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Growing Green: Protecting Pollinators in Your Garden

No matter how you receive your news, you have undoubtedly heard recent stories about the precipitous decline in bee populations in recent years.  Whether due to Colony Collapse Disorder, where for still unknown reasons, worker bees simply abandon the hive; or the reckless use of neonicotinoid insecticides (neonics), which are fatal to bees; the declining bee population is bad news for bee keepers and farmers alike.

Pollinators are essential to our environment. “Seventy percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species, rely on pollinators to reproduce. The fruits and seeds from these crops are necessary for 30 percent of the foods and beverages we consume, and include the most nutritious and interesting parts of our diet: apples, watermelon, blueberries, carrots, broccoli, and almonds to name but a few. We also count on pollinators for the beef and dairy products that come from cattle raised on alfalfa.” (Madder, Spivak & Evans, Managing Alternative Pollinators, 2010)

Gardeners can do their part to help. Carefully read the label of insecticides you choose to use in your own garden. Pay particular attention to the Environmental Hazards section. If the label states that the pesticide is toxic to bees, consider a more bee friendly alternative. Ask your local nurseries and garden centers if the plants they carry are neonic free, or consider starting your own plants, to ensure that neonics aren’t present in your garden.

Plant selection can also help to maintain healthy bee populations. There are hundreds of different bee species in Minnesota.  Providing a diverse array of plants will help ensure that you support a diverse array of bee species.  Pay particular attention to plants that bloom from April – September.

The following are a few flowers that are particularly attractive to bees, and can be easily incorporated in most ornamental gardens:

    Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata): an herbaceous plant that blooms from May-July.  Hardy to zone 4, this 1-2 foot plant prefers full sun but tolerates shady conditions.

    Sunflowers (Helianthus Spp.) Sun flowers come in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes.  There is definitely a sunflower for any garden/gardener. They generally bloom from July-frost, and have the added benefit of attracting birds and butterflies.  Pay attention to the variety you select.  There are many new cultivars that are pollen-less.

     Plants from the mint family: Anise Hyssop, Bee Balm, Catmint… all attract bees. Try one or many (warning: some mints can be invasive.  Anise Hyssop will self-seed in the most unlikely spots.)

For more information about how you can support native pollinators, visit: or

Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.