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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Anderson

Planning a Native Pollinator Garden

Penstemon digitalis in bloom
Foxglove Beardtongue

Hello Native Tree Lovers!  With spring around the corner many of you may be planning pollinator gardens.  I’m working on one myself and thought I’d share my process.

I design gardens using pen and paper, and while I measure my space, I do not have the exactitude of a computer program.  The measurements work for me ~ it is a wild garden after all.  Really, it depends on whether you want to do it yourself or hire a designer.

The space I’m working with is a long rectangle, 36 feet by 7 feet – approximately 250 square feet – and the climate is full sun with medium soil.  

Swida sericea red twigs
Red Twig Dogwood

My space is along the facade of a church, so I’m going to add a row of shrubs against the long, back wall.   If you don’t want shrubs and have a similar square footage, you can increase the number of plants or incorporate new plants in addition to the ones I will be discussing below.

For my shrubs, I could do a solid row of an evergreen holly, Inkberry, Ilex glabra, but instead I'm going to alternate the holly with Red Twig Dogwood, Swida sericea

Although Red Twig Dogwood is deciduous, its bright red stems in winter should look great against the building's white facade. 🙂

Fragaria virginiana blooms
Wild Strawberry

Since my Dogwood and Inkberry each have a spread of approximately 3 to 6 feet, I am planning for three Inkberry and four Red Twig Dogwood, planted approximately 5 to 6 feet apart. If the space gets tight, we can prune.

Fragaria virginia strawberries
Native Strawberries

While I’m waiting for my Dogwoods and Inkberries to fill out, I’m going to plant a groundcover, Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana (8" spacing), which produces the most delicious of all the native fruits.  The edible fruit also might encourage kids, especially, to engage with the garden.

Zizia aurea
Golden Alexander

Onto the perennials.  I’m allowing four feet along the short width for my shrubs, giving me an area of 36 feet by 3 feet, or roughly 100 square feet, for my wildflowers and grasses.

Since the perennials I’ve chosen for my garden require spacing of anywhere between 12 and 24 inches, with an average of 18 inches, I’m going to need roughly 50 plants total.  Here is a calculator

Lupinus perennis in bloom
Wild Lupine

And, since I’m filling my garden with native perennials, I am choosing a mixture of plants that bloom at different times while also being conscious of where I’m placing the different colored blooms.  With a 3’ width, I will have two rows, and I want the taller plants in the back.  

My first bloomers, in April, will be:

  • Golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea (yellow, April-June, 3’ tall, 18” spacing)

  • Wild Lupine, Lupinus perennis (purple, May-July, 2’ tall, 12” spacing)

My groundcover, Wild Strawberry, and my Inkberries also will be in bloom in early spring, followed by my Dogwood, which should start blooming (White) in May.

Agastache foeniculum
Anise Hyssop

After that, I’ve selected these plants that flower in June, with several lasting through September:

  • Anise Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum (purple, June-September, 3’ tall, 12” spacing)

  • Blue Wild Indigo, Baptisia australis (blue, June-August, 4’ tall, 2’ spacing)

Baptisia australis in bloom
Blue Wild Indigo

My choices for later-season blooms are:

Lobelia cardinalis in bloom
Cardinal Flower
Solidago ssp.
  • Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis (red, July-September, 4’ tall, 8” spacing)

  • Smooth Aster, Symphyotrichum laeve (purplish-blue August-October, 4’ tall, 18” spacing)

  • Sweet Goldenrod, Solidago odora (yellow, August-September, 3’ tall, 18” spacing)

Schizachyrium scoparium, Little Bluestem
Little Bluestem

Finally, I want to add a grass, Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, for texture and softness (reds, greens, blues July-October, 3’ tall, 2’ spacing).

Below is my drawing. I'm sorry about the size; technical difficulties. I ended up with 55 plants, which is close to my goal, and colored the abbreviations to show the approximate colors of the blooms.

I'm also going to add approximately 50 of my groundcover, with most of those going around my shrubs. I can always add more or subtract if it gets to be too many, as they spread by runners. I'd rather have Wild Strawberry, with its Very High pollinator values, than mulch or bare spots.

Drawing of a sample pollinator garden

Ready to get started? Any questions? 703-401-1949. We're happy to look at photos and advise via email ( On-site consultations and drawings are $300.

Happy planting!

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