Growing Local Biodiversity: Native Flowering Plants as a Tool for Attracting Bees and Other Pollinators in Alberta

Written by: Drew Walker, 2023 TTP Apiculture Technician

Drew Walker has over 5 years of full-time experience as a professional heirloom gardener and greenhouse manager. She has been certified in beekeeping and integrated pest management since 2020 and is currently working as an Apiculture Technician for the Alberta Beekeeper’s Commission. Drew is also enrolled in the Landscape Architectural Technology program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), graduating in 2025.


Why plant native seeds?

To be an environmental steward and eco-warrior, it is of the utmost importance that we create more food sources for local pollinators by planting native seed varieties. Pollinators and flowering plants have formed a mutualistic symbiotic relationship over thousands of years, where one benefits from the other in order to survive. By planting native seeds, food sources are made available to and attract pollinators. In turn, these insects, primarily, are able to cross-pollinate flowers and positively increase our local biodiversity over time. Ultimately, this creates the most sustainable habitat in natural areas.

As defined by O’Toole and Raw (1991), “[Pollination] is the flower’s equivalent of the mating process; it is the process by which the male spores or pollen grains are transported from the flowers of one plant to those of another.” Since flowering plants are literally rooted in place, they rely on other agencies to pollinate them, which is a precept to fertilization. There are several methods of pollination for well-adapted flowers, but the vast majority of known species are pollinated by bees. “Bees are the most effective pollinators simply because they and their offspring are entirely committed to a diet of food collected from flowers. Bees therefore make repeated visits to flowers, ensuring a high rate of pollen transport from flower to flower.”  (O’Toole & Raw, 1991, p. 128).

In modern society, people often fight against nature to dissuade bugs from their homes and yards. For example, screened in porches, citronella, and bug-sprays are all normalized methods of deterring insects from our lives. However, an abundance of insect-life is a telling sign of a healthy ecosystem. Pollinators, in particular, can add a special kind of biodiversity into your yards, farms, apiaries, and gardens. When picturing my favourite memories in the garden, I am met with moments of bumble bees pollinating my blooms, butterflies tickling my forearms, and birds singing all around. These are not creatures to fear, but rather creatures to welcome, nurture, and embrace.

Smooth Fleabane

Native seeds are a great choice for planting because they are naturally adapted to Alberta’s harsh, zone 3 climate, and they also act as food sources for local animals and pollinators that have developed together for millennia. In addition, native plants typically require less human work to maintain over time due to their ability to thrive in the natural environment. As the gardener, you will also be rewarded with a lush meadow-like landscape, natural abundance, and several plants that can be used intentionally, if desired, upon harvesting (i.e., pressed-flower art; using in tea blends; creating home-made remedies; garnishing meals; gifting to your neighbours; etc.).


For Transparency’s Sake

Native seeds can be a little bit tricky to get started, but they certainly require less attention over time. Native plants are more hands-off from a gardening perspective as less watering, fertilizing, and trimming is needed over time. When sowing the seeds, I recommend overseeding because native seeds have a lower germination rate than many other flowering plants. If you get lucky and have great success during the germination stage, you can always thin out the seedlings later as needed. In the early stages of these plants, you may need to pluck weeds on a weekly basis to allow the plants more access to resources (i.e., water; sunlight; nutrients; air; and space). Be sure to label your seeds or plants in the garden so that you don’t accidentally pluck the thing you’re trying to grow!

Common Tall Sunflower photo by Manna Parseyan

Several native seeds require cold stratification to germinate and grow. This concept may sound intimidating but, generally speaking, the seeds need to be started by placing them in the fridge under moist conditions for 4-6 weeks. All seed packets will come with planting instructions, and it is best practice to follow the directions given for each variety of seeds. Over time, some of the plants may need to be split into multiple plants because they are overgrown; this presents a great opportunity to continue expanding your personal meadow. The beauty of gardening is that there is no one way of doing things, so try to find a process that works for you, and that you enjoy along the way! I prefer to direct sow outdoors and hope for the best – sometimes you’ll get a surprise sprout years later which is always delightful.


Purchasing Native Seeds and Plants

Showy Aster

One of the greatest barriers to planting native seeds is the lack of availability at retail stores. Your best bet in finding a supplier would be a local garden centre, greenhouse, or farmers market. I highly recommend phoning retailers in advance because, even if it’s advertised that native seeds or plants are available, often they will sell out quickly. In my experience, I have found that native seeds, as opposed to rooted plants, are more accessible, affordable, and gratifying to grow in the long run.

If you decide to purchase seeds instead of plants, try to find a local supplier. I’m based out of Edmonton, Alberta, and prefer to purchase my seeds from Edmonton Native Plants Society. Often, there are focused plant groups available to join on social media, specific to your area. I encourage you to join these groups and interact with fellow community members, keeping an eye out for seed swaps and sales. These groups are also a great resource for any questions you may have along your planting journey! The Alberta Native Plants Society (ANPS) has an excellent resource for information on sourcing native seeds and plants. Included is also an extensive list of Albertan native species.

