Spring feels like it’s finally arrived! Our neighborhood robin contingent has returned to build their nests in nooks and crannies throughout the greenhouses. The bees have finally come buzzing around our gardens and we have several lovely plants that help feed our pollinator friends. We’ve come up with a list of our top 5 favorite springtime plants that provide ample food for pollinators after the long, cold Vermont winter.
Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold)
Marsh marigold has cheerful, bright yellow blooms that sit on glossy green heart shaped leaves. While every part of the marsh marigold is poisonous to humans, it has large amounts of nectar early in the season that makes it an important food source for bees and flies. Our eyes see a bright yellow flower but the bees see a delicious purple bloom with a black center which helps guide them to the nectar.
Marsh marigolds bloom from April through June and, as its name suggests, enjoys wet soil. It can be seen happily growing by ponds, rivers and marshes making it a lovely rain garden addition.They enjoy full sun to part shade and are low maintenance plants with no known serious insect or disease problems. Zone 3-7.
Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley)
This cool weather perennial is a lovely sight in spring with its delicate, sweet smelling string of white bell shaped flowers and elliptic green leaves. It is easily gown in moist, fertile, organically rich and well-drained soil. It is a native to Europe but has naturalized throughout the Northeast.
It is an excellent ground cover for areas in your garden with shade, although they do well in dappled sun. They can spread aggressively so best to plant them where they have room to grow without disrupting your tidiest garden beds. It is also a lovely cut flower. It does not have any serious insect or disease problems but be on the lookout for aphids and spider mites. Zone 3-8.
Tiarella cordifolia (Foam Flower)
Foam flowers are another easy to grow perennial that loves to be grown in the shade and will spread widely over time. With its lovely mounding habit with its semi-glossy, heart shaped leaves with tiny white flowers on a tall stem. The flowers have a airy, feathery quality that is charming in the garden. Bees love it and can be seen buzzing busily around the flowers in our pergola.
It needs wet, organically rich soil to thrive and has no serious insect or disease problems. Great for shaded rock gardens, woodland gardens, border fronts, wild gardens or moist areas along stream or ponds. If planted en masse, they create a lovely ground cover. Zone 4-9.
Aquilegia canadensis (Columbine)
This classic spring beauty is a wonderful early bloomer. They have an ethereal quality to their flowers and are some of the earliest nectar producers for hummingbirds in the spring. Aquilegia is the Latin word for eagle, because the flower petals can be imagined as a bird’s claw. Its common name, Columbine, comes from the Latin word Columba which means ‘dove’. The variety ‘Little Lanterns’ is a wonderful dwarf form of the native columbine with red and yellow flowers. We have many other species of columbine including Aquilegia caerulea with three varieties, ‘Red Hobbit’, ‘Rocky Mountain Blue’, ‘Songbird Dove’ as well as 7 varieties of the Aquilegia vulgaris.
While Aquilegias tend to like rich soil and part shade, we’ve seen them growing at the farm in gravel! They are a wonderful pairing with ferns and they reseed themselves readily so once you have them, you can trust they’ll be nodding their beautiful blossoms at you each spring. There can be issues with leaf miners, so if damaged foliage presents itself just cut it off after plants have flowered and new healthy foliage will regrow. Zone 3-7.
Thalictrum dioicum (Early Meadow Rue)
A beautiful Vermont native pollinator that thrives in woodlands, this perennial blooms early to mid-spring. The male and female plants have distinctly different color, the male having showy, tassel-like yellow flowers and the females have pink to purple pompom-like flowers. Growing 1-2’ tall, its feathery, gray-green foliage is a lovely contrast to later blooming perennials as well.
While it prefers moist, rich soil and dappled light, it will also easily grow in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. These plants do not tolerate hot and humid conditions. They are lovely paired with ferns, anemones and columbine for an array of early blooming pollinators that offer color after a long New England winter. Zone 3-8.
Come check out all the other lovely perennial pollinator plants at our nursery! This list is just a drop in the bucket of our collection of plants that make beautiful garden plants and feed our pollinator friends.
What are your favorite early perennial pollinators?