants to grow in your cut flower garden that pollinators will enjoy.
Who doesn’t love a brightly colored sunflower? The hallmark of summer and autumn gardens, sunflowers’ cheery blooms, perched high upon tall stems are easy for pollinators to spot and perhaps one of the best flowers to include in a pollinator garden.
Sunflowers’ large, open flowers are easy for larger pollinators, like butterflies and hummingbirds, to land on. Their rich nectar and pollen make them exceptionally tempting to honeybees and carpenter bees.
But it’s not just the classic yellow flowers that are prized by pollinators. When left to go to seed, sunflowers also offer much-needed nutrition to birds in autumn as they prepare to migrate. Butterfly caterpillars can be found munching on the large leaves of sunflowers, too.
Sunflowers are great plants for beginning gardeners, particularly children, to grow. Try planting different varieties of sunflowers in your garden to increase diversity and for longer blooming times.
For variety recommendations that are particularly good for cutting (while still providing nectar for pollinators!), check out this article, What Sunflower Varieties Are Best For Cutting?
Cosmos earn their place in cut flower gardens for their bright blooms in pinks and whites and their ferny foliage that adds a light, airy quality to arrangements.
In a pollinator garden, cosmos come alive with the buzz of bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects that cannot resist their abundant nectar and pollen.
Cosmos’ open blooms make them easy to access for pollinators, and their ability to self-seed will have pollinators visiting your garden year after year. Try planting cosmos in clusters to make it easier for pollinators to spot and feed on.
Cosmos are great for beginning gardeners as they are pest and drought-resistant and can tolerate poor quality soils. With a long blooming season, cosmos will add color to your garden throughout summer and fall. Be sure to cut flowers frequently to encourage more blooms.
3. Bachelor’s Buttons
Also known as cornflowers, bachelor buttons are cherished by home gardeners for their cheery, bright blue flowers.
Great for cut flower arrangements and drying, bachelor’s button blooms are also edible flowers. They add charm when frozen into ice cubes for summer picnics, scattered on salads as colorful toppers, or eaten as unique snacks straight from the garden.
Easy to grow and self-seeding, bachelor buttons are also popular among pollinators and favorite among bees. When planted in vegetable gardens, bachelor buttons can also act as a host plant to beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewing, which can help control aphid populations.
A relative of asters and sunflowers, zinnias’ bright blooms in pinks, oranges, yellows, and whites make striking displays in the garden and cut flower arrangements. Zinnias are also a pollinator magnet, as you’ll see when you plant them.
Butterflies such as monarchs, swallowtails, and painted ladies are particularly drawn to zinnias’ lively colors and abundance of nectar and pollen. Other pollinators like bees and hummingbirds will also stop by frequently for this great source of nectar.
When selecting zinnias for your pollinator or cut flower garden, opt for taller varieties that are easier to spot and single-flowered zinnias with exposed yellow centers.
Although double-flowered zinnias have their charm, they are more difficult for pollinators to feed on because the middle of the flower isn’t exposed.
Easy to care for, zinnias will have lush growth and abundant blooms with regular water and rich soil, although they tolerate dry conditions and poor soil, making them ideal for hot or dry climates.
While you can plant them in a bed of their own, interplanting zinnias around your garden as companion plants can increase pollinator and beneficial insect activity, which can be particularly helpful if you’re growing vegetables and fruit trees.
5. Black eyed Susan
A native wildflower, black-eyed Susan are resilient flowers that are easy to care for and drought tolerant once established in your garden. They do well in container gardens because of their relatively compact size, and they can also tolerate partial shade, making them versatile plants.
As late bloomers, black eyed Susan flowers appear in late summer and fall, adding a bright hint of joyous yellow to your garden when other flowers begin to fade.
Black-eyed Susan is a favorite among bees and butterflies, but when left to go to seed, their centers also make tasty treats for birds, like finches.
6. Sweet Annie
Also known as wormwood, sweet Annie is a medicinal herb known for its fragrant, silvery foliage, which adds interest to floral arrangements and can be dried for wreath-making and other crafts.
In addition to being a favorite of pollinating insects like bees, sweet Annie is often used in natural pest control solutions as it also attracts beneficial predators and parasites that help keep garden pests in check.
Ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps will all flock to the dainty flowers of sweet Annie, and stop for an aphid snack while there.
When planting sweet Annie in your pollinator garden, leave some space for it to spread out as it will readily self-seed. If you don’t want it to spread then be sure to cut the plant back once flower production has slowed down but before seeds develop.
Perennial salvias, also known as sage, are wildflowers found growing on every continent the world over, except Antarctica. While their richly-colored, long-lasting blooms are favored among florists and gardeners alike, pollinators can’t get enough of them either.
The tall spikes of red and purple blooms are particularly attractive to hummingbirds, though salvias are sure to entice bees, bumblebees, and butterflies with their nectar-rich flowers.
Drought-tolerant and easy to grow, salvias’ richly-scented foliage makes them naturally resistant to deer and rabbit damage, making them a great option for rural areas with a healthy wildlife population.
Like wormwood, yarrow is also a medicinal herb with advantages in the flower garden. Yarrow’s wide, flat blossoms, called umbrils, form platforms that are easy for pollinators, like bees, butterflies, and beetles, to feed on.
While most yarrow blooms in shades of pale yellow and white flowers, more colorful varieties in pinks and bright yellows are available as well. A native perennial in North America, yarrow is known to be quite drought resistant, tolerates many different soil conditions, and can improve soil quality over time.
While yarrow’s flowers look stunning in floral arrangements, their feathery leaves also make great filler foliage. All parts of the plant dry exceptionally well, so save a few stems for dried flower wreaths and crafts for the off-season.
9. Sweet Peas
How could pollinators resist visiting sweet peas planted in your flower beds with their sweetly-scented and brightly-colored blooms? A favorite of bees and butterflies, sweet pea blossoms are incredibly rich in nectar and can do much to support hungry pollinator populations.
Fast-growing and easy to care for, sweet peas add whimsy to a garden when climbing a trellis or garden gate, making them a fantastic choice for small cut flower or pollinator gardens.
Sweet peas are somewhat cold tolerant, so they’re perfect for planting as soon as the ground can be worked, and by late spring you’ll have loads of blooms.
The more you cut sweet pea blooms, the more they flower, making them a staple in cut flower gardens. Remember that all parts of the sweet pea plant are toxic, so keep them in a safe area of your garden where kids and dogs won’t get to them.
Tips for choosing pollinator-friendly flowers for the cutting garden
Avoid double blooms for easy pollinator access
While hybrid plants and double-flower blooms may look appealing, they have often been bred for specific characteristics that are not valuable to pollinators.
Double flowers can be difficult for pollinators to feed on, and many hybrids have been specifically selected for reduced fragrance, pollen, and nectar. When purchasing plants, look for heirloom varieties that retain many of their original characteristics.
Choose bright and fragrant flower types for maximum effect
Brightly colored, taller plants are easier for pollinators to find in a garden. Fragrant flowers and flat and open blossoms are also preferred.
Buy organic seeds and avoid pesticides
Always opt for organically-grown seeds and starts when available and try to avoid plants that have been grown with neonicotinoids, which are lethal to pollinators. If in doubt, call your local garden center or seed company to inquire about their use of neonicotinoids.
And, of course, never use synthetic pesticides or herbicides, which can also be harmful to pollinators and beneficial insects.
Embrace plant diversity
Different pollinators have different needs: hummingbirds tend to favor long, tubular flowers, while butterflies need wide, flat flowers to rest on. Try planting different shapes and sizes and various colors to ensure any pollinator that arrives in your garden will find something to enjoy.
Plant for sequential bloom time
Try planting flowers that bloom at different times to ensure that pollinators have ready access to pollen and nectar throughout the growing season. Pairing sweet peas that bloom early to late spring with summer and fall-blooming salvia and black-eyed Susan, for example, will provide sequential blooms for a continuous food source all season long.
Plant in clusters
Planting in swaths of like flowers adds visual interest to garden beds, but it also helps pollinators. When plants are clustered together, they are easier for pollinators to spot, and their close proximity makes foraging less laborious.
Recycle fading bouquets
If you cut flowers for indoor displays, place your displays outdoors after the blooms begin to die back so pollinators can also feed on the spent blossoms.