Spring is an ideal time to plan and install herbaceous perennial plants. Many 1-gallon size perennials will provide a great flower display in the first year. Perennials provide a source of nectar and habitat for pollinators after spring flowers on trees and shrubs have passed. News of our wild pollinators dropping in number in recent years is now widespread. There are many factors associated with these declines including loss of habitat, parasites, disease, poor nutrition, and pesticide exposure. Cultivated landscapes are becoming more important as a source of food and habitat for these small creatures. The Monarch Butterfly and its relationship to the Milkweeds is well known, but in fact many of our desirable native insects depend on native plants for habitat and reproduction. Integrating specific native plants into our residential landscapes and eliminating the use of pesticides are great ways to help pollinators on their migration routes.
The Ruby Throated Hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that regularly spends its summers in the Chicago area. Nectar from flowering plants, plus small insects and spiders are its main food sources. Nests are located in protected areas in trees or shrubs. After seeking out the tubular flowers of Azaleas and Diervillas in spring, Hummingbirds frequent these perennials:
* Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) Blooms April-June. 18-24″h. Shade-part shade.
* Beardstongue (Penstemon digitalis) Blooms May-June. 24-36″h. Sun-part shade.
* Blue Fortune Hyssop (Agastache X ’Blue Fortune’) Blooms July-September. 36″h. Full Sun.
* Cardinal Flower/Blue Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis/Lobelia siphilitica) Blooms July-September. 24-36″h. Full Sun.
Perennials provide for butterflies in two ways: as flower nectar sources in the adult stage, and as specialized host plants in the caterpillar stage which provide a food source and breeding location for the next generation. Examples of the specialized relationship between caterpillars and perennials include the Monarchs and the Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), Black Swallowtails and the Golden Alexanders (Zizia spp.), and Baltimore Checkerspots and the White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra). These perennials provide a nectar source for a wide variety of butterflies:
* Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) Blooms July-August. 36″h. Full sun.
* Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata) Blooms July-August. 36″h. Full sun.
* Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) Blooms July-August. 24-36″h. Full sun.
* Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp.) August-September. 5-6’h. Full sun.
Many of our food crops such as Apples, Almonds, Blueberries, and Tomatoes depend on pollination by Bumblebees and Honeybees. Perennial gardens provide an additional nectar source during times when farm crops and wild plants are not at their peak. Bees are particularly attracted to these:
* Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) Blooms April-June. 18-24″h. Shade-part shade.
* False Indigo (Baptisia spp.) Blooms May-June. 36-48″h. Full sun.
* Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) Blooms July-August. 36-48″h. Sun-Part shade.
* Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) Blooms August-October. 18-24″h. Full Sun.
Plants that attract pollinators are often attractive to gardeners as well. The specialization of flower shapes and colors add variety and contrast to our landscapes. Even these small wildlife visitors themselves can create a special experience that connects us to nature. Do you have room for some of these perennials in your garden? Check out or garden design portfolio for more ideas.