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Attracting Butterflies, Hummingbirds and Other Pollinators

5 techniques for backyard gardeners

Honeybee on raspberry

A honeybee pollinates a raspberry flower.

Butterfly

Liatris is one of the many perennials that attracts butterflies. For more butterfly-attracting perennials, see the chart at the end of this article.

Glass Butterfly Feeder

Nature centers and public gardens feed butterflies by offering them sponges soaked in a nectar solution. Our Glass Butterfly Feeder similarly serves up a sweet and nutritious meal that butterflies can't resist.

1. Plant nectar- and pollen-rich flowers

The most important step you can take is to plant a pollinator-friendly garden. Choose nectar and pollen-rich plants like wildflowers and old-fashioned varieties of flowers. A succession of blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs is best so nectar and pollen will be available throughout the growing season. Also, include plants like dill, fennel and milkweed that butterfly larvae feed on.

Any size garden can attract and support pollinators — from a wildflower meadow to a windowbox with a few well-chosen species. Researchers in Tuscon, AZ, have found that communities of bees can sustain themselves for long periods of time in small vacant city lots.

A patchwork of pollinator gardens in neighborhoods, cities and rural areas around the country could provide enough habitat to restore healthy communities of beneficial insects and pollinators.

2. Go organic

Many pesticides — even organic ones — are toxic to bees and other beneficial organisms. There's no need to use powerful poisons to protect your garden from insects and diseases. In the short term they may provide a quick knock-down to the attackers, but they also kill beneficial organisms. In the long term, you expose yourself, family, pets and wildlife to toxic chemicals, and risk disrupting the natural ecosystem that you and your garden inhabit.

All things considered, an organic approach is both safer and more effective. By applying the simple principles of ecological plant protection, you can work with nature to control pests and diseases, enjoy a healthier garden and harvest and protect pollinators and other beneficial insects.

If you do apply pesticides make sure you apply them carefully and selectively. To protect pollinators, do not use pesticides on open blossoms or when bees or other pollinators are present.

Blossom Hummingbird Feeder

The Blossom Hummingbird Feeder becomes a living work of art when hummingbirds dart back and forth to feed.

3. Provide shelter

Butterflies, bees and other pollinators need shelter to hide from predators, get out of the elements and rear their young. Let a hedgerow or part of your lawn grow wild for ground-nesting bees. Let a pile of grass cuttings or a log decompose in a sunny place on the ground. Or, allow a dead tree to stand to create nooks for butterflies and solitary bees.

Artificial nesting boxes can also help increase the population of pollinators in your area. Wooden blocks with the proper-sized holes drilled into them will attract mason bees. Bat boxes provide a place for bats to raise their young.

4. Provide food and water

A pollinator garden will provide pollen and nectar. Consider adding special feeders to help attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Bees, birds and butterflies also all need water. Install a water garden, a birdbath or a catch basin for rain. Butterflies are attracted to muddy puddles which they will flock to for salts and nutrients as well as water.

5. Backyard beekeeping

You don't have to live in the country to keep bees. All you need is a little space, a water source, plenty of nearby flowers for them to visit, and a willingness to learn. Keeping a beehive or two in the backyard used to be a common practice. Maybe it's time to bring back this old-fashioned hobby. It does require equipment and some specific knowledge. But it's nothing an interested hobbyist can't handle. For more information, read Attracting Beneficial Bees.

Plants that attract butterflies
  • Alyssum
  • Aster
  • Bee balm
  • Butterfly bush
  • Calendula
  • Cosmos
  • Daylily
  • Delphinium
  • Dianthus
  • Fennel
  • Globe thistle
  • Goldenrod
  • Hollyhock
  • Lavender
  • Liatris
  • Marigold
  • Musk mallow
  • Nasturtium
  • Oregano
  • Phlox
  • Purple coneflower
  • Queen Anne's lace
  • Sage
  • Scabiosa
  • Shasta daisy
  • Stonecrop
  • Verbena
  • Yarrow
  • Zinnia

Plants that attract butterfly larvae (caterpillars)

  • Borage
  • Fennel
  • Grasses
  • Hollyhocks
  • Lupine
  • Milkweed
  • Nettle
  • Thistle
  • Willow
Plants that attract hummingbirds
  • Ajuga
  • Bee balm
  • Begonia
  • Bleeding heart
  • Butterfly weed
  • Canna
  • Cardinal flower
  • Century plant
  • Columbine
  • Coral bells (heuchera)
  • Cleome
  • Crapemyrtle
  • Dahlia
  • Dame's rocket
  • Delphinium
  • Fire pink
  • Four o' clocks
  • Foxglove
  • Fuchsia
  • Gilia
  • Geranium
  • Gladiolus
  • Glossy abelia
  • Hollyhocks
  • Impatiens
  • Iris
  • Lantana
  • Liatris
  • Lily
  • Lupine
  • Nasturtium
  • Nicotiana
  • Paintbrush
  • Penstemon
  • Petunia
  • Phlox
  • Sage
  • Salvia
  • Scabiosa
  • Scarlet sage
  • Sweet William
  • Verbena
  • Yucca
  • Zinnia
Plants that attract bees

Perennials and Annuals

  • Allium
  • Aster
  • Basil
  • Bee balm
  • Bee plant
  • Bergamot
  • Blanket flower
  • Borage
  • Cosmos
  • Flax
  • Four o'clock
  • Gaillardia
  • Geranium
  • Giant hyssop
  • Globe thistle
  • Goldenrod
  • Helianthus
  • Hyssop
  • Joe-pye weed
  • Lavender
  • Lupine
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Mullein
  • Paint brush
  • Poppy
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Skullcap
  • Sunflower
  • Thyme
  • Verbena
  • Wallflower
  • Wild rose
  • Zinnia

Trees, Shrubs and Fruit

  • Almond
  • Apple
  • Blackcurrant
  • Cherry
  • Gooseberry
  • Hawthorn
  • Linden
  • Locust
  • Pear
  • Plum
  • Raspberry
  • Strawberry
  • Wild lilac
  • Willow

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