Just like with homesteading you don’t have to have acres and acres of land to create a small pollinator garden. You can plant a pollinator container garden oasis of nectar-rich flowers that will encourage the pollinators to stick around.
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Here are some Native Plants that do well in Containers and attract Pollinators
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Nettles, despite their sting, are a wonderful companion plant in a garden, as they help release volatile oils in other plants, repel pests like aphids and attract beneficial insects. Often considered a weed, nettles spread enthusiastically, so they might be be best planted in their own container.
Harvest nettles with gloves and long sleeves to avoid coming in contact with their stinging hairs. Once cooked or dry, they will no longer “sting.”
Nettles are considered a superfood, high in iron, calcium, vitamins A and C, and other nutrients. They are also used medicinally in a variety of ways. Nettle tea is used as a fertilizer, especially in biodynamic farming techniques.
Asters (Aster spp.)
Check for natives to your particular area. Asters are attractive late-season bloomers that attract all kinds of beneficial insects and repel insect pests. Try planting with cherry tomatoes for a bold purple-and-red combination in late summer/early fall.
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Cardinal flower is a beautiful, brilliant-red lobelia known for its attractiveness to hummingbirds. Cardinal flowers and other lobelias prefer partial sun and moist soil, so try them paired with edibles that have similar needs, such as greens, carrots, beets, turnips and cabbage.
Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis)
Lupine is in the bean family and is a fantastic nitrogen fixer, loved by permaculturists. It’s also attractive to bees and butterflies, and is a beautiful flower. Plant lupine with broccoli, corn, leafy greens or any other heavy nitrogen users.
Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)
Another pollinator magnet, bee balm is a lovely burst of color among your vegetables and herbs. It’s said to repel pests in soil, which is helpful when planted among edibles. It also has been said to improve flavor of tomatoes. Bee balm is easy to grow, preferring full sun and moist soil. Flowers and leaves can be dried and used for herbal tea, traditionally known as Oswego tea. It also has a variety of medicinal uses.
Blueberries (Vaccinium species)
Blueberries, one of the few widely cultivated native North American fruits can be grown very successfully in containers in most growing zones. A large healthy plant will produce hundreds of flowers to attract native bees and honeybees needed for pollination—but the bees will likely visit your other plants nearby, as well. Blueberries need a high-acid soil or soil with an acidic fertilizer added and should be watered frequently.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
This licorice-flavored plant in the mint family is a Midwest native that grows well just about anywhere. It can be interplanted with other veggies and herbs to attract all kinds of bees and butterflies. Later in the season, when it goes to seed, it becomes a magnet for finches and other seed-eating birds. It also makes a wonderful herbal tea.
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Native to Midwestern prairies, coneflower is a stunning plant that attracts butterflies and bees. Echinacea is also well known for its medicinal properties. Provide it full sun and interplant it with lower-growing vegetables, like squash.
Native Phlox (Phlox spp.)
Phlox comes in many varieties, blooms in the spring, and will attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Creeping phlox makes an attractive “spiller,” draping over the side of your planter, and is a butterfly magnet. It likes partial shade, so plant it under taller veggies.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow is another super plant revered by permaculture enthusiasts and biodynamic farmers. It’s known for repelling insect pests, attracting many beneficial insects and acting as a fertilizer. It grows easily in most zones and in most soils. Yarrow has a variety of internal and external medicinal uses. It comes in many colors, but white yarrow is considered the best variety for medicinal preparations.
Here are some Container Combos that will keep your pollinators happy.
The most attractive container combos usually include thrillers, fillers, and spillers. Thrillers are the tall showy plants at the center or center back and fillers the shorter but also upright plants that fill in around those superstars, while spillers hang out over the edges of the container.
Bee Happy Container
Bees prefer flowers in yellow, white, blue, and purple hues. Consider using long-blooming dwarf sunflower Helianthus ‘Suncredible Yellow’ as your sun-colored thriller, dwarf coneflower Echinacea ‘Kim’s Knee High’ as your purple-tinted filler, and a white alyssum such as Lobularia ‘Snow Princess” to spill the appropriate scent of honey over your efforts.
Fly High Container
Butterflies like bright colors such as red, orange, and yellow—on blooms large enough for safe landings. To capture their attention, you might want to make the red and orange tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, your thriller, with a lower-growing red and yellow gaillardia, such as ‘Arizona Sun,’ as your filler. Then add trailing Lantana ‘New Gold’ as the spiller.
Hum Along Container
Hummingbirds prefer anything red and love blooms that have a furled funnel shape. To make that color pop, pair it with dark foliage or flowers. For a partial sun position, you might choose a red-flowered bee balm with purple bracts, such as Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’ for the thriller, a dusky salvia such as Salvia splendens ‘Lighthouse Purple’ for the filler, and a dangling red and purple fuchsia like Fuchsia magellanica for the spiller.
Learn more about Attracting Hummingbirds to Your Backyard.
Planting Tips for Your Small Pollinator Garden
Some of the plants mentioned here are perennials, and might not bloom until their second year, so make sure that any perennials you purchase are at least 2 years old. If you intend to keep them in their containers over the winter, those plants should survive in a hardiness zone that ranks two zones colder (north) than where you live. Select containers for your perennial pollinator garden composed of a material that doesn’t crack easily.
If you combine annuals with perennials, simply replace the annual plant the following year. Also, avoid spraying the plants with insecticides, since those likely have contributed to the current decline in pollinators. And you’ll want to help alleviate that problem—not contribute to it!
And there you have it… pollinator gardens in containers. You don’t have to have tons of space to attract those pollinators; a balcony or small patio is just enough. I would love to see what Pollinator Garden Containers you come up with, send us a message or leave a comment below.
If you are looking for ways to attract more hummingbird to your yard check out How to Attract Hummingbirds to Your Backyard.