One of the great pleasures of gardening is simply enjoying the flowers you’ve cared for, and watching nature do its thing.
The buzz of the bees and the sheer color and life that butterflies and pollinators add to your garden are one of the best things about it.
Creating a home for nature has a profound effect on your mood as well as the health of your garden.
But how can you attract more pollinators?
Most of it is in the plants you use, so let’s take a look at the ones that can attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
Why Should You Care About Pollinators?
You may have a strict sense of what you ‘should’ plant, dictated by your deepest wishes and the flowers you like.
Maybe you want a garden that’s as neat and tidy as possible, or you just want to care for one type of plant and one type only.
However, planting only a single type or a very narrow range of plants will cause you problems in the long run, especially if these plants don’t attract many pollinators.
You may also find that your garden is swamped by pests, your flowers are fewer and smaller, and plants don’t look as healthy as you would expect.
Many plants need pollinators to reproduce, and without many pollinators, you’ll find that pests will run wild over what plants you do have.
This is because encouraging pollinators helps bolster the ecosystem within your garden, attracting wildlife higher up the food chain, which then naturally manages pests that you might have.
If your garden does not have the right plants, it won’t have the right insects, so the predators won’t come. This will mean that your poor plants will suffer with more pests, and it will take more time and work to get rid of them.
Choosing pollen-rich plants native to your area will go a long way in helping this, as well as other plants that are famous for attracting pollinators.
Flowers You Should Consider Growing To Attract Pollinators
These are just a snapshot of the flowers you can grow in your own garden that will attract more pollinators into your green sanctuary.
When choosing new plants, make sure that they are not classed as invasive in your area, and that they will work in your garden, otherwise you may be making trouble for yourself!
Agastache Foeniculum ‘Giant Hyssop’
Part of the mint family, giant hyssop is a lovely evergreen plant which produces vivid blue flowers on the top of the stems.
It’s a favorite of pollinators in particular in USDA zones 4 to 9, and produces plenty of nectar to support them.
As you might expect from a relative of mint, it’s very easy to grow from seed and cuttings, but unlike mint, it is unlikely to take over your garden.
Ageratum Houstonianum ‘Floss Flower’
Native to Mexico, the floss flower produces neat flower heads in shades of blue, white, pink, and red, appearing from the later days of spring into the first few days of fall.
You can grow them from seed or buy them from a local nursery, and they do well in both containers and borders.
It’s worth noting that some species of Ageratum are quite invasive, so make sure you do your research before bringing one home.
Alcea Rosea ‘Hollyhock’
A firm favorite of cottage-style garden planting across the world is the hollyhock. They attract plenty of butterflies and bees while producing spires of color, in shades of white, pink, red, yellow, and orange.
You can get single, semi-double, and double flowers, so there’s a type for every planting scheme.
Allium Giganteum ‘Giant Allium’
For something more unusual, you might go for a giant allium. These gorgeous plants produce huge globular flower heads in shades of purple, white, and blue.
This plant is part of the onion family, and while they attract beneficial insects into your garden, they also keep away slugs and snails from their immediate vicinity, thanks to their subtle garlic-like scent.
This makes them particularly useful in planting schemes, where gardeners take advantage of this trait and plant particularly vulnerable flowers next to alliums to protect them, without having to use slug pellets.
Alliums will spread to a degree, but you will never find them taking over your garden, and these lovely perennials will bloom for years to come.
Antirrhinum majus ‘Snapdragon’
Snapdragons produce plenty of color, and are happy as part of large borders or small pots. These flowers are long-lasting, especially if you give them a good drink during dry spells, and they will support pollinators up until fall’s frosts.
It’s worth noting that snapdragons have adapted to attract a certain type of bumblebee that can muscle its way into the flower’s opening, but this doesn’t stop the smaller honey bees from ‘stealing’ the nectar.
If you find tiny holes in a snapdragon flower, this is where an enterprising little bee has nibbled away at the flower to get at the nectar!
Asclepias Syriaca ‘Milkweed’
A favorite of many butterflies is milkweed. Some people consider it to only be a nuisance weed, but it does have its place in attracting pollinators.
You might find it already in your garden, in which case, it’s worth leaving some for the butterflies to support themselves.
These flowers bloom throughout summer, bringing bright shades of orange, purple, and pink into your garden.
One type of flower that you should consider for fall color is the aster. There are many types of aster to choose from, and these will provide pollinators with the scarce nectar they need when the summer flowers are spent.
