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What to Plant to Attract Butterflies, Hummingbirds and Bees

What to Plant to Attract Butterflies, Hummingbirds and Bees

What to Plant to Attract Butterflies, Hummingbirds and Bees
monarch butterfly on a pink coneflower

Above photo by Shutterstock, plant photos by Doreen Wynja

One out of every three bites of your food depends on a pollinator, so rolling out the welcome mat and ringing the dinner bell for pollinators by planting varieties they’ll love is just plain smart. Plus, watching butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees enjoying the garden as much as you do is one of the many joys of life in the garden. 

Whether you’re starting from scratch or playing catch up in an existing garden, we’ve got do-it-now advice and recommendations for what to plant to attract specific pollinators. Here are our top tips and favorite plants for attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, and then keeping them happy in your garden. 

Let's start with the perfect pollinator pairing pictured here. It includes butterfly, bird, and bee favorites, Magnus Purple Coneflower, and Kobold Gayfeather,  a particular favorite of swallowtail butterflies.

Top 10 Tips for Attracting Butterflies, Hummingbirds, and Bees

  1. Determine which pollinator-friendly plants are appropriate for your region.

  2. Plant lots of them. Make sure there are at least 3x3' feet of each plant species. These can be planted together or in other areas of the garden.

  3. Composite flowers (clusters of many small flowers called florets, each of which is a full flower) such as coreopsis, sunflowers, asters, yarrow, etc are little pollen factories and are a sure way to make butterflies and bees happy.

  4. Choose single flowers — those with one ring of petals — over double flowers;  these are easier for pollinators to reach the inner flower parts.

  5. Look for bright, tubular flowers like honeysuckle, fuchsia, penstemon, agastache, and foxglove to attract hummingbirds. 
  6. Limit or avoid any use of chemicals (both synthetic and organic) in the garden, especially insecticides. These harsh chemicals make beneficial insect and pollinator populations weak or nonexistent. 

  7. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, use plenty of compost and mulch to build healthy soil. Healthy soils create healthy plants and healthy plants support pollinators, birds, and beneficial insects.

  8. Plan your garden so that there is something blooming for as many months as you can manage. Many pollinators, especially bees, forage during the entire growing season. Finding summer-blooming flowers is pretty easy; you can find our favorite early-spring flowers for pollinators here and late-blooming flowers here

  9. Provide shelter by letting your yard get a little wild. Allow a hedge to grow untrimmed, leave a section of lawn unmowed, pile up grass cutting in a sunny spot, and create a nesting habitat by leaving some soil bare for ground-nesting bees.

  10. Many pollinators are looking for clean sources of water from early spring until fall. Offer a bee watering station with a shallow bowl that's filled with rocks and water. This will allow bees and butterflies to easily access water. Just be sure to clean it often. 

Flowers that Attract Hummingbirds

When shopping for plants that will attract hummingbirds (and keep them coming back), look for perennials that have abundant tubular flowers in bright colors like pink, orange, red, and purple. Hummingbirds love bright, "hot" colors, and tubular flowers are perfect for their long, thin beaks and tongues to reach the rich nectar at the back of the flower.

They also require lots of blooms — a hummingbird visits thousands of flowers a day to get enough nutrition to keep up its incredibly high metabolism. So, be sure to choose plants with abundant blooms, and plant lots of them.

Here are seven of our favorite hummingbird-friendly plants:

Kudos Coral Dwarf Agastache

All Agastache varieties are hummingbird favorites thanks to their tall, vibrant spikes of tubular flowers. We love Kudos for its prolific blooms, compact habit, and improved performance, with increased hardiness, disease resistance, and tolerance of wet, cold soils. Up to 20" tall, 16" wide. Zones 5-10.

Balmy™ Lilac
Bee Balm

The abundant, bold, and bright flowers of bee balm attract hummingbirds as well as butterflies and bees. This dwarf cultivar has mildew-resistant, fragrant, dark-green foliage. Up to 12" tall, 10" wide. Zones 4-9. 

