Annuals for Pollinators

Our Top Tip for May 2021

Did you know that there can be more pollinators in our gardens than in surrounding agricultural land? The rich diversity of plants growing in Britain’s gardens, means that these outside spaces are critical to support a wide range of pollinators. However, pollinator numbers are in decline and there is always space for more pollinators in our gardens.

Our top 10 annuals for pollinators

Borage - their petals are great for adding colour to your salads too! Though it's an annual, it readily self-seeds, so you'll generate a year-on-year benefit
Common marigold (Calendula) - vibrant and fragrant, attracts the bees and repels some pests too. flower heads can be added to salads in small quantities
Cornflower - a very hardy annual that attracts pollinators in abundance due to its very high levels of nectar
Cosmos species - so many different colours to choose from and great for a long flowering season
Viper’s bugloss - we will admit this is a biennial, but it behaves like a annual. It gives vibrant blue flowers that show from May - September and are loved by bees of all types!
Common sunflower (avoid pollen-free cultivars) - a British garden icon and attracts a wide range of insects
Poached egg flower - a great companion plant for vegetable gardens, these flowers attract hoverflies which will feed on aphids
Nigella love-in-a-mist - stunning flowers which are a cottage garden classic
Common poppy - why say no to this undeniably striking and emotive flower when its the simplest to grow and most popular poppy species for pollinators
Rudbeckia species - long-flowering, with a bright and colourful show which can also provide seed for birds in the autumn!

Our top tips for sowing annual seeds

1. Clear a patch of ground getting rid of all vegetation
2. Loosen the soil so that it is open and not compacted
3. Lightly rake the surface to level and get rid of large lumps
4. Water the soil lightly before sowing
5. Broadcast the seeds by hand by sprinkling over the soil or mark out drills (shallow groves) in the soil, this makes it easier for
weeding as your plants will be in rows.
6. Lightly cover with soil or leave the seeds on the surface, depending on the instructions on the seed packet.

Ongoing care for annuals

• Keep down weeds with light hoeing or hand weeding.
• Water in dry weather, regularly checking to ensure seed bed does not dry out during the early stages of germination and
seedling establishment.
• Once well established, water at 10-14 day intervals during dry spells.
• Remove spent blooms to prevent plants setting seed otherwise they’ll stop flowering. Snip off fading flower-heads regularly to
promote a fresh flush of buds.

Top tips for creating pollinator friendly flower beds

• Choose a sunny sheltered spot
• Sow seeds in groups or drifts, this makes colour and scent easier for pollinators to detect
• Prolong the flowering season by selecting plants so you have flowers from early spring to late autumn as different species of
pollinators emerge at different times of the year.
• Choose plants with a simple flower structure or tubular shaped flowers, this makes it easier for insects to feed from. Single
flowers also make it easier for insects to get to the central part of the flower and the tasty pollen and nectar!
• Purple flowers are great for bees as they see this colour more clearly than any other, however other colours of flower will still
attract bees and other pollinators.

Other ways to help pollinators in your garden

  1. Allow lawn ‘weeds’ to flower by cutting less often
  2. Provide water for pollinators
  3. Avoid using pesticides wherever possible and never spray open flowers

Useful links

And the science bit

Citizen science data reveals the need for keeping garden plant recommendations up-to-date to help pollinators | Scientific Reports (

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