Fearless Gardening With Native Plants and Pollinators

By Laura Miller | November 3, 2021
by Laura Miller
November 3, 2021

As a child, one of my most vivid gardening memories was being stung on my earlobe by a yellowjacket wasp. This traumatic experience instilled in me a great respect for any insect bearing a yellow and black-striped behind. 

Even as an adult, I find myself avoiding pollinator plants filled with these types of  insects. While this does make a handy excuse for skipping out on my weeding chores, the truth is I prefer pollinator-friendly plants to reside in the “wild” areas of my yard.

Native Pollinator-Friendly Plants 

I’d have to say goldenrod and ironweed are among my favorite pollinator plants. These native species grow abundantly anywhere a mower doesn’t venture. For me, this means along fence lines and near the boundaries of the woods at the back of our property.  

When it comes to native plants and pollinators, I find this duo to be a perfectly-matched pair. In late summer, both species burst forth in bloom at about the same time. The mustard yellow blossoms of goldenrod contrast beautifully with the vivid purple flowers of ironweed. 

These colorful blossoms attract an array of pollinators, including many native species of butterflies. As fall-blooming pollinator plants, they provide a vital food source for these beneficial insects. Goldenrod has the added bonus of attracting parasites and predators of the brown marmorated stink bug. This invasive species is a threat to many high-value crops.

Encouraging Native Plants and Pollinators 

What I enjoy most about the goldenrod/ironweed combo is their colorful flowers are visible from afar. I can enjoy these pollinator-friendly plants without fear of encountering the striped-bottomed bugs that terrorized me as a child. 

I discovered creating “wild” areas in my yard was one way to cultivate these two native plants for pollinators. While many folks consider “wild” garden areas to be nothing more than weed patches, native plants provide food and shelter for a variety of species, and are an essential part of our local ecosystem. 

Moreover, I didn’t really need to do much to encourage these native plants for pollinators. Both goldenrod and ironweed are vigorous self-seeders and can quickly spread from surrounding areas. (Seeds from both plants are also available online.)  

Additionally, these pollinator plants have similar cultivation requirements. Both love full sun, but can easily tolerate partial shade. As native plants, goldenrod and ironweed grow best in rich, organic soil. Yet, they easily survive in the nutrient-poor areas of my yard.

The major difference between the two is that goldenrod prefers drier areas, while ironweed likes moist ground. Knowing that, I find it odd to see these native plants growing side-by-side on my property. Certainly, one of the benefits of using native plants for pollinators is their natural adaptation to the local environment.

Which leads me to the final reason I love these two plants. Native species of goldenrod and ironweed are seldom bothered by pests or disease. To me, goldenrod and ironweed are the perfect blend of carefree, beautiful, pollinator-friendly plants. Now what more can a bee-phobic gardener ask for?

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