Colorburst™ Orange
Cape Fuchsia

Hummingbirds love to visit the bright, dangling, tubular firecracker flowers on cape fuchsia from midsummer into fall.  This handsome exclusive features green foliage and a bushy, upright habit with profuse blooms. Up to 2' tall, 2' wide. Zones 6-10.

Harlequin™ Magenta
Beardtongue

The bright, tubular flowers of beardtongue are often visited by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and the exclusive Harlequin™ variety offers even more showy flowers for pollinators to enjoy. This drought-tolerant, disease-resistant plant has a more bushy, compact, and upright habit than other varieties. 22" tall, 16" wide.  Zones 5-9. 

Coral Glow
Texas Yucca

Profuse 6' tall flower spikes with coral-orange, trumpet-shaped blooms attract hummingbirds like a blazing beacon. Flower spikes emerge from the clumps of narrow, sword-shaped, gray-green foliage from early spring through fall. Up to 6' tall, 4' wide. Zones 5-9.

purple and pink goldflame honeysuckle flowers

Goldflame
Honeysuckle

Hummingbirds love honeysuckles of all kinds, and we love this particular honeysuckle for its unique purple to deep-pink buds and gold-yellow, tubular flowers that bloom throughout summer. Twining stems quickly reach 15' long. Zones 4-9.

Poco™ Citron
Hot Poker

This compact variety of Red Hot Poker features spikes of nectar-filled blooms that start as lime green and turn a lemony yellow, and mellow to a soft butter hue as they reach maturity. Grass-like foliage remains neat all summer. Up to 20" tall, 14" wide. Zones 6-9.  

Flowers that Attract Butterflies

Butterflies flock to nectar-rich flowers that are often pollen-rich, as well, so flowers that are butterfly-friendly are also bee-friendly. Plus, they are often also great for hummingbirds and other kinds of birds. Again, look for bright colors and abundant blooms, and plant en masse so the butterflies can easily flit from one bloom to the next. If you have a large enough space, plant a variety of shapes of blooms to attract a variety of butterflies, which come in all shapes and sizes.

Remember to research your native milkweed plants and reserve some space for those to feed the monarchs or other native butterflies and pollinators in your area.

Here are seven of our favorite butterfly-friendly plants:

Gay Butterflies Milkweed

Milkweed might be best known as being the only source of food for monarch butterfly larvae, but it is also a great source of nectar for many other species of butterflies and bees. It's important to grow a variety native to your area in order to support monarch butterflies in your region.

Gay Butterflies, pictured here, is a brilliantly colored North American native that blooms in fiery shades of red, orange, and yellow in the summer. Plus, it's easy-care, well-behaved, and tolerant of lean, unimproved soils. It's perfect for naturalized areas, meadows, and borders. Up to 3' tall, 2' wide. Zones 4-11.

Lollipop
Verbena

Verbena like this dwarf selection attracts butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Butterflies of all kinds flock to verbena, so it's a must-have for warm-zone butterfly gardens. Up to 36" tall and wide. Zones 7-11.

Image by Visions Pictures

yellow and orange yarrow flower

Desert Eve™
Terracotta Yarrow

A compact, early-flowering variety of the easy-care, drought-tolerant butterfly favorite. Big, flat clusters of small deep rusty orange flowers attract butterflies and look great in cut flower arrangements, too. Up to 20" tall, 24" wide. Zoned 4-9. 

Thumbelina Leigh
English Lavender

An extremely aromatic and profuse bloomer that attracts pollinators with spikes of violet-blue blooms. Up to 18" tall, 12" wide. Zones 5-9. 

Black Knight
Butterfly Bush

Spectacular dark violet-purple flowers are a treat for butterflies and hummingbirds. Lightly fragrant, nectar-rich spikes attract butterflies midsummer through fall. Up to 8' tall and 6' wide. Zones 5-9.

Grape Crush
New England Aster

Deep-purple flowers are densely packed on a nicely rounded mound. Aster blooms later in the growing season, offering nectar for butterflies and color for the garden. Up to 2' tall, 3' wide. Zones 3-8. 