You can grow them from seed or buy them as plugs or adult plants, and they also make great cut flowers, too.
Baptisia Australis ‘Blue Wild Indigo’
Part of the pea family, blue wild indigo is a lovely wildflower that produces blue flowers on spikes which can reach anywhere between 10 and 40cm long.
The plant itself can grow to 5 feet tall, blooming from April into July. It needs a lot of sunlight and damp soil to thrive, so keep this in mind when choosing where to plant it.
Buddleia ‘Butterfly Bush’
One of the most popular plants with butterflies is the butterfly bush. It’s not difficult to grow, provided that you give it well-drained soil and at least some sunlight.
Most butterfly bushes carry a beautiful scent, and all produce huge spires of tiny flowers that butterflies and bees adore, attracting so many that you won’t believe the difference one plant makes until you see it for yourself.
This plant is one of the easiest ways to provide many pollinators with plenty of food during spring and summer. If you live somewhere warm, expect the fantastic displays to carry on into fall, too.
Centaurea Cyanus ‘Cornflower’
Cornflowers are particularly good at attracting bees into your garden. These soft and beautiful flowers are considered old-fashioned by some, but they are making a bit of a comeback.
They are very easy to grow from seed, don’t mind a bit of drought, and will work well in most soil types.
Give them full sunlight, and they will bloom from June until about September, supporting the bees with their pollen.
These flowers are jewel-toned, available in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white.
Chrysanthemums are beautiful flowers that give off strong odors to bees and other insects, so they are a good option for any garden. It also helps that they can bloom later than other flowers.
However, one thing to note is that spiders like to make their home in chrysanthemums, which, in turn, can attack bees. So make sure this isn’t the only bee-attracting plant in your garden, otherwise you may do more harm than good.
Conyza Bonariensis ‘Fleabane’
A wildflower that is very popular with pollinators such as bees and butterflies is fleabane.
These cheery flowers look like daisies, with their bright yellow centers and white or pink petals. It’s worth knowing that they will spread – so the weed label makes sense – but you can get on top of this by giving them a light trim when they get too enthusiastic.
Dianthus Caryophyllus ‘Clove Pink’
Also known as the carnation, one of the most popular flowers in cultivation and has been for 2,000 years is the dianthus.
You can find it in a range of colors from different shades of pink, white, red, or a bicolor, usually with ruffled petals and a clove-like scent.
These dainty little flowers attract plenty of bees and butterflies, and look fantastic at the front of borders, or even in containers.
Digitalis Purpurea ‘Foxglove’
While poisonous, foxgloves are very beautiful flowers that attract a lot of attention from bees.
They will grow in shade and full sun, and will regularly self-seed and provide you with more foxglove seedlings than you will know what to do with.
Most foxgloves flower from June until September, and there are a range of colors to choose from.
These plants will happily grow in containers, rockeries, or even under trees, making them a versatile choice for any garden.
Coneflowers are perennial plants that love dry, hot conditions, but will grow as annuals in other climates.
These lovely plants produce tall stems which range from 2 to 4 feet tall, and produce large flowers in many shades.
It acts as a magnet for many pollinators, and will work well as part of mixed borders, containers, or as part of a wildflower garden with very little care needed.
Echinops Ritro ‘Globe Thistle’
If traditional flowers aren’t really your thing, you’ll be glad to know that you don’t have to settle for classic planting choices to attract pollinators into your garden.
If you want something more unusual that will attract beneficial insects into your garden, look no further than the globe thistle.
They appear in the first few weeks of summer, and will bloom for about two months or so, producing unique globular clusters of dark blue petals.
They are so popular with pollinators that you’ll often see more than one insect on the same flower head, or even a bee and a butterfly extracting the nectar at the same time.
While the flower heads are beautiful in their own right, these plants also have striking leaves that give any garden a more architectural look, with notched foliage that’s dark green, and silver on the undersides.
Eutrochium Purpureum ‘Sweet Joe-Pye Weed’
A beautiful herbaceous perennial that also has some medicinal uses, sweet Joe-pye weed is a particular favorite of butterflies such as the tiger swallowtail butterfly, and the monarch butterfly, as well as bees and other beneficial insects.
These plants are very easy to care for once established, but it is worth knowing that they are tricky to raise from seed, so either grow this plant from softwood cuttings or buy an established plant. Never remove the plant from the wild, as you’ll be doing more harm than good.
