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Attract pollinators, not deer!

Butterflies, birds, and things that buzz bring life and beauty to your garden, but they serve an important purpose, too. They are all pollinators, helping to spread pollen from flower to flower, essential for the production of fruits and veggies. They also ensure the survival of the plants, and the species that depend on them, including our own.


This plan was designed around a blue and gold color scheme, but you can change it up by picking a different species of milkweed (which can bloom in pink or white) or substituting zinnia, available in a host of colors, for borage.

The Plants

St. Johns Wort

Vigorous in tough conditions, Hypericum spp. has blue-green creeping foliage and sunny yellow flowers resembling large buttercups. Fleshy roots give drought-resistance but will want room to spread.

Autumn Crocus

Not a true crocus, hence the botanical name Colchicum. This fall bloomer keeps pollinators fueled up when flowers are scarce. Handle toxic corms with care (and gloves) and keep away from kids and pets.
Photo courtesy of


Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), the host plant for monarch butterflies, is almost mandatory in a pollinator garden. Its milky, toxic sap deters deer.


Deer won't go for the silvery-haired leaves covered in soft spines, but bees delight in the early feeding provided by the starry blue flowers. If you prefer a tidier growth habit, try zinnias. Photo credits: Jim Eklund/ARS


Give "foodscaping" a try by growing this Vitamin C-rich herb as an edible edging. Black swallowtail butterflies rely on this as a host plant for their young. Illustration courtesy of Botanical Interests.

Chaste tree

Chaste trees (Vitex agnes-castus) are sometimes compared to a summer-blooming lilac. The purple flower spikes are a hummingbird magnet, and are busy with bees in mid- to late-summer, too.


When holly (Ilex spp.) is in bloom, it's abuzz with bees. In winter, it's a vital food source for hungry birds. And all year long, the glossy, deep green leaves provide cover for birds and other wildlife.
Shown: Ilex 'Christmas Jewel', Photo courtesy of Greenleaf Nursery

Little Bluestem

Plant a mini-meadow to host the larvae of prairie butterflies like skippers. This vertical, drought-tolerant accent will rustle and sway in the breeze.

If you'd like to add some fall bloom, 'October Skies' aster is another deer-resistant, pollinator-pleasing choice that would work well with the colors in this plan.

Photo courtesy of USDA ARS

"Bee" in the Know

To support pollinators, you'll need both flowering plants for adults to feed on, and host plants for their babies. Yes, they'll chew some holes, but resist the urge to spray. Those very hungry caterpillars are destined to become beautiful butterflies, or a meal for baby birds, and pesticides are deadly to both. And if you're worried about bee stings, keep in mind that the 4,000+ species of native North American bees are non-venomous and typically non-agressive.

Where this works:

Full Sun:  The flowering plants in this plan need lots of solar power to hit their blooming potential.

Normal to dry soil: Many of these plants are adapted to prairies and meadows, and can tolerate tough conditions without fuss or fertilizer.


These are all easy, low-care selections. St. Johnswort is semi-evergreen, but I like to mow it down with a string trimmer at the end of winter to make way for fresh spring growth. I leave the milkweed blooms as long as possible to allow the seedpods to open, but once their seeds have drifted away I usually cut back the dried stalks.

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