Perennials for Pollinators

The third week of June is National Pollinator Week. As it happens, the entire month of June is “National Perennial Garden Month.” So combining the two national celebrations, allow me to introduce you to some on the many lovely low-water Southwest native perennials for Southwest pollinators.

Pollinators in the Southwest

When it comes to pollinators, the American Southwest is one of the most species diverse habitats in the world, with native species of bees, butterflies, moths, bats, and hummingbirds all busy pollinating our plants. The diversity makes sense when you realize that much of the Southwest has something blooming every month of the year.

ByWays & Flyways

We are the flyway for many species of hummingbirds that zip down to Central and South America for the winter, then back up the West Coast for the summer. Meanwhile, there are a nice variety of hummingbirds that live in parts of Arizona all year long.

Butterflies? Last count rain forests had us beat for diversity, but just barely. And yes, Monarchs do flit over the Southwest.

Native cactus bees look a great deal like honey bees, just not as furry.

Native bees? Southwest wins! We are the most bee diverse place on earth! On EARTH! And goodness the diversity of this category is amazing! Some of these bees are barely 1/16 inch long, while some are nearly two inches long. Happily for us humans – most non-honey bees can’t sting. (Makes sense – no hive nor honey to protect.) Let’s help these native bees continue to thrive in our unique region by planting native perennials.

Why Perennials?

Perennial plants are non-woody plants that live for a long time. Think iris as opposed to woody rose bushes. Technically agaves could be viewed as perennials, but let’s just not go there! Besides, agaves bloom once and die and we want to invite pollinators every day!

Justicia spicigera. Photo courtesy S. Shebs

Five Reasons For Perennials

Five major reasons perennials should have a place in every Southwest yard.

First, perennials are, in general, much shorter than trees and shrubs, thus they add a lower layer of design interest to your yard.

Next, most perennials bloom with colorful flowers, and often they bloom for months. Thus they add long-term color to your yard.

Third, perennials placed under trees and shrubs help shade the soil and reduce evaporation. They use water from the top foot of the soil, encouraging tree and shrub roots to grow two or three feet deep for water, and incidentally anchoring the trees better against wind storms.

Fourth, flowering shrubs require periodic rejuvenation pruning, leading to bulky plant waste that must be dealt with. Perennials are non-woody, thus require little if any pruning.

Fifth, most perennials provide long-lasting cut flowers for enjoyment indoors.

I like purple in the garden so I planted some dicliptera. The hummingbirds love it.

Which Perennials?

Plant what makes you happy. If you have a color scheme for your yard, use perennials that bloom with those colors. Place your perennial plantings in large sweeps of color. It makes it easier for pollinators with their tiny bee, bird, or butterfly brains to find the plants. More about the principles behind planning a Pollinator Garden in the book Pollinator Victory Garden – reviewed on my “Library” page.


Many of the daytime pollinators find their flowers with vision. If you want fragrant flowers, consider a “Moon Garden.” This is one that fills with blooms and fragrance after the sun goes down in the summer – which is when you want to use the garden anyway! More about moon gardens next month.


There are so many wonderful low-water low-fuss perennials that you can plant even in the heat of summer in the Southwest. Just remember that these pampered nursery babies are going to need extra water at first, because they have been watered daily in the nursery. Once they grow roots out into your garden soil, you can taper off watering less often, maybe only once a week in summer.

Select From these Perennials for Pollinators

This list includes one common name plus the scientific name, because the same plant can be called by many different common names. Many of these plants will not be in big box stores – they are Southwest natives.  Big box corporate headquarters  rarely consider native plants.  Local nurseries know these scientific names (list of local Southwest Nurseries – here), Using the scientific name will help you look them up on the internet too.

There are some notable perennials not on this list because they will not tolerate being planted now (desert marigold, penstemons, etc). All of these on this list can be planted in the warmer months – just not during a heat wave please.

Chocolate flower smells chocolaty!

golden to yellow flowers

angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis)
chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) (afternoon shade best)
desert coreopsis (Coreopsis biglovii)
damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana)
golden dyssodia (Thymophylla pentachaeta)
threadleaf dyssodia (Dyssodia tenuisecta)
goldeneye daisy (Viguiera deltoides)
prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)
paperflower (Psilostrophe cooperii)

rain lily (Zephranthes grandiflora – other species come in other colors)

Justicia california. Photo courtesy S. Shebs.

honeysuckle, desert (Anisacanthus thurberi)
honeysuckle, California (Zauschneria californica)
Texas betony (Stachys coccinea) – needs afternoon shade


honeysuckle, Mexican (Justicia spicigera)

purple flowers
dicliptera (Dicliptera resupinata)
ruellia (Ruellia species – different species in various heights)

blue flowers
Arizona blue curls (Trichostema arizonicum)
blue mist flower (Ageratum corymbosum)

Blackfoot daisy is a prarie plant and does well in the Southwest if gets some afternoon shade.

white flowers

Blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)
desert zinnia (Zinnia acerosa)
fleabane (Erigeron divergens)
gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
milkweed, desert (Asclepias subulata)
tufted evening primrose (Oenotheria caespitosa)



soule-southwest-gardenMore about overall care of your land and landscape in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press).  This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt – but you must give proper credit to Gardening With Soule. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

Cover photo: Chrysothamnus nauseosus – photo courtesy of High Country Gardens a grower based in New Mexico, they can ship plants to many parts of the Southwest.

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