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MASTER GARDENERS: Native flowers add buzz to your gardens

Have you noticed fewer bees and butterflies in your gardens in recent years?

Our manicured yards with their lack of native plants to supply sustenance and shelter contribute to climate change; pesticides and herbicides also play a part. To help, we can mow higher and less often. We can forego pesticides and herbicides.

And here are suggestions about incorporating native species into our existing yards.

Native flowers will attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Choose those with growth habits and needs similar to your existing gardens—soil, moisture, and light requirements. Create a grouping of three or more to make a destination area to attract more insects. Many of these plants are tall so place them in the center or at the rear of the bed for best results; do give them a bit of individual space. Some will provide nectar and pollen; others act as host species for moth and butterfly larva; and others provide shelter for overwintering. Native insects and plants evolved together so they have a symbiotic relationship that helps both plants and insects thrive and survive.

For early bloom red and yellow-flowered common wild columbine (Aquilegia Canadensis) is a good choice for part sun to part shade sandy soils; it even tolerates dry soils. Reaching 12 to 36 inches tall, these plants provide a delicate, wispy touch. They attract bumble bees and even the rusty patched bumble bee that is now on the endangered species list as well as hummingbirds, and the columbine duskywing butterfly.

Another early bloomer, wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) also likes part sun to part shade, tolerates drought areas, sandy soils, has pink to purple, five-petaled flowers that top the 12- to 36- inch plants. They can even grow under trees, interplanted with ferns. They attract a number of bees, beneficial flies, and serve as larval host plants for some moths.

Summer blooming, tall, grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) with its yellow drooping petals, many disc florets and a tall central cone attracts many beneficial insects that help keep problem insects in balance. The flowers provide both pollen and nectar to bees as well. It looks good with native little bluestem grass, wild bergamot and milkweed species. It spreads by rhizomes. Again, plant at least three plants in the background or center of a sunny bed as they are 36 to 72 inches tall.

Another good summer bloomers for our area, the giant blue hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). This sun species will grow well in sandy soil and drier conditions and has blue-violet flowers growing in dense spikes. It looks good near goldenrod, black-eyed Susans or little bluestem. It attracts skipper and fritillary butterflies, bees and beetles. Another good species, wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), is a real magnet for bees and butterflies; the plants sound ready for take-off and also bloom for an extended period.

Choose smooth blue asters (Symphyotricum laeve) for late bloom. Sporting blue-violet ray flowers with yellow disc centers, this drought tolerant plant handles dry soils and shallow ones, grows 1-3 feet tall and blooms from August to October. Clouds of butterflies seem to hover above patches of it.

To see and learn more about Minnesota wildflowers, go to Also find brochures throughout the Bemidji community from the "Birds, Bees, and Butterflies - Bemidji" coalition featuring top 10 native plants for 2018. You can also consult the University of Minnesota Extension site at

Have a gardening question? Call (218) 444-7916, the Master Gardener voicemail for help and you will receive a return call.