Building a pollinator-friendly garden, week three: choosing native and pollinator-friendly plants

By Lauren Zaren, Environment California Intern, UC Davis Class of 2021 This is part three of a series where I am working with my grandpa to revitalize our garden using pollinator-friendly plants. You can find my first blog here and my second post here.

By Lauren Zaren, Environment California Intern, UC Davis Class of 2021

This is part three of a series where I am working with my grandpa to revitalize our garden using pollinator-friendly plants. You can find my first blog here and my second post here.

This week, I completed the final steps to ensure that my garden is ready for planting. In addition to the two raised beds I have been preparing to plant vegetables, I am also going to plant flowers in a third bed on my patio and along the edge of my front lawn.

Just like the rest of the gardening space, this raised bed was turned into storage.

We picked up our order of supplies and continued preparing the beds.

I held the wire mesh in place while my grandpa nailed it into the bed frame. We also reinforced some areas of the wood which had started to rot.

After hours of hard work, we refilled the beds with half original soil and half store-bought soil, and then they were ready for planting.

Next, I laid out the nine criteria I would use to determine which plants to grow. I had to consider:

  • Are they native to the southern coast of California?
  • Are they pollinator-friendly?
  • Are they able to grow in the space I have available?
  • How long will each plant take to grow?
  • Are they meant to be planted in the spring?
  • Are they available for local purchase?
  • Are they compatible with other plants I chose?
  • Are they able to grow in the sunlight of my yard?
  • Will we eat the vegetables I grow?

 Satisfying all those criteria became overwhelming, so I decided to take a walk around my neighborhood, paying extra attention to any plants where bees or other pollinators were visible. I saw a variety of flowering plants, including lavender and lupine, as well as some ground cover plants that serve as a food source for pollinators.

(Source: Yewchan_Flickr_CC BY-SA 2.0)

Later, I took some time to learn a bit more about native plants and why they are so important to maintaining biodiversity. In addition to helping your local ecosystem, choosing to grow native plants is often the best option for the success of your garden. These plants tend to grow deeper root systems than their non-native counterparts, which helps to preserve the soil, preventing erosion and removing pollutants from runoff. They also require less water than other plants, which is especially important in historically drought-stricken regions.

My next step was to identify native plants for my region of Southern California (right outside of Los Angeles). I came across a native plants finder developed by the National Wildlife Federation which provides dozens of suggestions based on your zip code. The website suggested flowers and grasses including Lupine, Sagebrush, Sunflowers, Deer Vetch and many others.

(Source: Heather Smithers_Flickr_CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation’s website is full of information and resources which explain why pollinators, particularly bees, are so important and outlines the challenges they face on a daily basis. Habitat loss and the widespread use of pesticides are of particular concern. Environment California is circulating a petition asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a moratorium on these pesticides, including neonicotinoids, which you can sign here.

I was also able to find a variety of location-specific guides to pollinator-friendly plants. Two I found helpful were the Planting Guides and the Xerces Society Pollinator-Friendly Native Plants Lists. I’ve included a variety of other helpful websites at the end of this post.

Ultimately, after doing research, talking to my family, and taking inventory of the seeds we already have, I narrowed down my choices.  The vegetables I will try to grow are tomatoes, chard, kale, radishes and bell peppers. The herbs I will grow are mint, cilantro, basil and rosemary. Finally, I will grow a mix of California native wildflowers, Zinnias, a few Mammoth Russian Sunflowers, some Pink Purslane flowers and some Butterfly Bush.

In my last blog post I asked readers for photo submissions of their quarantine gardens.


Natalia shared this picture of some flowers she has planted.

Thanks Natalia! Keep the pictures coming and you might be featured in a future post.

That’s all for now, check back next week when I will share my experience planting the flowers, herbs, and vegetables I chose! 


  1. 13 Best Flowers for Attracting Pollinators to the Garden 
  2. California Native Ground Cover Plants 
  3. Home – Native Plants Finder 
  4. United States Drought Monitor 
  5. What are Native Plants? 
  6. Pollinator Conservation Program
  7. Pesticide Seed Coatings are Widespread but Underreported 
  8. Planting Guides 
  9. Pollinator-Friendly Native Plant Lists 

Additional Websites I Found Helpful:

  1. Create a Place for Pollinators
  2. Bee Informed Partnership
  3. Pollinators 

Gardening for Pollinators 


Dan Jacobson

Senior Advisor, Environment California

Dan provides campaign strategy and policy guidance for Environment California's program and organizational plans. Prior to his current role, he worked as the state director of Environment California and the organizing director of Florida PIRG, among other roles. The Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT) named Dan a Clean Power Champion in 2019, and Capitol Weekly named him one of the “Top 100 Lobbyists” in California in 2008. Dan's areas of expertise include renewable energy, electric vehicles and ocean pollution, and he has successfully advocated for the passage of dozens of bills into law, including measures to ban toxic chemicals, bring 1 million solar roofs to California, and ban single-use plastic grocery bags. He ran the campaign for SB 100, California’s law setting a goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2045.