9 Early Blooming Pollinator Plants


Spring has sprung in many parts of the country, and hungry pollinators are on the wing, looking for food. 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. We can save the pollinators during a vulnerable time–early spring. This can be a tough time for pollinators. They need a tremendous amount of pollen and nectar to grow the next generations of pollinators.

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.

Chokecherry
Benefits: Bees, Birds,Butterflies
Height: 12-30 feet
Bloom Time: Apr, May, Jun
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade
Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Dry, Medium, Moist
Color: White
Spacing: 10-20 feet
Description: Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a small deciduous tree typically growing to 20-30 feet tall with an irregular, oval-rounded crown. It also may be found in shorter heights as a large shrub. Fragrant, cup-shaped, 5-lobed, white flowers in elongated clusters to 3-6 inches long bloom in mid-spring. Flowers give way to clusters of globular, pea-sized berries that ripen to dark purple/black in August. Fruits are very attractive to many birds and animals. Habitats include typical woodlands and sandy woodlands, typical savannas and sandy savannas, open disturbed woodlands, woodland openings, woodland borders, wooded ravines, slopes of bluffs, stabilized sand dunes near Lake Michigan.
Lanceleaf Coreopsis
Benefits: Bees, Butterflies
Height: 1 - 2 feet
Bloom Time: May, Jun
Sun Shade: Full Sun
Zones: 2, 3, 4
Soil Conditions: Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Dry, Medium
Color: Yellow
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Lanceleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) is easily grown in dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun. Thrives in poor, sandy or rocky soils with good drainage. Tolerant of heat, humidity and drought. Prompt deadheading of spent flower stalks encourages additional bloom and prevents any unwanted self-seeding. Freely self-seeds, and in optimum growing conditions will naturalize to form large colonies. Plants may be cut back hard in summer if foliage sprawls or becomes unkempt. If grown in borders, division may be needed every 2-3 years to maintain robustness Typically grows to 2 feet tall and occurs in prairies, glades, fields and roadsides. Features solitary, yellow, daisy-like flowers (1-2 inch diameter) with eight yellow rays and flat yellow center disks.
Lupine
Benefits: Bees, Butterflies
Height: 1 - 2 feet
Bloom Time: May, Jun
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Sand
Soil Moisture: Dry
Color: Blue
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Lupines (Lupinus perennis) are 1-2½ feet tall and compactly branched. The stems are light green to reddish green, angular or terete, and canescent-hairy. The upper stems terminate in narrow racemes of flowers about 4-10 inches long. The flowering stalks are light green to reddish purple. Individual flowers are about ¾ inch long, consisting of 5 blue-violet petals (rarely white or pink), a tubular calyx with large lobes, several stamens, and a pistil with a single style. Grown in organically rich, moderately fertile, slightly acidic, evenly moist, well-drained soils in full sun. The root system can fix nitrogen into the soil. The seeds should be scarified to facilitate germination. Individual plants can be short-lived or long-lived, depending on environmental conditions.
Pussy Willow
Benefits: Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Height: 10-20 feet
Bloom Time: March
Sun Shade: Full Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Moist, Wet
Color: White
Spacing: 5-10 feet
Description: Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) are typically found growing in moist to wet soils in meadows, swamps and along lakes and streams, but also will be found in some drier conditions. It is a large multi-stemmed shrub to 6-15 feet tall, but is less frequently found as a small tree to 30 feet tall. Before the foliage emerges, male trees produce a showy display of catkins (1-1.5 inches long) that are pearl gray and silky. Female trees produce smaller, less attractive, greenish catkins. Male pussy willows are noted for producing ornamentally attractive silky pearl gray catkins on leafless stems in late winter to early spring. These catkins purportedly resemble the pads on a cat’s paw, hence the common name. The root system is woody, branching, and shallow.
Shooting Star
Benefits: Bees
Height: 1 - 2 feet
Bloom Time: May, June
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist
Color: White, Pink, Lavender
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia) is a much beloved wildflower that typically occurs in open woods and glades, rocky wooded slopes, bluff ledges, meadows and prairies. This is one of the most beautiful spring wildflowers in the prairie. A colony of these plants in bloom is a sight not to be missed. From each basal rosette of lance-shaped leaves come 1-4 sturdy, leafless, center flower scapes rising to 20 inches tall. Atop each flower scape is an umbel containing 8-20, nodding, 1 inch long flowers. Each flower has five swept-back petals and a cluster of yellow stamens converging to a point. Flower colors are quite variable, ranging from white to pink to light purple.
Smooth Penstemon
Benefits: Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Height: 2-3 feet
Bloom Time: Jun, Jul
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Par Sun
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist
Color: White
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) typically grows 3-5 feet tall and occurs in prairies, fields, wood margins, open woods and along railroad tracks. Features white, two-lipped, tubular flowers borne in panicles atop erect, rigid stems. Flowers bloom mid-spring to early summer. Basal leaves are elliptic and stem leaves are lance-shaped to oblong. This plant matures to 3 feet in height and has white to pink flowers. It prefers medium to dry medium soils but can adapt to many light conditions: full sun to part shade such as clearings within forests, woods edges, and savannas. The tubular flowers of this plant attract bees and hummingbirds.
Sweet Fern
Benefits: Bees, Birds, Butterflies
Height: 2-5 feet
Bloom Time: Apr, May, Jun
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Dry, Medium, Moist
Color: Green
Spacing: 2-3 Feet
Description: Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrine) is an upright, deciduous shrub (typically growing 2-4 feet tall) which features simple, narrow, lustrous, pinnatifid, deeply notched, olive to dark green leaves (to 4 inches long). Insignificant, yellowish green flowers appear in spring and give way to greenish brown, burr-like nutlets. Occurs in poor, sandy or gravelly, infertile soils, such as along roadsides. The root system can develop clonal offsets from underground runnersHabitats include upland sand prairies, sandy shrub prairies, and sandy upland savannas. Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Adaptable plant that tolerates wet conditions and wind.
Virginia Bluebells
Benefits: Bees
Height: 1 - 2 feet
Bloom Time: Apr, May
Sun Shade: Part Shade
Zones: 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Clay, Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Medium, Moist
Color: Blue, Lavender
Spacing: 1 foot
Description: Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are one of the most beautiful species of spring ephemerals are Virginia bluebells. These lovely plants are relatives of other familiar species like Forget-me-not, Lungwort, and Comfrey. Bluebells enjoy rich, well-drained soils where they can form large colonies over time. Growing fast, the flower shoots quickly give way to some of the most beautiful flowers. The flowers start off pink and gradually turn over to their famous shade of light blue as they mature.
Wild Strawberry
Benefits: Butterflies
Height: 4-7 inches
Bloom Time: Apr, May, Jun
Sun Shade: Full Sun, Part Sun
Zones: 2, 3, 4, 5
Soil Conditions: Loam, Sand
Soil Moisture: Dry
Color: White
Spacing: 6 inches
Description: Wild Strawberry, (Fragaria virginiana) is a ground-hugging herbaceous perennial that typically grows to 4-7 inches tall but spreads indefinitely by runners which root to form new plants as they sprawl along the ground, often forming large colonies over time. It is native to woodland openings, meadows, prairies, limestone glades and cleared areas including roadsides. Five-petaled white flowers with numerous yellow-anthered center stamens bloom in April-May in flat umbel-like clusters (4-6 flowers each) located separate from and below the leaves on stalks that do not exceed the length of the leaf stalk. Flowers give way to achene-dotted ovoid strawberries which mature to red in a much smaller than fruits produced by cultivated strawberry plants.