Don’t Forget Annuals in Your Pollinator Garden

If you’ve been following along with us on social media for the last month, you will know that April was National Native Plant month and by now be well versed in some of the amazing native trees, shrubs, and perennials that call Ohio home. Some of you might have been wondering why annuals have been missing from the discussion and this article is an answer to exactly that! What about native annuals? Conversations surrounding planting natives in our landscaping tend to focus on perennials because they are typically lower maintenance and once established, tend to take care of themselves. When encouraging homeowners to make the switch to natives, commonly recognized landscaping favorites like the purple cone flower or black-eyed susan are often an easy sell. Now, this does not mean that annuals are difficult to care for and should be left out of your yard. Rather, it’s about finding what works best for you and your landscaping needs. Hopefully by the end of this article, you will be convinced to start incorporating native annuals into your gardening projects.

So what makes a plant an annual? Native annuals typically survive one or two growing seasons before they die. Since they have a relatively short life span, they put all their effort into reproducing and spreading. This means lots of flowers and lots of seeds. As a gardener, an abundance of flowers is an appealing, vivid addition to our landscapes. This bloom boom also makes annuals a great food source for wildlife. Annuals are a favorite for pollinators of all types since they provide a wealth of pollen and nectar to feed on. After the flowers die off, hardy seed heads are a source of food for birds throughout cool fall and winter months. While perennial plants can also be a food source for wildlife, annuals out produce perennials since their survival relies on their ability to spread their seeds.

Other benefits of planting annuals is that they tend to thrive in poor soil conditions where there is little competition from other species. This means that they can easily be used to fill in bare patches in your landscaping without having to fuss too much over amending the soil beforehand. Annuals help improve soil health by preventing erosion and helping storm water get into the ground faster. Also, since annuals rely on their ability to reproduce and spread, it is likely that they will pop up in new, unexpected places in your landscaping. If you are someone who craves predictability in your yard, this may seem like a negative trait to you. However, this is just the plant doing what it does best: it finds a new open bare patch and sets down roots to bloom for another year. Last but not least, annuals are a great opportunity to try something new in your landscaping because if you don’t like it, it will die off over the winter and you can start fresh again next year!

If you’re sold on incorporating annuals into your garden this year, consider some of the tried and true pollinator favorites from Steve Foltz and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Steve’s native annual picks:

  1. Canna lilies – large lilies that attract hummingbirds
  2. Butterflyweed –blooms late in the season, larval host for monarchs
  3. Zinnia – native to southwestern United States, ‘Zahara Fire’ is a great cultivar (photo by Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens)
  4. Evolvulus – low ground cover with blue flower, “Blue My Mind” is a great cultivar
  5. Gomphrena – late bloomer, from early summer until the first hard frost
  6. Verbena bonariensis – butterfly magnet, a perennial in southern states
  7. Sunflowers – multiple varieties

The following species are not native annuals, but are still great pollinator friendly options with beautiful blooms. Steve’s non-native annual picks:

  1. Pentas – small star-shaped flowers in variety of colors, attracts bees and butterflies
  2. Dahlia – related to zinnias and sunflowers, make great cut flowers
  3. Scaevola – heat and drought resistant, great for window boxes or hanging baskets
  4. Torenia – low growing, works well in shade
  5. Lantana – rounded clusters of small, brightly colored flowers, often colors are mixed within the same cluster, creating a bicolored effect
  6. Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ – an excellent pollinator plant that is a favorite for hummingbirds

For more native annual options or information on where to buy native plants near you, visit