When choosing your native seeds and/or plants, the options can feel excitedly overwhelming. Try to keep in mind that bees prefer a diverse variety of flowers based on their shapes, sizes, colours, and blooming times; and allow that information to guide your decision-making in the garden! Here’s a list of my personal favourite flowering native plants (common names used):

  • Canada Violets
  • Prairie Buttercup
  • Common Harebell
  • Slender Blue Beardtongue
  • Blanket Flower
  • Giant Hyssop
  • Meadow Blazingstar
  • Nodding Onion
  • Smooth Fleabane
  • Wild Bergamot
  • Common Tall Sunflower
  • Prairie Goldenrod
  • Showy Aster

Native Flowering Plants for Pollinators 

Alberta Native Plant Council – Plant Suppliers & Species 


Pussy willows covered in pollen

Although the intention behind this article is to encourage planting native flowering seeds, there are also many non-flowering native perennials, trees, and shrubs that provide great benefit to local pollinators. In addition, non-native species of annual flowering plants, trees, and shrubs, can be an effective source of pollen and nectar for honey bee populations. If you’re more interested in planting trees and/or shrubs, a few that I recommend for attracting bees and other pollinators include: willows (pussy willows, in particular); poplars; elms; pin and choke cherries; saskatoon berries; and raspberries. Further, consider substituting a traditional lawn for a clover lawn (i.e., sweet clover, white clover, red clover, and/or alsike clover), as clover is a major nectar source for honey bees during the summer. Lastly, this is your friendly reminder that dandelions are one of the first and major sources of nectar for honey bees in the spring, so try resisting the temptation to pull these suckers. Afterall, weeds are just plants in the wrong spot…for us humans, anyways! (Unless they are considered noxious weeds, then pull those suckers out to protect the native species!)




Planting Native Seeds

Early spring is the best time of year to sow native seeds in the garden. Warming temperatures in combination with moisture from the snowmelt give plants an ideal environment to survive and thrive. Mid-April to mid-May is the typical time of year for planting in Alberta. Don’t worry about a late spring snowfall, as native seeds are hardy to Alberta’s climate. Try to avoid planting anything in the heat of the summer, as your seeds and/or plants will be more susceptible to drying out or potentially burning from excess sun exposure.

Fall is another good time for planting seeds, as that is typically the time of year when established plants are naturally dropping seeds themselves. Aim to plant at the end of September or early October, just before the temperature drops and we prepare for snow. Snow will act as a great insulator for plants over the winter and facilitate the seeds through the natural cold stratification process. Come springtime, those plants will be off to a great start as the snow melts and gives them a thirst-quenching drink!

Meadow Blazingstar photo by Natasha Stairs

If planting seedlings (baby plants, as opposed to seeds), dig a hole that is twice the size of the plant that you’re planting. This will ensure that the soil is broken up and allows the plant less resistance to take root. It’s a great idea to add some soil amendments into the hole before planting to ensure plenty of nutrients are available. Some amendments to consider are: compost; manure; worm castings; and bonemeal. Compost is most recommended for native seeds. If you are having trouble digging into your soil because it’s too hard, consider adding some peat moss, vermiculite, or dried leaves for aeration. The success of your garden starts in the soil, but native plants are used to soils that aren’t the most nutrient rich, so don’t lose any sleep over it! If planting from seed, it’s best to follow the directions on the seed packet, as previously mentioned. Generally speaking, seeds can be sown at a depth of 1cm with 5cm of space between seeds.

After you’ve planted, your main job is to ensure that the plant stays watered and supported as needed (i.e., common tall sunflowers may need staking over time). For native plants and seeds, the best practice is to water your plants once or twice a week if there is insufficient rainfall for the first month after planting (Edmonton Native Plant Society, 2022). After this point, the plant should be established enough for its environment, unless there is a period of drought, at which time, give those plant babies a drink. One nice thing about native plants is that it is not necessary to fertilize them since they are not used to a nutrient-rich soil. Fertilizing native plants can actually do more harm than good, causing the plants to grow tall and fast with less stability and fewer blooms.


For added moisture retention, apply a 5cm layer of mulch on top of the soil after planting. If planting from seed, wait until the seeds have sprouted prior to applying mulch. Wood chips, moss, dried leaves, and grass clippings are all an affordable option for organic mulching – take your pick! The mulch applied on top of the soil will act like a sponge, absorbing additional water which will be available to the plant as needed. Not only is mulch an excellent tool for moisture retention, but it can also create a finished appearance on the planting job. Both functional and aesthetically pleasing; my favourite!




In summary, planting native seeds is the best way to encourage a sustainable ecosystem for both plants and local pollinators. When choosing what to plant, ensure that there is diversity in the characteristics of the flowers and the time of year that they bloom. It is of the utmost importance that pollinators, especially bees, have access to nectar and pollen in the early spring and late fall seasons for successful overwintering. Although planting native seeds is the best option for local biodiversity, there are also many non-native flowering plants that positively impact pollinators in Alberta. A native garden can sometimes be slow to start, but it’s evolution over time will come naturally and with beautiful ease to the gardener.









Alberta Native Bee Council. (N.D.). Alberta Native Bee Council’s Recommended Native Flowering Plant List for Pollinators.
Alberta Native Bee Council. (N.D.). Wildflowers for Alberta’s Wild Bees.
Currie, R., Dixon, D., Tuckey, K., van Westendorp, P., & Gruszka, J. (1998). Beekeeping in Western Canada. Nectar and Pollen Plants (pp. 31-35). Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
Dodd, C. (N.D.). Plants for Pollinators. Edmonton Native Plant Society.
Edmonton Native Plant Society. (2022.) Plant Index.
Edmonton Native Plant Society. (2012). Pollen and Nectar Plants Table.
Inkpen, W., & Van Eyk, R. (2009). Guide to the Common Native Trees and Shrubs of Alberta. Government of Alberta.
Mader, E., Shepherd, M., Vaughan, M., & Black, S. (2011). Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies. Storey Publishing.
O’Toole, C., & Raw, A. (1991). Bees of the World. Bees and Flowers (pp. 128-140). Facts on File, Inc.
Shearer, J. (2021). Native Plant Source List. Alberta Native Plant Council.
Stairs, N. (N.D). Supporting Native Bees in Your Landscape with Locally Sourced Native Plants.

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