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From the team at Gardeners' World Magazine
Blue viper's bugloss flowers

Nectar-rich plants to grow

Published: Tuesday, 7 January, 2020 at 2:17 pm

We recommend some of the best nectar-rich plants to grow for pollinators.

With a little planning, you can fill your plot with nectar-rich plants that will make it a haven for pollinators.


Nectar is an important, sugar-rich source of fluid and nutrients for a great many species, including birds, bats, bees, moths, hoverflies and butterflies. In return for their drink, many nectar-drinkers pollinate the flowers in the process of visiting them, passing pollen from bloom to bloom.

Plants use a number of signals to attract pollinators to their flowers, including colour, scent and markings. For example, bees prefer purple and blue flowers. Also, some flowers have 'landing strip' markings that can only be seen in the UV colour-spectrum, helping to attract and guide the bees that can perceive them.

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Check out some of the best nectar-rich plants to grow for pollinators, below.

Nectar is an important food source for a great many species, including birds, bats, bees, moths, hoverflies and butterflies.


Winter- and spring-flowering plants like pulmonarias are a crucial source of early nectar for species like the early bumblebee (Bombus pratorum), which emerge around March. They're easy plants to grow and are ideal for adding colour to shady spots. Find out how to propagate pulmonarias.

Purple pulmonarias


If you're gardening in pots and containers, compact, colourful and nectar-rich plants like aubrieta are especially handy. They're also suitable for growing between paving stones or planted in the hollows of sunny walls, where they can cascade down. Brilliant for colour and nectar in spring and early summer.

Variegated purple aubretia with pink saxifrage


These stately bulbous perennials have nodding umbels of nectar-rich flowers – so much so that it can be observed dripping from the blooms. Bumblebees and honeybees will prove to be regular visitors. Species to grow include Nectaroscordum tripedale and Nectaroscordum siculum.

Pale-lemon and magenta bells of Sicilian honey garlic


Most catmints (nepeta) have small blue-violet flowers that are invariably popular with pollinators. It's not a one hit wonder, either – regular deadheading will encourage extra flowers for a long season of nectar for pollinators.

A hoverfly drinking nectar from mauve catmint flowers


Honeywort, Cerinthe major, is a hardy annual with attractive blue-green foliage and drooping flowers. The cultivar 'Purpurascens' has stunning deep purple flowers that are popular with bumblebees.

Deep-purple honeywort flowers


Phacelia is often grown as a green manure, which means it's chopped down and all the greenery dug back into the soil before blooming. However, let it flower and you'll be rewarded with bright mauve flowers that'll attract masses of bees, hoverflies and butterflies.

Lilac phacelia flowers


Lavender is one of the most reliable plants you can grow for nectar, just be sure to grow them in as much sun as possible and provide them with good drainage. Hybrid Lavandula x intermedia have longer flower stalks and that last for longer, so are more useful to pollinating insects.

A swathe of lavender flowers


Though commonly known as butterfly bushes, buddlejas are also popular with bees and some of the larger species of hoverfly. They're available in lots of colours, too – check out 10 of the best buddlejas to grow.

Butterfly on buddleja 'Cotswold Blue'


All echiums have flowers that are extremely attractive to pollinators, from towering species like Echium pininana, to the much smaller UK native viper's bugloss, Echium vulgare. In the case of viper's bugloss, grow it in a sunny spot in well-drained soil.

Plants for bees – viper's bugloss
Blue viper's bugloss flowers


Wild marjoram, Origanum vulgare, is native to the UK so will reliably perform in the UK climate. In the summer months it bears clusters of small, rosy pink flowers that will provide nectar to bumblebees, butterflies and more.

Bumblebee on pink wild marjoram flowers


Formerly placed in the genus Sedum, hylotelephiums flower in autumn, providing broad flowerheads packed with nectar-rich flowers. Once the flowers have faded, leave them to form seedheads that will look beautiful in winter when touched by frosts.

Pink sedum flowers

Michaelmas daisies

Like sedums, Michaelmas daisies, or autumn asters, are a brilliant source of late pollen and nectar. They're invaluable in autumn borders, helping to when many summer-flowering plants are past their best. Find out how to plant Michaelmas daisies.

Vivid-pink michaelmas daisies

Maintaining nectar production

Plants growing in parched soil will produce less nectar than those with a more stable water supply, so stay vigilant for hot summer weather and have your watering can at the ready. Check out these tips from Alan Titchmarsh on watering your plants effectively.

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