Its hard to plan your garden for season-long pollinator provisions, but we still try. Early spring months of April and May seem to be the hardest (after March of course), with more trees and shrubs than perennials blooming in the landscape. Perennial gardens are the highlight of most gardens through the summer months; it is difficult to think about them in spring. However, there is a wide variety of plants available to gardeners in the Central Great Plains for spring pollinators. Let us take a look at them.
One of my personal favorites is Fremont’s Clematis, a low, shrubby clematis with bell shaped flowers that blooms on the prairie April through June and sometimes again in September and October. It is native to a few counties in Kansas and Nebraska in the Smoky Hills and a few counties in Missouri (an isolated population). It grows 1 to 2 feet wide and tall and is drought tolerant. It prefers full sun to slight shade. Bees visit the flowers. While there are no current cultivars, I have been working on a selection for the nursery trade.
When one thinks of spring, one thinks of tulips. They are planted by the thousands and hundreds of thousands across the United States in other parts of the world. Many of us just buy a few each fall at the store and plant in our yard. Tulips, both the many ornate colors and the small species kinds are great pollinator plants for bees and flies.
While Yarrow ‘Moonshine’ has been outsold by popular red, pink, and pastel colored cultivars, there is no beating the yellow for early spring flowering. It is visited by bees, wasps, flies and other pollinators. It grows 1 to 3 feet tall and wide, with soft gray-green foliage, and is extremely drought tolerant, in full sun to part shade.
New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus, is a low, shrubby perennial that could be considered a shrub, that is a great spring bloomer. Bees and butterflies alike visit this flower powerhouse in the spring. It grows 1 to 4 feet tall and wide, is very drought tolerant, and loves full sun.
Who can have a garden without Baptisia? Not I! False indigo, also known by its Genus name Baptisia, is a common favorite among gardeners. There is literally one for everyone. With many new cultivars and crosses available, you can have one in every garden. Most grow from 3 to 5 feet tall and wide, with tall flower spikes in spring. Bees of many types visit the flowers, which are also great for cut flower arrangements.
Carolina Lupine looks like a small cross between Baptisia and Lupines, yet this native packs a powerful punch of spring color. The brilliant yellow blossoms attract bees and flies to the landscape. It prefers full to part sun and is very drought tolerant.
Golden Alexanders are a favorite flower of flies, bees, wasps, and butterflies, while the Black Swallowtail butterfly larvae feed on the leaves. A member of the carrot family, this native edge plant grows in full to part sun, and can handle wet or dry locations. It grows 1 to 3 feet tall and wide.
Showy Penstemon or Cobaea Penstemon was the Kansas Native Plant Society’s Plant of the Year in 2018 and it was a great year. There were lots of blooms on these penstemons in their favorite flowering times of May and June. There is also a purple variety available from the Missouri region. They grow 1 to 3 feet tall and wide, prefer full sun, and attract lots of visiting bees and flies.