By Cinthia Milner
Here’s a simple garden chore with far-reaching benefits. These five plants can be started from seed, are easy to grow and pollinators love them. The word ‘pollinator’ is everywhere these days and most of us have a vague memory of it from grade school. Pollinators are animals (remember, insects fit into the animal kingdom) that transfer pollen from one plant part to another, an important job because pollination allows plants to produce fruit and seed. Without pollinators, our food supply is diminished—since pollinators are responsible for three-fourths of our major food crops—and plants don’t reproduce. Now you see what all the fuss is about. So, scatter a few of these flower seeds and help save the planet. Note: All plants listed require full sun and can be planted directly outside when the weather allows. Follow instructions on the seed packet.
Borage: The Super Plant with Stellar Qualities This plant has it all. A magnet for pollinators, honey bees and bumble bees love it. It’s a good companion plant for tomatoes, squash and strawberries. Companion planting is planting two different plants together because they will benefit each other in some way. Borage is a host plant for good insects—the ones that eat harmful insects. Good insects are spiders, damsel bugs, ground beetles and parasitoid wasps, to name a few. Borage is useful for breaking up clay soils because it has large tap roots. This process is referred to as green manure. It reseeds prolifically and, if you’re game, you can eat the leaves and flowers. They taste a bit like cucumbers.
Sunflowers: Skip the Grocery Store and Grow Your Own Sunflowers grow in any old garden soil, so skip coddling them. Their cheery flowers turn with the sun which is reason enough to toss out some seeds. Their large heads are a natural landing pad for pollinators and bees and butterflies love them. The head’s central disc contains smaller tubular disc flowers, each with its supply of nectar and pollen, so sunflowers are a one-stop plant for pollinators. They make long-lasting cut flowers, and there are hybrids that will not grow six feet tall if you’re limited in space. For some added fun, check out the Great Sunflower Project (greatsunflower. org) and get involved. With more than 100,000 members, it’s the largest citizen science project focused on pollinators.
Basil: Grow An Extra Crop for the Pollinators Basil is not only tasty but has substantial health benefits. It is purported to aid with everything from inflammation to the effects of aging. It’s a cool weather herb that has seen a rise in popularity since pesto became the sauce for many pasta and pizza dishes. But it is more than flavoring for food. Bees and butterflies love it when plants are allowed to flower. Cooks use the leaves, pinching them off before the plant can flower, but, left alone, it has tall spires of lavender blooms that attract pollinators. Consider adding an extra row of basil. You can help pollinators and make pesto.
Nasturtiums: Companion Plants and Pollinators Nasturtiums are famous for being edible. The brightly colored orange, red, yellow and burgundy flowers have a peppery taste. But nasturtiums have other talents, too. Because aphids love them, plant them near broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cucumbers as companion plantings. Hummingbirds, also pollinators, love them as well. Nasturtiums grow in any soil and they bloom long after our interest in the garden has peaked in late summer and early fall. You don’t need to stake them; let them trail over a wall or ramble in the vegetable garden.
Cornflowers: Bring in the Ladybugs This sweet, blue flower has a best friend: ladybugs. Ladybugs are aphid-eating machines and they also eat a few other pests. Plant cornflowers anywhere and everywhere in the garden. Bees and butterflies also love them. They reseed, aren’t picky about garden soil and make great dried flowers. What’s not to love? See how easy it is to be a superhero? It turns out saving the planet and humanity only requires a few seeds, rain and a bit of sunshine. But gardeners already knew that.
Cinthia Milner is the garden coach and blog writer for B.B. Barns Garden Center in Asheville.