Attracting butterflies and bees isn’t hard, and even the smallest garden can make a difference. Start by making sure you plant nectar rich flowers.
Choose plants with long, tubular flowers. Butterfly-attracting blooms include zinnias and phlox.
Plan for a succession of blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs to ensure a continual source of pollen and nectar. Remember to avoid the use of pesticides, as they are lethal to butterflies.
1. Plant Nectar-Rich Flowers
Planting flowers and plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds is the key to attracting and supporting pollinators. Including a variety of flowering annuals, perennials and shrubs is best so that nectar and pollen are available throughout the growing season.
Aim for a wide range of colors, especially blues and purples, and flowers that are open to the broadest range of pollinators. Butterflies are attracted to flat-topped flowers (like zinnias) and those with short tubular blooms that they can reach their long tongues into.
Hummingbirds prefer lupine, California fuchsia and mimulus, sometimes called monkeyflower, which offer rich sources of nectar in various shades of red and pink. The bell-shaped blooms of penstemon, aquilegia or columbine and digitalis, or foxglove, are also good choices for hummingbirds. These plants grow best in full sun and sheltered from harsh winds, as many hummingbirds seek resting or feeding spots shielded from gusts. Basil, which grows in sunny spots, is another favorite of hummingbirds and attracts butterflies as well.
2. Provide Shelter
Creating a habitat for birds, butterflies and bees will help reduce the need for pesticides in your garden. The most important components are shelter and water.
Butterflies are attracted to open flowers that offer plenty of nectar and a place to perch. Native plants like black-eyed Susans, blazing star, bee balm, Joe-Pye weed and coneflower are all great choices. Ornamental grasses are also a good choice. They add structure and interest to the garden and act as a habitat, providing hiding spots and nooks for butterflies.
Choose plants that will bloom all season long, so you’ll have staggered peaks of color throughout the garden. This will keep your garden looking full and attractive, even during low-blooming times. Leave a few clumps of nettle in your garden — it’s a larval food source for the great spangled fritillary and red admiral butterfly. A bee house (available commercially or easily homemade from a block of wood with different-sized holes drilled into it) is a wonderful addition to any garden.
3. Provide Food
If you’ve noticed the garden buzzing a bit quieter lately, it’s not your imagination: butterfly and bee populations are in sharp decline worldwide. Providing the right foods for pollinators is the key to attracting these beloved garden visitors once again.
Choose flowers that provide a variety of essential nutrients, as well as those that attract specific butterflies or bees. For example, bees are drawn to scented, yellow flowers, while butterflies prefer blue or purple flowers with flat-topped blossoms. Bees are also less attracted to plants that are impractical for them to access — they won’t visit flowers that can’t support their weight, or that give off a scent they find offensive (such as marigolds).
Planting a succession of flowering annuals and perennials will help ensure a supply of food for pollinators throughout the growing season. You can create a pollinator garden of any size, from a small patch of wildflowers to a container of bee-loving plants.
4. Provide Water
Butterflies use their long tongues to sip nectar from flat-topped flowers such as zinnias, and from clustered short tubular blooms (such as butterfly weed). If you plant enough of these, you’ll attract butterflies all summer.
Long-tongued bumblebees require easy access to the pollen-filled centre of flowers; this requires a flower with wide petals that are easy to grasp. Plant a mix of annuals and perennials, with plants that bloom at different times of the season.
Add herbs such as mint (which butterflies love) and basil to your garden. Both prefer 6-8 hours of sun a day and grow easily in most climates. Plant clumps of these in sunny spots, especially when constructing your herb garden. Remember to avoid using herbicides or spraying insecticides on these plants and you’ll find it easy to create a healthy habitat that will attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.