Faassen Nepeta ‘Catmint’
Less invasive than many members of the mint family, but still an attractive option is catmint. It produces beautiful blue flowers that honey bees and butterflies alike adore, and this plant needs well-draining soil and a sunny position in order to thrive.
They are a great choice for rockeries and containers, providing color all summer long.
Lavandula spp. ‘Lavender’
As well as providing lots of calming fragrance, lavender is also a favorite of the bees. There are many types to choose from, and larger lavender plants are usually the most popular with pollinators, providing food from spring until summer.
Liatris Spicata ‘Blazing Star’
A beautiful perennial, blazing star is found naturally in prairies, so you know it is a tough plant. It also attracts a wealth of pollinators to its spikes of purple flowers, including bees, wasps, and even hoverflies, which will keep some pests away.
It also helps that this plant’s flowers are very unusual, each petal creating a soft and airy, whimsical look to any border, contrasted by the bright colors.
Lonicera Periclymenum ‘Honeysuckle’
Honeysuckle is a versatile plant that will need some training, as it is a climber (see also Honeysuckle Plant Care Guide). It will grow quickly, and produce tubular flowers in shades of pink, cream, and yellow, enticing bees and other pollinators to visit your garden.
If it gets vigorous enough, you will see some birds start to nest in it, too, making it a haven for different types of wildlife.
Lychnis Coronaria ‘Lychnis’
A firm favorite in many gardens, Lychnis produces vivid flowers in shades of white, orange, and pink.
While it will tolerate some shade, it will produce the most flowers in full sunlight, and will bloom all summer long, providing a lot of nectar for pollinators to feast on.
Malva Sylvestris ‘Mallow’
Mallow flowers, while a nuisance to some gardeners, provide a lot of color in any green space, and are a relative of hollyhocks.
You can see the resemblance in the flowers, and mallow flowers appear from the beginning of spring well into fall if the conditions allow.
But this is still an attractive plant when not in flower, featuring heart-shaped leaves.
Monarda ‘Bee Balm’
Bee balm is one of those flowers that you can’t help but stop and admire. They produce pom-pom like flowers in shades of pink, red, purple, and white, and attract plenty of pollinators into your garden.
It’s worth noting that bee balm has a tendency to grow fast and spread outward, so you will need some room for them.
There are many species of monarda to choose from, so make sure you get one that’s suitable to your garden.
Penstemon Heterophyllus ‘Foothill Penstemon’
A wildlife in California and an ornamental in other parts, Foothill penstemon would suit gardens in USDA zones 7 through to 10, and produces purple flowers, even in very dry conditions.
These blooms attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and would be perfect for rockeries and coastal areas, as it loves freely draining soil where other plants would not grow.
It’s worth dividing this plant every few years to keep the growth vigorous, as well as enjoying this plant in other areas of the garden.
Known for the plethora of golden flowers, this plant is very valuable in terms of providing food for pollinators as it flowers late into the season when most flowers are dying off.
They do have a bit of a sparse look to them, and what they lack in spread they make up for in height, sometimes reaching as tall as 10 feet.
This is a plant that is sometimes blamed for hayfever, so you may want to steer clear if you do get seasonal allergies.
Symphytum Officinale ‘Comfrey’
Comfrey is a tough perennial that’s perfect for the back of borders where the sun doesn’t hit the soil, as they prefer a damp environment.
Some people use the leaves of this plant for compost making, while others prefer to attract pollinators with its long-lasting flowers, and these particular blooms are a favorite of bees.
Syringa Vulgaris ‘Lilac’
One of the most beautiful plants with an intoxicating fragrance is the lilac. These plants love rich soil that drains well, preferably alkaline or neutral, and prefer plenty of sun.
Lilacs are a great option for chalky soil where other plants won’t grow, and they will attract plenty of butterflies and bees while they are at it.
To make the most out of these beautiful plants, situate them near a seating area or window so that you can appreciate the perfume of the flowers as much as possible.
Just keep in mind that they can grow between 5 and 15 feet high, depending on the variety and the position in your garden.
Veronia Noveboracensis ‘New York Ironweed’
A very pretty wildflower, New York ironweed can grow between 5 and 8 feet tall, featuring emerald green leaves, and a cluster of reddish purple flowers.
This plant really comes into its own in September, when the flowers are at their best. This helps extend the amount of food left for the pollinators when the season is winding down.
Zinnia plants are beautiful annuals that attract both hoverflies and bees into your garden, as well as providing plenty of color, perfect for filling bare spaces.