Red Wings
Creeping Phlox

Masses of vibrant, crimson flowers offer a dense, showy carpet of color in the spring. Butterflies love the nectar that phlox provides, too. Up to 6" tall, forming a dense mat up to 3' wide. Zones 3-9. 

Flowers that Attract Bees

Bees are attracted to plants that produce blooms with high amounts of nectar and pollen. If you watch closely as bees visit flowers in your garden, you'll see them carrying pollen in tiny "pockets" on their legs. When you see bees with big, yellow "pollen pants," you know you're growing the right flowers. 

Plant your pollinator garden with flowers that bloom at different times of the growing season to offer pollen and nectar from early spring until fall. Look for plants that bloom with an abundance of flowers in a variety of shapes and sizes. Like butterflies, bee species vary in size and shape, and so should your flowers. Smaller bees love a burst of tiny flowers, while large bees, like bumblebees, prefer larger flowers that can support their weight (learn more about different types of bees and beneficial insects with this visual guide).

Here are seven of our favorite bee-friendly plants:

Evolution™ Fiesta Coneflower

Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds all love coneflowers, and the Evolution™ series is no different. These big, bold coneflowers feature bright colors that draw pollinators. Plus, the tidier habit makes them perfect for pots, beds, and borders. Fiesta, shown here, has spicy, vibrant flowers that age to softer shades. Up to 20" tall, 18" wide. Zones 4-9.

Vancouver™ Fragrant
Star Clematis

The light scent of vanilla is as pleasing to our noses as it is to bees, attracting them to the nectar served up in the striking deep-red center of these white, star-shaped blossoms. Twining stems quickly reach 6-8' tall with support. Zones 4-8.

La Barbe Bleue™
Bluebeard

Caryopteris shrubs are a big pollinator favorite and are covered in the friendly buzzing of bees in summer and into fall. This gorgeous exclusive variety features shiny yellow foliage and deep blue flower spikes on a neat, compact habit. Up to 36" tall, 30" wide. Zones 5-9.

Nitty Gritty™
White Rose

Bees love the nectar in these abundant white blooms. These Monrovia exclusive groundcover roses are very durable, own-root, fuss-free roses that look gorgeous with little care. Up to 3' tall, 4' wide. Zones 4-9.

Dark Matter™
Meadow Sage

A beautiful, bold meadow sage with beautifully vivid purple flower spikes loved by pollinators. Tough, easy to grow, drought-resistant, and reblooming. Up to 12" wide, 16" tall. Zones 4-9.

Waxleaf
Privet

An incredibly versatile, fast-growing shrub for warmer regions, with fragrant, white blooms in spring that attract friendly bees. The evergreen, compact habit and glossy foliage make it great for a pollinator-friendly hedge, screen, or windbreak. Up to 10' tall, 6' wide unpruned. Zones 7-11.

First Flush™
Lavender Candytuft

A compact, mounding perennial that has an exceptionally long bloom season, it attracts bees and butterflies from early spring into fall. Light purple flower sprays look lovely in perennial borders, pathway edges, and containers. 8" tall, 12" wide. Zones 5-9.

Sunstar™ Gold
Coreopsis

A stunning Monrovia exclusive with large, red-eyed, molten gold-colored blooms that smother the feathery, mildew-resistant foliage on this easy-care, well-behaved plant, providing a long season of vibrant color and nectar for butterflies and bees. Up to 24" tall, 30" wide. Zones 4-9.

Roseum Elegans
Rhododendron

A vigorous, cold-hardy evergreen shrub with huge trusses of rose-lilac-colored, pollinator-friendly flowers. An outstanding choice for foundation plantings or as an accent specimen. Up to 8' tall and wide. Zones 4-8. 

Goldflame
Spirea

Bees love the masses of flowers on spirea shrubs, and the rosy red flowers of this dense, upright mounded shrub are especially attractive. Bronze-tinged new growth emerges in spring, matures to a soft yellow-green, and then develops into a brilliant coppery orange in fall. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 4-9.

Learn More About Attracting Pollinators 

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