Drought-Tolerant Pollinator Plants

Try these low-maintenance perennials to attract bees and other pollinators to your garden.

aster

Colorful asters begin blooming in late summer.

Photo by iStock

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Bee populations have been on the decline all around the world for the past few decades, and that’s a problem. Scientists estimate that nearly one-third of all food grown on Earth is dependent on bees. Without these important pollinators, the future of our food supply could be in trouble. Many factors contribute to bee declines, but nearly all scientists agree that loss of habitat and lack of nutrition are major factors. Fortunately, that means there is something simple every one of us can do to help: Include bee-friendly plants in our gardens. Not only will these plants feed bees, they’ll help support birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, too. Plus, these hardy, drought-tolerant perennials are nearly guaranteed to grow well with very little care, and they’ll come back year after year. To protect the health of the pollinators you’re aiming to attract, always use plants grown without pesticides.

Aster

(Aster spp., Zones 3 to 8)

If you like daisies, then you’ll love asters. They start blooming in late summer and continue through fall. They offer a great pop of color and a late source of nectar just when other flowers are starting to fade. Plant in a sunny spot.

Bee Balm

(Monarda didyma, Zones 4 to 9)

If you like uniquely shaped flowers, this is the one for you, with its bright color and spiky shape. Also known to attract hummingbirds, you can’t go wrong with a plant that already has bee in the name. Bee balm can handle some shade.

Blanket flower

(Gaillardia spp., Zones 3 to 9)

They don’t grow very tall (usually only reaching a foot or two), but blanket flowers pack bold punches of color in varying shades of red, orange and yellow. Because of their short height, they are perfect for the front of flowerbeds or in containers. Plant in full sun.

Butterfly weed

(Asclepias tuberosa, Zones 4 to 9)

This is a tough and hardy wildflower that deserves a spot in every sunny garden in North America. It requires almost no maintenance, is very drought-tolerant and serves as a host plant to monarch butterflies. 

Catmint

(Nepeta spp., Zones 3 to 9)

Catmint is one of the easiest perennials you’ll ever grow, and since it has a long blooming time, bees can enjoy it for months. Depending on the variety, catmint can grow several feet tall and wide. If you need to fill an empty space, catmint is an excellent candidate. Grow in full sun.

Coneflower

(Echinacea spp., Zones 3 to 9)

Coneflowers benefit many types of pollinators, attracting butterflies and bees early on, and then becoming a great seed source for birds once the flower heads dry. You can find dozens of coneflower options on the market today. You’ll always have good luck with purple coneflowers, but also be sure to check out native varieties specific to your area—ask for advice at your local garden center. All coneflowers need a sunny spot.

Goldenrod

(Solidago spp., Zones 4 to 9)

If you’ve ever seen goldenrod in a backyard garden or in the wild, there’s a good chance you saw bees hovering around the blooms, too. This plant has such a good reputation for producing pollen that it has been falsely accused of causing allergy problems. (The pollen from this plant is actually too heavy to travel in the wind, thus it can’t cause allergies.) Grow in full sun, and look for native varieties best for your backyard.  

Joe Pye weed

(Eutrochium purpureum, Zones 4 to 9)

This perennial commands attention in the garden, and it can reach more than 7 feet tall. Joe Pye weed prefers moist, even swampy areas, but it holds up surprisingly well in dry and hot weather. The pink blooms are like magnets for bees.

Lantana

(Lantana spp., Zones 8 to 11)

For many gardeners in the United States, lantana will only grow as an annual—note the small zone range. But this plant is definitely a good choice if you live in a hot weather area, because it’s one of the most drought-tolerant options on the market today. Gardeners in the South swear by this resilient plant with tropical-looking blooms. Grow it in your sunniest, hottest spots. 

Penstemon

(Penstemon digitalis, Zones 3 to 9)

You have to love a plant that goes by the nickname “beardtongue.” Penstemon blooms are tubular in shape, and are known for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies. Bees like them, too, and this hardy plant can tolerate a wide range of growing conditions.

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia hirta,

Also called black-eyed Susan, rudbeckia is remarkably easy to grow. You can throw a couple of plants in your garden, and before you know it, they will have doubled or tripled with little to no care. They’re perfect for butterflies, birds and bees, so try planting a few different varieties in your garden. You won’t be sorry you did. Grow in a spot where you get lots of sun.

Sedum

(Sedum spp., Zones 3 to 9)

Sedum is naturally drought-tolerant because it’s in the succulent family. The tiny, star-shaped flowers on short stems attract bees well into fall, which is perfect when summer blooms are starting to fade. Sedum is one of the most reliable plants you can grow.

Yarrow

(Achillea spp., Zones 3 to 9)

For years, many people have thought of yarrow as a weed, but don’t let that discourage you. Yarrow is actually a perfect backyard plant, and it comes in a variety of shades, including yellow, red and pink. Grow in full sun, and the butterflies and bees will soon find their way.


Growing Herbs for Bees

Looking for multipurpose plants? Many herbs we grow to eat also happen to be good for bees. After you’ve picked their leaves for culinary use, let the plants below keep growing and flower. The bees will love the blooms.

• Borage
• Chives
• Cilantro
• Mint
• Oregano
• Rosemary
• Sage
• Thyme