10 Early-Blooming, Cold-Hardy, Pollinator Magnets

10 Early-Blooming, Cold-Hardy, Pollinator Magnets

Spring has sprung in many parts of the country, and hungry pollinators are on the wing, looking for food. For great advice on how to attract and keep the early arrivals we turn to the experts. Here’s great advice from guest bloggers Megan Nichols and Jessie Jacobson of Tonkadale Greenhouse, Minnetonka, MN.

Whether we garden in containers, a single small bed, or several expansive acres when you total it all up, gardeners tend a large amount of growing space. This gives us the potential to propagate, promote, protect, and feed healthy and happy pollinators. Just as we need meals to fuel us throughout the day, pollinators need food throughout the seasons.  From the moment, they wake up in the spring to the time that they hibernate or migrate in the fall, pollinators need to eat. And we’re not just talking about honey bees, but also native bees, butterflies, moths, birds and bats, beetles, flies, and the list goes on.

Planting early blooming perennials is one of the easiest things for a gardener to do. The reward is in those delicate first early blooms after the rugged and bleak landscape of winter. Bonus – early bloomers are some of the toughest and easiest care plants around since many can handle cold. And, BEE counted in the #polliNATION by joining the Million Pollinator challenge this spring. Get started with these early bloomers.

Midnight Prairieblues™ Indigo (above)

Blooms late spring to early summer and is a great between-seasons transition plant. From prolific blue blooms to interesting seed pods, and ferny-leaves, it’s rock solid and drought resistant. Zone: 4 – 8

Attracts: Foliage favored by several caterpillar species; both bees and butterflies love to visit the flowers.


Gold Heart Bleeding Heart

What: A darling of the shade garden, bleeding hearts were loved by Grandma and are just as popular today. Poetically and aptly named, these plants are heavy with pollen-rich flowers that seem to drip from the stems. This variety’s vivid golden foliage can be used for contrast and to brighten darker shade gardens. Heart-shaped pink flowers dangle from long wands. Zone: 3 – 9

Attracts: Native bees, honeybees

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Trevi Fountain Lungwort

What: Lungwort blossoms change from pink or red to blue as the flowers age. Younger pink or red flowers have more pollen and nectar which signals to pollinators that dinner is served while blue blooms are not going to be as rewarding. Cool, huh?  Bees, its primary pollinators, see very well into the ultraviolet and in that range of light, the color change is dramatic.

Attracts: Bees, night moths


Early Scout Fernleaf Peony

What: The redolent scent of peonies is a “come hither” lure for pollinators letting them know there’s yummy pollen and sweet nectar hidden inside those pretty petals. This one’s among earliest hybrid peonies to bloom! The open petals with huge clusters of pollen-rich, golden stamens make for easy pickings. Zone: 3 – 8

Attracts: Bees, moths, hummingbirds


Variegated Jacob’s Ladder

What: Many pollinators swarm for blooms with bell-shaped flowers that hint at nectar inside. Jacob’s Ladder produces sweet little blue blooms where little bees fit just right. This variety, Brise d’Anjou is particularly interesting with cream and green striped variegation that lends a pop of light to the shadier spots in the garden. Zone: 4 – 8

Attracts: Bees, hummingbirds, hoverflies


Miss Kim Korean Lilac

What: Who can resist a lilac shrub? Not most gardeners, and certainly not bees. It’s like planting perfume. Just remember they don’t like wet feet, and they set buds in summer, so only prune right after flowering is complete. Zone: 4 – 8

Attracts: Honeybees, leafcutter bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies including Two-tailed Swallowtail and Milbert’s Tortoiseshell.


Genti White Bellflower

What: Compact flowering plants like this bellflower can have scores of bees working the plant at the same time. Clusters of tightly grouped, pure white, bell-shaped flowers bloom profusely  through the summer. Remember, large blocks of the one plant are more attractive to pollinators than ‘one each of everything,’ so plant this one in a mass of many. Zone: 4 – 8

Attracts: Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies.


Blue Ribbons Bush Clematis

What: Hummingbirds love tubular flowers, especially pendant-shaped blooms that nod downward, as this helps stop nectar from being diluted by rain. This new bush-type clematis has indigo blue flowers that are larger and more prolific than similar varieties. After blooming, silvery seed heads develop, lasting into early winter, feasted on by migrating birds. Zone: 3 – 9

Attracts: Hummingbirds, hoverflies, bees.


Pink Beauty Potentilla

What: Plants with a long flowering period are especially valuable to bees. During bad weather they cannot leave their hive which can result in completely missing a short flowering period. This sweet little shrub (only 3-ft. tall and wide–so useful!) blooms from spring through fall and it’s flat, open petals makes it easy to drink up. Zone: 3 – 7.

Attracts: Honeybees, native bees, moths, hoverflies.


Chocolate Chip Carpet Bugle

What: Low growing ground covers with early blooms provide a special service to bees, especially honey bees. Honeybees cannot pollinate with winds over 25mph, so the lower the food source during windy spring weather, the better. This dwarf, evergreen creates a tight mat of bronze-tinged foliage with purple spring flowers. Zone: 4 – 9

Attracts: Honeybees and native bees

Keep Pollinators Happy

While planting flowers is the best thing for pollinators, there are still other things they need and other important considerations that will make your garden especially pollinator friendly.

  • Plant plants that provide nectar and pollen. Nectar provides carbohydrates and pollen provides protein.
  • Provide a water source. Be sure to clean containers often and keep water fresh and filled. A shallow dish with flat rocks for pollinators to land on is easy to create and appreciated by bees and butterflies alike.
  • Provide sweet treats. Use your overripe fruit such as oranges and bananas to feed the butterflies. When it’s a little too far gone for us is when it’s just right for them. Beware, ants will find it too, so hanging the dish of fruit can help.
  • Plant in a sunny area.
  • Create large swaths or groupings of the same native, non-invasive plants.
  • Create continuous bloom throughout your growing season.
  • Eliminate or minimize the use of pesticides and fungicides. If spraying pesticides is a must, do so very early in the day or late in the evening when pollinators aren’t out and about.

Besides being just plain amazing to watch and enjoy, pollinators are vital to food and flower production, and without them gardening does not exist as we know it. Gardeners need only do what they already love to do! Plant plants!

About Tonkadale Greenhouse:

Tonkadale is a design-driven garden center located in Minnetonka, Minnesota. Pollinator friendly. Kid friendly. Dog friendly. Always original. Always approachable. Your greenhouse home.