Plants for pollinators

Wildlife gardening

Plants for pollinators

© Lynne Newton

Food for thought

With wild habitats at risk, bees and other pollinators need us to provide a food source in our gardens, balconies, allotments and other outdoor spaces.

You can help by growing flowers, shrubs and trees in your garden or outside space that provide nectar and pollen as food for bees and other pollinators throughout the year.

Bumble bee on poppy

© Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Know your soil

When planning a wildlife garden, it is important to know your soil type. Not all the plants listed below will be suitable for all soil types, and may not grow properly or die completely.

pH Test

A simple test to find out if your soil is acid, alkaline or neutral can be carried out using a soil testing kit from your local garden centre, which uses colour as an indicator. 

The solution will turn yellow-orange for acid soil, green for neutral and dark green for alkaline soil. Most plants prefer a pH of 6.5 to 7 – the point where nutrients are most easily available.

Water retention

Clay and peat soils hold water better than sandy and chalk soils. This test will show if your soil will become waterlogged in wet weather, or dry out quickly in summer. 

To Test The Water Retention Of Your Soil: 

Fold a piece of kitchen paper into a funnel and place in a jar then fill a small measuring jug with a recorded amount of water. Place a tablespoon of dry soil in the funnel and add water to the centre of the soil. Stop adding water when the first drop falls into jar, noting how much water you have added. Wait until soil has drained. Measure the volume of drained water: if over half of the added water is recovered, your soil is well drained.

Soil test

Wildlife attracting plants

From hazel to hebe, there is a a huge range of different types of flowering plants, shrubs and trees that both look stunning and attract a plethora of pollinators.

Herbs

A herb garden is a fantastic way to attract a range of pollinators to your patch, whilst providing a practical resource for the kitchen. What's more, herbs are easily grown in tubs and containers in smaller spaces.

Perfect plants include chamomile, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, lavender, hyssop, catmint, curry plant, fennel, mint, sage and chives.

Small tortoiseshell on oregano

© Lizzie Wilberforce

Fruits

Fruit bearing trees, bushes and plants are perfect for pollinators. They are also great for making your own home made preserves.

Ideal varieties include blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, apple, pear, peach and plum,

Apple tree

© Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Native trees and shrubs

The fruits, seeds and blossom found on our native trees and shrubs help feed pollinators and other wildlife.

Good choices include field maple, hazel, blackthorn, cherry, crab apple and willow.

Red admiral on blackthorn

© Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

Plants by season

Choose a mixture of seasonal flowering plants, shrubs and trees to ensure a year round food source in your garden.

Spring (March-May

  • Barberry (shrub)
  • Marsh marigold
  • Cotoneaster (shrub)
  • Crocus (spring-flowering)
  • Erysimum ‘bowles mauve’ wallflower
  • Cranesbill
  • Hebes
  • Honesty
  • Oregon grape
  • Native cowslip
  • Native primrose
  • Skimmia japonica (shrub)
  • Forget-me-not
Forget-me-not

© Neil Wyatt

Summer (June-August)

  • Yarrow
  • Hollyhock
  • Alliums
  • Alkanet
  • Angelica
  • Poppy
  • Thrift
  • Borage
  • Buddleja davidii (shrub)
  • Common marigold
  • Vipers bugloss
  • Heather
  • Honeysuckle
  • Greater & lesser knapweed
  • Cornflower
  • Red valerian
  • Cosmos
  • Ice plant
  • Sweet william
  • Foxglove
  • Common teasel
  • Coneflower
  • Blue eryngo
  • Hemp agrimony
  • Fuchsia
  • Corn marigold
  • Sunflower
  • Hydrangea
  • Jasmine
  • Feld scabious
  • Ox-eye daisy
  • Ragged robin
  • Evening primrose
  • Jacob’s ladder
  • Firethorn (shrub)
  • Coneflower
  • Salvia species
  • Lamb’s ear
  • Verbena bonariensis
Bumble bee on poppy

© Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Autumn (September-November)

  • Japanese anemone
  • Michaelmas daisy
  • Clematis
  • Crocus
  • Common ivy
  • Salvia species
Ivy

© Philip Precey

Winter (December-February)

  • Crocus (winter flowering)
  • Snowdrop
  • Hellebores
  • Honeysuckle
Honeysuckle

© Ross Hoddinott/2020VISION

Top tips

 Grow a range of plants with different flowering times to ensure a year round food source for pollinators.

Avoid plants with double or multi-petalled flowers, which are hard for insects to access.

After annuals and perennials have died off,  leave the seed heads throughout the winter to provide food and shelter for wildlife.

Never use pesticides on plants in flower - these will harm visiting pollinators.

Lavender

© Gemma de Gouveia

Wildlife Garden Award

Enter the Surrey Wildlife Garden Award and see how your patch shapes up for nature!

Find out more