Home & Garden

Planting for pollinators: FloraKansas sale to focus on food-source flowers for bees and butterflies

Given the choice between planting single specimens of a diversity of flowers or massing plants of one type of flower, which do you think better serves pollinators?

Massing plants of one type together, says Scott Vogt, director of Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston.

It’s a test that I fail at home, because I like to try as many types of plants as possible, and so I usually buy only one of each. That may satisfy my desire to possess, but not the garden’s ability to pack a punch, either for people seeking beauty or for pollinators looking for a meal.

“It goes back to making it easier for those pollinators to see a mass of, say, black-eyed Susan or butterfly milkweed or coneflowers in bloom,” Vogt said. “Those are easier to find than to find one here, or one over there.”

That’s not to say that a diversity of plants isn’t needed, too, to draw bees and butterflies and other pollinating insects to our yards. It’s best to have things in bloom in spring, summer and fall, no matter what size your yard. When Dyck Arboretum has its FloraKansas native-plant sale next week, it will be emphasizing the best flowers to plant for pollinators and giving out information about the need to help bees and butterflies, including the importance of reducing or eliminating pesticide use in the yard.

“Even a small selection of plants where you have a few blooming in the spring, a few blooming in the summer and a few blooming in the fall — we’re talking 10 to 15 plants — can add some good diversity to your landscape and offer food to different pollinators throughout the year,” Vogt said.

“I think with habitat decline, some of these small vignettes offer a place for pollinators to still find the food sources that they need, and if more people have these places in their landscapes, they (the pollinators) don’t have to spend as much time searching for them. Even though it may be a small display, it can really have an impact.”

FloraKansas will have more plants for pollinators than usual at the sale next week, including several species of milkweeds — those that bloom in spring, those that bloom in summer, and those that bloom in fall; those that suit formal or informal landscapes; and those that do better in dry or wet areas. Milkweed flowers can be white, orange or pink.

Monarch larvae (caterpillars) require milkweed to live; once they turn into butterflies, monarchs feed on a variety of nectar plants. That means they need fall-blooming plants for their migration.

“Things like asters and goldenrods and gayfeather, in the fall they (pollinators) are going to those because of the nectar and the pollen — they’re able to collect that too,” Vogt said. “They’re attracted to the vibrant colors.”

Because of their structure, pollinators are attracted to sunny areas; “they need the sun to really get going, especially in the morning,” Vogt said. But people who have shady yards have options: wild geraniums that bloom in the spring, different types of phlox that bloom in the summer, and woodland asters that bloom in the fall, Vogt said.

Butterflies also need an area protected from the wind, along with a water source. “It could be as simple as a shallow dish, or a birdbath with a rock submerged in it.”

The FloraKansas sale is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 7, and noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 8. Members get to shop first, from 1 to 7 p.m. Thursday. People can become members that day; the cost is $30 for an individual membership.

Occasionally, some plants sell out during the members-only day. “This spring we sold out of butterfly milkweed. … Everyone wanted the orange,” Vogt said. (FloraKansas is held both in the spring and in the fall.) “It varies from sale to sale what is the hot plant. Typically butterfly milkweed, amsonia, gayfeather, coneflower: Those are the hot ones that people are usually interested in.”