Annuals for pollinators

I also grow some non-native annuals to help fill in spaces while my native plant seedlings are still small. A few are so popular with pollinators that I will continue to include them.

Choose non-hybridized varieties; annuals bred purely for flower appearance have often lost the pollen and nectar that pollinators need. Also buy seeds from organic sources. At the end of the summer, you can collect your own seeds from the flowers for next year.

Pollinators’ favourite annuals

These annuals are popular with pollinators in my garden:

  • Bees friend (Phacelia tenacetafolia)
  • Borage: for bees
  • Cardinal climber vine: for hummingbirds
  • Mexican Torch (Tithonia): popular nectar source for migrating Monarchs and bumblebees
  • Parsley and fennel: Giant Swallowtail host plant
  • Petunia excerta: non-hybridized red petunia for hummingbirds
  • Scarlet runner beans: for hummingbirds
  • Sunflowers: avoid pollen-less varieties intended as cut flowers for indoor arrangements. The plants need protection from squirrels when they’re small. I have a lot of trouble with squirrels digging up or biting off my seedlings.
  • Verbena bonariensis: very popular with butterflies

These annuals are recommended for pollinators by others. I haven’t tried them or didn’t find them very popular with bees or butterflies.

  • Alyssum
  • Cerinthe
  • Cleome
  • Cosmos
  • Herbs like basil and oregano
  • Lantana: for butterflies
  • Nicotiana: for hummingbirds
  • Zinnias: choose simple flowers with only 1 or 2 rows of petals, such as ‘Pinwheel’ zinnias

Seed sources for annuals

Here’s where I buy my seeds:

  • William Van Dam Seeds: Dundas, Ontario. A wide variety of untreated, organic seeds for flowers and vegetables.
  • Florabunda Seeds: located in Keene, Ontario. Untreated seeds for heritage annuals, as well as some native perennials. See the “Supporting Bees and Butterflies” page.
  • West Coast Seeds: in British Columbia. Wide variety of organic flower and vegetables seeds.

Starting annuals indoors

I start my annuals indoors in small pots and place them in sunny windows in my basement. To find out when to plant the seeds, I use Margaret Roach’s customizable Planting Calendar. Vesey’s Seeds in P.E.I., and other sources, list Ottawa’s last frost date as May 10. My annuals seedlings grow well enough, but don’t look like they came from a professional nursery. I start putting them outside to get better light for part of the day once the warms up.

This winter, I bought my first indoor, T5 florescent grow-light from Hydroculture Emporium in Ottawa. Some of my annuals have grown leggy in the past and insufficient light is the likely cause. I’m surprised by how much quicker the seeds germinated (from the warmth of the light?) and how well the seedlings are growing.

For information and instructions on growing seedlings indoors, listen to the Joe Gardener Podcast episodes 94, 91, and 83.

It’s really too bad that I can’t just buy pesticide-free, pollinator-friendly annuals. The nurseries just seem to offer the same annuals every year.