As they are suitable for a wide range of gardens (USDA zones 2 through 11), their popularity has never stopped growing, and more varieties are being created all the time.
One thing these flowers love is a sunny position, and if you deadhead spent flowers, you will encourage the plant to produce more.
Other Things To Consider
While the plants you choose form a huge part of helping pollinators visit your garden, there are other factors that you should consider. Let’s take a look.
Different Insects Like Different Plants
Different plants will attract different insects, namely those that the plants have evolved to attract.
For example, if you would like fewer aphids in your garden, choose something that attracts hoverflies, such as zinnias or gazanias.
There are more specific examples, but this is something that can get you started.
If there’s a particular butterfly or bee you’d like to see in your garden, consider planting something that will attract it. Different insects are designed to make a ‘beeline’ for certain plants.
Create Different Habitats
Consider constructing an insect hotel and provide different places for insects to shelter. Leave a ‘messy’ area of foliage to grow wild as a screen, and you’ll find that nature uses it to its advantage.
This might even be a tiny square of lawn that you don’t cut, a patch or pot of wildflowers, or a crop that has finished which you haven’t chopped down yet.
How To Attract Bees To Your Garden
To attract different types of bees, plant as many different types of flowers as you can. Some bees prefer flowers with flat central eyes, so they have an easy place to land, while others will sleep in petals that are nearly closed.
It’s also worth growing a mixture of both annual and perennial plants, as this will make a difference, too.
In hot weather, it’s worth keeping a shallow dish filled with water and pebbles that can act as stepping stones. This provides a much-needed water source for pollinators when it gets too dry, and prevents bees and other pollinators from fainting from a lack of water.
The pebbles stop the pollinators from drowning, too.
When summer starts winding down, it’s important to have some late-flowering plants that will bloom well into fall if the weather allows, as pollen can get scarce this time of year, so this will provide a much-needed source of food for pollinators.
If you can build or buy a bee box, this gives the bees somewhere warm and safe to stay away from predators, which will help bolster bee numbers in your garden.
How To Keep A Healthy Garden
One of the best things you can do for all the plants in your garden is to make your garden as healthy as possible.
Think of your garden like a body – incredibly intricate, full of different systems and organisms that all have a job to do, even the annoying ones!
Use As Many Types Of Plants As Possible
But how do you keep it healthy? By having a diverse range of plants, using both small and tall plants, a mixture of different flower types – some with lots of petals, some with very few, and planting as many native plants as possible.
This last one may be surprising, but it’s the easiest way to ensure that the insects you attract support the ecosystem and the food chain within your garden. Yes, even plant those that are considered weeds, as this is very beneficial for the insects!
Don’t Use Pesticides
Another thing you can do is to make sure that you’re not using pesticides where possible. There are diseases that you can’t eradicate any other way, of course, but limiting the use of chemicals also helps to keep your garden healthy.
Often, pesticides will kill the beneficial insects, plants, and microorganisms that you would want to keep, so steering clear where possible will help more than you can imagine.
Consider The Health Of Your Soil
Another thing you can do is to try and make the soil as healthy as possible. Depending on where you live and the typical soil type, there will be different ways of doing this.
One way is to build your own compost heap and use your compost on your plants instead of store-bought.
This not only helps save you money and reduce your carbon footprint in the long run, but it’s generally much healthier for plants.
Another advantage is that you know it won’t contain any plants that you don’t want, as you’ll know what is in it from the get-go.
Step Back From Weeding
While it’s very satisfying to pull up weeds as soon as you see them, most actually have an important job to do in supporting nature.
This is especially true of the flowers you’ll find in lawns, from dandelions to lawn clovers, these provide important sources of nectar.
It’s worth creating a small area that you don’t weed or tidy, to allow nature to take its course undisturbed, and you might soon see insects that you’ve never found in your garden before.
It’s surprising just how quickly nature will ‘reclaim’ areas that you let grow wild, so why not experiment with a small corner and see what happens? You might even get some new planting ideas or color schemes, too.
Attracting pollinators into your garden is one of the most important things you can do as a gardener.
Not just because it helps the environment, although that is a great reason, but you will find that your plants are a lot healthier, and it’s easier to keep them happy.
One of the true joys of gardening is discovering what works in your particular space, especially if the solution is not a conventional one.
When you’re able to watch your plants absolutely live their best lives, it’s a great satisfaction that you can’t get from anything else.