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Plants for Spring Pollinators

In late January, pollinators are often the last thing we expect to see in the landscape. But as the days start to warm our native bees and moths come out and stretch their wings. On days over 40°F many species of bees, moths and wasps emerge from their winter homes ready to forage. Flowers can be hard to find this early but the pollinators know what to look for.
      We usually associate pollinators with annual and perennial plants that flower during the summer but in early spring woody plants are where the food is. Vernal witchhazel begins blooming as early as late January and, while it is not a showy blossom, it provides an important food source. In March and April, things really get going as serviceberry, chokecherry and wild plum begin to flower (Amelanchier and Prunus).
      Planting an early spring food source is an important part of creating a healthy pollinator habitat and woody plants provide the most reliable blooms from January until April, when perennials take over. Here are some of the top woody plants for early spring blooms:

January to March

  • Flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa
  • Forsythia cultivars like Meadowlark, Northern Sun, New Hampshire Gold and Northern Gold are reliable bloomers
  • Hazelnut, Corylus Americana
  • Vernal witchhazel, Hamamelis vernalis

April and May

  • Burning bush and eastern wahoo, Euonymus
  • Carolina Allspice, Calycanthus floridus
  • Fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus
  • Japanese Kerria, Kerria japonica
  • Lilac, Syringa
  • Maples, Acer
  • Nanking cherry (photo above), chokecherry and wild plum, Prunus
  • Serviceberry, Amelanchier
  • Star magnolia, Magnolia stellata
  • Viburnums
  • Willows, Salix

Sarah Masek, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, plantnebraska.org