Results: 2016 Flowers for Pollinators

In 2016, U of M Extension Master Gardeners throughout Minnesota planted 24 varieties of annual flowers and observed pollinator activity throughout the summer as part of the 35th annual Master Gardener Seed Trial. Varieties included:

2016 plant listVolunteers were trained by extension educators and sent seeds to start on their own. Germination was challenging for some plants like Rudbeckia due to cool, wet weather. As plants started blooming, volunteers observed and counted pollinator visits to the flowers twice a week over eight weeks. Participants noted pollinator visits for each flower variety group over one minute, recording which pollinators landed on its flowers: honey bees, bumble bees, native bees, flies, beetles, butterflies / moths, and wasps. They also recorded weather conditions ( temperature, sun / clouds, wind).

Based on the volunteers’ recorded pollinator observations, the following varieties appeared most attractive to pollinator insects:

  • Zinnias were by far the most attractive to
    pollinators with a total of 1702 pollinator


    Bumble bee on Zinnia ‘Pop Art Red & White’

    visits across the four varieties. Noted varieties included ‘Pop art red & white’ (599 visits and ‘Envy’, a chartreuse flower. Hover flies (634) and native bees (320) were most widely observed on these flowers.

  • Attractive marigolds included ‘Bambino’ (413) and ‘Tangerine dream’. Hover flies and native bees visited these varieties equally with approximate equal frequency.
  • Salvia varieties (1024 total pollinator visits) that were most attractive to pollinators included ‘Coral Nymph’ (349 visits, 50% by hover flies) and ‘White swan clary sage’ (238).
  • Attractive Rudbeckia varieties were ‘Irish eyes’ (543) and ‘Orange fudge’ (238).Hover flies and native bees comprised the majority of visitors (940 total pollinator visits).


    Soldier beetle and native bee on Rudbeckia ‘Orange fudge’

  • Sunflower variety ‘Lemon Queen’ (348) was visited most often and almost equally by honey, bumble and native bees. Sunflowers overall had 785 total visits.
  • Snapdragons were the least visited of all varieties (436). The variety ‘Chantilly cream yellow’ was the least visited of all 24 varieties observed (73 visits, approximately 50% hover flies).
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2017 Plant list and planting info

Snapshot of plant list

The F4P plant list has grown! 2017 includes favorites like cosmos and expands the choices of marigold colors, some pretty splashy Zinnias, sunflower sizes for containers) and Salvia colors and flower forms.
2017 plant list




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2017 Flowers for Pollinators underway

“What annual flowers attract pollinators?” continues to be the focus of our Flowers for Pollinators study, now entering its 3rd season! Three sites will feature plantings of 30 different annual flower varieties including winners from 2015 and 2016. Planting sites in 2017 include:

  • the Horst M. Rechelbacher farm in Osceola, WI, where the U of M Bee Squad has been conducting pollinator research and the Plant Squad has been active;
  • the Display Garden at the U of M West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, MN;

    LL sign 2017

    Living Lab sign

  • the 3rd floor courtyard of the Mayo Building outside the U of M Center for Spirituality and Healing (will the pollinators know to come to the 3rd flr of the CSH?) This site, located on the East Bank of the University at 420 Delaware Street S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455, is also Living Laboratory hosted by the U’s Department of Operations Facilities Management.

Pollinator observations and counts will be made at each site, just as in previous years. This year, however, we are adding a bit of “citizen science”! Survey cards will be available at the Morris and CSH site for visitors to record their own pollinator observations on particular flowers. We are hoping this activity will help raise people’s awareness of pollinators and hopefully they’ll add some of these plants to their own gardens.

Seedlings 051817

Zinnia ‘Starlight zahara’ seedlings in the greehouse

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New pollinators in the trial garden this morning!

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How many monarchs?

I hope everyone is seeing monarch butterflies this year. I have only seen 2 so far…today is Aug 13 and I am hoping I have just been inside too much !!

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Diverse pollinators

My past two observations have introduced me to a variety of pollinators and a few predators. It’s fun to get beyond the many tiny (albeit important) syrphid flies and see diversity in pollinators. It made sitting in compost worth it!

At a glance, the Salvia – especially ‘White swan’ and ‘Coral nymph’ – are pretty popular. However, sunflowers ‘Lemon Queen’ and ‘Ring of fire’, while late bloomers, are attractive to the larger pollinators like bumblebees and honey bees during peak bloom time. As their flowers degrade, they are not as attractive it seems. Our single Rudbeckia, ‘Orange fudge’ is coming into its own with more flowers and really attracting the sweat bees and solider beetles.

Butterflies and moths are somewhat scarce with some fiery skipper activity and now dun skippers (two) today. Cabbage white moths were mating today on the zinnia – not sure how good that is, but a good picture:

Probably most impressive was the obvious queen bumble that did all she could to pose for me while dining on the Salvia ‘Coral Nymph’. She had to be the size of a half dollar!20160812_103327

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Bumble bee and honey bee in the trial garden this morning!

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