Support native pollinators with early spring blooms

How to Support Native Pollinators with Early Spring Blooms

Despite the chill of February and even March, some native pollinators are starting to wake up. But what are they waking up to? Despite it still being early in the year, these pollinators are out and looking for food. You can support these native pollinators with early spring blooms. Here’s how to get started.

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What flowers do you associate with spring? Perhaps tulips and daffodils? While these are beautiful flowers, they’re actually a bit late to help the earliest native pollinators in most areas.

Here in western Washington, weeks before even the daffodils were blooming, the bumblebees and other native pollinators were already out and about looking for food.

And our little Anna’s hummingbirds never left, even through the middle of winter.

A big reason we have all these native pollinators, even in February, is that we’ve made sure to plant early blooming flowers that support them.

And all those early spring blooms fill our property with beauty and help brighten up a landscape that is still mostly grey and brown.

We just love seeing all the flowers—and so do the native pollinators.

It really does make it feel like spring has come weeks early on our property compared to much of the surrounding area.

Let’s dive into some tips for how you can support native pollinators with early spring blooms.

But before we do, remember—planting early spring blooms is just one way to work with wildlife. If you really want to cultivate abundance for people, plants and wildlife, then make sure to grab your guide to working with wildlife. This guide will help you get started with supporting wildlife on your property.

Plant Shrubs to Support Native Pollinators with Early Spring Blooms

Support native pollinators with early spring blooms like red flowering currants

Even in early spring, our hedgerows are filled with early spring blooms. This makes them magnets for our native pollinators. From hummingbirds to bumblebees and many more, these plants are always buzzing even in early spring.

Often when people think about planting flowers for pollinators, they think about relatively small non-woody plants.

And while these plants are great, they’re often not the first plants to bloom.

This is often the case because those plants have to regrow each year. Their first step isn’t to bloom but instead to grow leaves and stems.

Even early blooming bulbs like daffodils tend to be a bit late to support native pollinators. And I’ve rarely seen those critters visiting our daffodils and other spring bulbs.

Wild Tip:

Native pollinators are often not very well supported by non-native flowers. This happens for several reasons, but one is that our cultivated flowers were selected over time for their beauty not for their friendliness to native pollinators. From double or even triple flowers to the shape of the blooms, or even just that they offer less pollen and nutrition, these flowers may be beautiful to us, but not so much to native pollinators. Ultimately, the best way to support native pollinators is to plant the native plants they coevolved with.

But native shrubs and other woody plants can often bloom much earlier.

These plants will often even bloom before they start to leaf out, since they’re already well established and don’t need to put energy into growing before flowering.

Just keep in mind that woody plants don’t all bloom early, so you will need to do some research to find the best for your area.

The exact native plants will change depending on where you live, but here are some that work in western Washington and much of the west coast of North America.

These 3 tend to be the first ones to bloom in our area, with flowers showing up even as early as February.

If you’ve got a wet area, then native willows are a fantastic option. Not only will they support native pollinators with early spring blooms, but they will also create habitat for songbirds and other wildlife.

Watch your area in early spring—especially more natural areas. Look for plants that are in bloom and see if you can ID them.

But just remember that native plants will provide the best support for native pollinators. Here are a couple resources to help you get started with native plants for your property.

Continuing to Support Native Pollinators Throughout the Year

Grow lupines for their flowers

Lupines are some of our favorite native flowers. They tend to start blooming in May and we just love their flowers. And so do native pollinators like bumblebees.

While supporting native pollinators with early spring blooms is important you do need to make sure you continue to have flowers for them.

Native flowering shrubs and trees can often get you through early summer.

Here in western Washington, our red flowering currants, willows and Osoberries are followed up by red-stem ceanothus, native cherries, and big leaf maple. And later, Nootka rose and many more.

Once summer comes, most of our shrubs and trees are done flowering, but there are many native flowers blooming.

And later, towards the end of summer, goldenrods are some of the best native flowers for supporting native pollinators.

The key is to plant flowers so that when one is finishing up, another is starting. With the right combination, your property will be filled with flowers from late winter or early spring all the way into the fall.

And your native pollinators will thank you for providing great food for them.

What native pollinators do you see on your property, and what flowers are they visiting? Let us know in the comments.


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Daron

Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

  • Natalia says:

    South-west Europe here. In our garden the first and most obvious (mainly because there’s a lot) to bloom is the rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus). Bees and bumblebees absolutely love them, and it’s near them where I usually see most of the butterflies too. Soon after it’s the turn of two cherry plums (Prunus Cerasifera) and a bunch of young blackthorns (Prunus Spinosa). The cherry plums are not really native of the area yet the pollinators seem to love it.

    Later in april it’s the Montpellier maple’s (Acer Monspessulanum) turn. Its flowers are green, almost the same colour as the leaves, and very small. You wouldn’t notice them unless you were looking for them. Still when I went into the garden early one morning it was buzzing with activity. Those flowers don’t last very long but the bees sure make use of them.

    Now in May it’s the spanish lavender (Lavandula Stoechas) and yellow retama (couldn’t find a proper translation, Retama Sphaerocarpa) time to shine. We don’t have them in our garden but there’s a lot in the mountains slopes just in the edge of town (oh and the grey-leaved cistus, Cistus Albidus, I think it bloomed in april too but I didn’t pay attention to it 🙁 ).

    The absolute king of this region is the pyrenean oak (Quercus Pyrenaica) though, which theoretically blooms this month and/or early june, so I’m excited for that. Oh and some holly oaks (Quercus Ilex) too! They are already in bloom but I don’t know if they started early or late april :/ Then in summer a different lavender (I think it’s the Lavandula Lanata) will take over and become the absolute queen of the season.

    Other than that, the rest are mostly wildflowers of which there is a fine variety: silene/lychnis, stellaria media, ranunculus acris, some trifolium and oxalis, asphodelus, raphanus raphanistrum/eruca vesicaria (for the life of me I can’t tell which one of them it is), Taraxacum Officinale, Arenaria and Vinca are the ones I’ve managed to identify so far, most of them in our own garden (not planted by us, they grow on their own). But there is still a lot more that I usually see but haven’t identified yet!

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