Growing Pollinator-Friendly Annuals from Seed
By Laurie Meyerpeter, MGPC Master Gardener
When growing annual flowers for pollinators, it’s best to grow from seed. It’s less expensive and you’ll get larger, healthier plants with more flowers per plant than if you grow from nursery pony-packs or 4" pots. In addition, common annuals grown from seed are often better nectar plants than the hybrids in nurseries. Plants grown from seed develop deeper roots and many are tolerant of considerable drought. Plus it’s fun!
Growing annual flowers from seed is easy-peasy. Seed is available at most nurseries and through seed catalogs. We suggest buying slightly more seed than you think you’ll need. If you have a small area, one package may be enough. For slightly larger areas, consider two packages. Instructions are on the package to provide details for planting and growing.
Annual flowers listed below are selected because they are great pollinator plants, plus they are commonly available from seed catalogs and from nursery seed racks. We suggest packages with a single type of annual flower seed instead of “Pollinator Mixes” or “Bee Friendly Mixes” because often the seeds mixed in these packages may have different growing requirements; for example, seeds for cool season flowers may be mixed in with warm season flowers. There are many more pollinator-friendly annual flowers than those given on the short list provided here. A general rule of thumb is that if it’s a flower grown from seed, there’s a good chance it attracts some kind of pollinator. So, if you see something that isn’t listed below, take a chance!
Cool season annuals
In this area, plant these in the early spring or fall.
- Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis. Bright orange or yellow daisy-like flowers. Many varieties.
- Farewell-to-Spring or Godetia, Clarkia amoena. California native with lovely pink cup-shaped blossoms.
- Mountain Garland, Clarkia unguiculata. California native with reddish stems and (usually) double rosy-pink flower spikes.
- California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica. California native. Beyond the classic orange poppy, there are many different varieties in a wide range of colors. Some varieties are perennials, meaning they’ll return next year after laying dormant over the summer.
- Bird’s Eyes, Gilia tricolor. California native with pale violet flowers with small spots in throat.
- Tidy Tips, Layia platyglossa. California native. Yellow daisy-like flowers with white tips.
- Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima. Low plants with sweet honey-like fragrance. Flowers are usually white, rosy-pink, or purple.
- Lupine, Lupinus spp. Many are California natives. Flower color is often purple or yellow.
- Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila mensiesii. California native with sky-blue flowers.
- California Bluebells, Phacelia campanularia. Native to the California deserts. Deep blue bell-shaped flowers.
- Fava Bean, Vicia faba. Edible beans. This plant’s flowers attract many pollinators. Large seeds are fun for kids to plant.
Warm season annuals
Plant these in mid-spring after the danger of frost is over, and in early summer.
- Plains Coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria. Flowers are reminiscent of small sunflowers; they are in the same family. Yellow, orange, red colors with a brown band.
- Cosmos, Cosmos bipinnatus. Pink, lavender, and white daisy-like flowers. Many varieties.
- Yellow Cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus. Yellow or orange-yellow daisy-like flowers.
- Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella. Daisy-like flowers in shades of yellow, gold, and red.
- Sunflower, Helianthus annuus. The classic sunflower. There are probably hundreds of varieties. Fun for kids of all ages.
- Pincushion Flower, Scabiosa spp. Flowers look like pincushions. Several varieties.
- Marigold, Tagetes spp. Many varieties, from short to tall.
- Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia. Overlooked cousin of the common sunflower. Bright orange flowers on a tall branching plant.
- Zinnia, Zinnia elegans. Many varieties in different sizes and colors.