What native wildflowers are good for pollinators on your farm?

It’s a great time of the year to check what native wildflowers are popping up around your farm, especially in areas where you are farming less intensely or in non-farmed areas. They’re vital for our wild bees and other pollinating insects, whose numbers have undergone substantial declines since the 1980’s. 

Pollinators need flowers to feed on from spring through to autumn. Lack of food is a major cause of pollinator declines. Bees feed only on pollen and nectar from flowers. Nectar gives the adults energy for flying and they feed pollen to their young. To have a healthy balanced diet, bees need to be able to feed on a range of different flowers from MARCH right through to OCTOBER. Spring is when bees are most at risk of starvation.


Research has shown that when you double your wildflowers, you can increase the abundance of bees up to 16-fold!



Allow wildflowers to grow around the farm

By avoiding over-management of non-productive areas, you can increase wildflowers in non-farmed areas and ensure that you have food sources for pollinators throughout the year.


Our native wildflowers are overall best for our pollinators and biodiversity, so be patient and allow natural regeneration to take place.

‘Non-farmed’ areas include farmyards, farm laneways, field margins, arable margins, watercourse margins and field corners.

Red-tailed Bumblebee feeding on Common knapweed.


Wildflowers can benefit your farm:

  • Wildflowers help create a colourful and distinct rural landscape that creates a pleasant place to live and work and is a selling point for agricultural produce abroad.
  • Increases the biodiversity value of your farm in areas where there will be no loss to production.
  • Provide pollen and nectar resources to a variety of beneficial insects such as hoverflies and parasitoid wasps. Marmalade hoverflies, for example, feed on pollen and nectar as adults, but the larvae are predators of aphids.
  • Tackling crop pests is increasingly challenging, with growing pesticide resistance and fewer active ingredients, which is why more farmers are looking to integrated pest management techniques such as species-rich field margins, through natural regeneration.

Marmalade hoverfly, whose larva feed on aphids.


How wildflowers benefit pollinators:

  • Having wildflowers available across the seasons on the farm will help pollinators survive throughout their entire annual lifecycle.
  • Wild bees don’t make honey, so they are never more than a few days away from starvation – they need an uninterrupted source of wildflowers for food.
  • Additional flowers are particularly important in summer after hedgerows have finished flowering.


How to manage non-farmed areas to be pollinator friendly:

  • Allow wildflowers to flower. Cut these areas once a year in autumn, after flowering, and remove toppings (to avoid soil enrichment – wildflowers thrive in lower fertility soils). Do not spray or fertilise. If managed in this way, they will gradually become more flower-rich over time. In areas where one annual cut is not possible, reduce your cutting to at least allow Dandelions bloom in spring and Clovers in summer.
  • Avoid ‘over-neatness’. Remember pollinators and other wildlife see and need a very different landscape to humans.
  • If you have to control noxious weeds in these areas, pull or use spot treatment.


Should I plant a wildflower seed mix?

We need to maintain all our native species of flora and fauna, which have been here for 10,000 years and are in tune with each other with regards timing of flowering and other growth stages. Some are inconspicuous – may not be showy or attractive to humans.

We don’t recommend that you plant a wildflower seed mix. Commercial wildflower material is not regulated, so there is no control over which seeds are included, or their origin. Some mixes include species not native to Ireland. The mixes can accidentally introduce invasive species that could be devastating to Irish agriculture, for example Black grass was found in a seed mix by Teagasc last year.  They can also introduce genetic material from other countries that is detrimental to the beautiful and diverse native flora that is adapted to Ireland and that has been supporting our insects for thousands of years.

We recommend slowly returning semi-natural habitats to farmland and not turning to seed packs. This will support our wild pollinators and other biodiversity by providing a food source that supports our native species. There’s a two-way relationship between pollinators and plants that can’t be separated and the encouragement of one group of plants to the detriment of others may ultimately harm our wild pollinators and farmland biodiversity.  Our native wildflowers are resilient and opportunistic, but we need to give them a chance to grow in their natural environment.


Thistles need to be managed but are very good sources of food for pollinators when they flower and for birds when they go to seed.


Keep areas with Bramble or Ivy – these are extremely important food sources in late summer and autumn.


By Ruth Wilson, Farmland Pollinator Officer, All-Ireland Pollinator Plan