Best Plants to Attract Bees and Butterflies
As pollinators, bees, butterflies and insects play an essential role in our gardens. They fertilise plants by transferring pollen from one flower to another, so that the plant starts forming fruits and seeds. Bees are therefore essential for the healthy growth of fruit and veg plants in particular, but for a wide range of plants as well.
One of the simplest ways to attract bees, butterflies and insects to your garden is by growing flowers rich in pollen and nectar – perennial plants are great, but don’t discount flowering annuals and bedding plants. Watching bees and butterflies bustle around the garden can also be a soothing and relaxing experience for many.
To help you to create a perfect pollinator-friendly garden I have selected some of my favourite summer plants, which can be grown in any garden, regardless of size:
Perfect for any bee-friendly garden, lavender contains both pollen and nectar to attract bees while also providing a magnificent fragrance. Lavender blossoms and flowers continuously from midsummer onwards.
Lavender will thrive in poor, dry soils in a sunny spot. Traditional hardy varieties, such as English lavender, are guaranteed to survive a usual Irish winter. Two well-known cultivars are Hidcote and Munstead but look out for the new introduction, Essence Purple. This variety forms a perfect rounded ball shape of uniform, dense green, aromatic foliage which will keep its shape all season.
Salvias, or Sage as they are also known, are very attractive to butterflies and all types of honey and native bees. There are both annual and perennial varieties of salvia, ranging in colour from a beautiful blue-purple to a bright red. They are generally well adapted to our Irish climate and grow in a wide range of soils including clay.
Buddleia is one of the most popular summer flowering shrubs and for very good reason. It is a fast-growing, low-maintenance shrub that blooms late in the summer. Its masses of showy flowers add colour to the garden when the flowering season of most bushes has ended. Commonly called the butterfly bush, they are irresistible to butterflies and other pollinators. Butterfly bush is easy to grow and tolerates poor soil conditions. It requires almost no maintenance, other than an annual hard pruning.
Catmint is not just a favourite of the feline species, it is also beloved by bees. It’s a perennial that dies back in winter to ground level, to then spring up again as the lighter evenings arrive in mid-summer.
There are dozens of varieties, but Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ is a popular choice with large blooms of purple flowers. It is a great plant for pollinators and a beautiful garden plant in its own right
In late summer months, tall sedum (sedum spectabile) begins to bloom, attracting a plethora of pollinators to its flowers. The nectar-rich flowers are borne on large, flat flower heads, which allow for the alighting of insects looking for a snack.
A succulent herbaceous perennial, sedums are forgiving, easy plants to grow and look lovely in groups at the front of a border.
This tall perennial, with its clusters of tiny, highly scented, purple flowers, attracts a vast number and variety of insects. Hoverflies, honeybees and bumblebees, butterflies and even dragonflies enjoy its nectar-rich blooms.
You can grow verbena bonariensis in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Given the right conditions, plants will self-seed freely. It is ideal for adding height without density, and it makes an excellent filler in the border.
Some other honourable mentions that can help you create the perfect pollinator garden are Foxglove, Echinacea, Aster and Marigolds. Shrubs such as pyracantha, berberis and willow or rowan trees are very beneficial and can be an abundant source of food for pollinating insects.
Top tips for growing a pollinator-friendly garden
- Go native – Include plants that are native to your area. This will give you the greatest success as plants will be adapted to your soil and climate conditions and will be magnets for wild bees and other native pollinators.
- Avoid chemicals and pesticides – All gardens have some pests, but deter them in ways that will not harm the food that you are growing or the beneficial insects! If you must use a chemical, go with the most targeted and least toxic approach to control the pest.
- Embrace the wild and mix it up – Wildflowers and a messy un-manicured area can benefit any pollinator garden, long grass is perfect for wild bumblebee nests, while wildflowers like dandelions, clover, buttercup and primroses, are also valuable sources of food for pollinating insects. Diversity in plants and different flowering times will provide a constant food source throughout the year.
Create a buzz in your garden this summer in more ways than one! Check out my short video here.
Author: Eamonn Wall (Arboretum Head of Horticulture)
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