Tag Archives: pollinator garden

10 Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects to Your Garden

Many insects play vital roles in helping our gardens grow. Flies, bees, butterflies, and moths pollinate crops while spiders, beetles, mantids, parasitoid wasps, lacewings, and other predators feed on pests. On the soil level, worms, millipedes, and other decomposers help turn organic matter into usable nutrients for your plants.

Attracting some of these insects to your garden can reduce pest pressure, help build healthy soil, and improve yields. Here are ten plants you can grow this season to help attract some of these important insects to your garden:

Buckwheat

Buckwheat

This tasty grain and fantastic green manure crop is also excellent for attracting pollinators and parasitoid wasps. It grows quickly, and both wasps and bees love the flowers! Sowing a patch and have it buzzing with activity when flowers appear in as little as six weeks!

Dara

Dara

This delicate flower is closely related to Queen Anne’s Lace but isn’t as aggressive in the garden. The flower clusters in pink, dark purple, and white attract various pollinators, including tachinid flies that parasitize squash bugs.

Creeping Thyme

Creeping Thyme

Slow-growing at first, Creeping Thyme will eventually form dense mats. This thick ground cover provides excellent shelter and shade for predatory beetles as well as decomposers like millipedes.

Bronze Fennel

Fennel

Fennel has beautiful delicate flowers that attract tiny wasps and other pollinators. Its leaves are also a food source for some swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Mint

Mint

Like thyme, mint is a great way to create dense shady areas of foliage that are multi-purpose. You can harvest mint for tea and culinary uses while it provides habitat for decomposers and predatory beetles. The flowers are a favorite with bees.

We’re currently out of stock of mint seed, but you may be able to get a start from a friend. Alternatively, other plants in the mint family that work well include lemon balm or anise-hyssop.

Sweet Alyssum

Sweet Alyssum

Sweet Alyssum forms low, spreading mounds with fragrant, tiny white flowers that are excellent for attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. It’s long-blooming, especially when spent blooms are cut back. It also provides shade and shelter for ground-dwelling beneficial insects.

Echinacea

Echinacea

This native flower can help you attract a variety of butterflies and bees to your garden. It’s also drought-tolerant and medicinal.

Dill

Dill

Like fennel and Dara, dill’s tiny flowers are attractive to many small beneficial insects, including parasitoid wasps, flies, and bees. It will do double-duty when it’s time to make pickles!

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia

Sometimes known as Black-eyed Susan, it has composite flowers which will attract bees, hoverflies, parasitoid wasps, and robber flies. It’s also a great low-maintenance planting for an untended space. Rudbeckia self-sows and naturalizes aggressively.

Zinnias

Zinnias

These are the workhorse of any flower garden. Zinnias are easy to grow and will bloom all summer, especially if you keep up with deadheading. They’re excellent for attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Bonus: Welcome-to-the-Garden Pollinator Collection

Support pollinators all season with this special collection of 13 old-fashioned single-blossomed heirloom, open-pollinated flowers and herbs. It includes calendula, echinacea, cosmos, sweet alyssum, bachelor’s button, cleome, sunflowers, rudbeckia, beebalm, phlox, and zinnia.

We give 30% of your purchase of this mix to the Piedmont Environmental Council for their “Buy Fresh Buy Local” Food Guide.

Additional Tips

  • Avoid using pesticides. Even organic pesticides can negatively impact beneficial insects the same way that they’re intended to harm pests. Opt for integrated pest management instead.
  • Let things get a little messy and provide natural, wild habitat whenever possible. Let part of your lawn grown, leave standing dead plant material, don’t get rid of autumn leaves, and let trees and shrubby areas grow. 
  • Build an insect hotel! You can find instructions here.

5 Butterflies Found in the Mid-Atlantic & What to Plant for Them

By now many have heard about and understand the plight of the Monarch butterfly. Over the last few decades, their numbers have been steadily declining as they face food and habitat loss as well as pesticide exposure. Though they’re certainly a deserving and beloved species (plant milkweed!), Monarchs aren’t the only insect or even butterfly that’s struggling. Here are five slightly lesser known butterflies found in the Mid-Atlantic and what you can plant this year to help them.

Photograph of an American Copper from Mass Audubon

American Copper Lycaena phlaeas americana

The American Copper’s is a fairly common butterfly though anecdotally it is seen less frequently today than in the past. These butterflies are orange and grey with black spots.

American Copper caterpillars preferred larval host plant (the plant where a butterfly lays eggs and is eaten by caterpillars) is Sheep Sorrel though it will use curly dock. Leaving sheep sorrel and curly dock available is important for their survival. As adults American Copper butterflies will feed on a wide variety of available flowers.   

Photograph of a Black Swallowtail from Mass Audubon

Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes

Commonly mistaken for other swallowtails this mostly black butterfly can be distinguished from other species by the black center on the orange spot on the inside corner of their hindwing. 

If you love the black swallowtail you may have to be willing to share a few of your crops. Black Swallowtail caterpillars will feed on carrots, dill, fennel, and parsley. As adults black swallowtails will feed on a variety of flowers. Like many other butterflies, they are particularly attracted to species such as milkweed, thistle, and clovers.

Photograph of a Common Sootywing from Mass Audubon

Common Sootywing Pholisora catullus

This butterfly can be identified by its glossy black (sometimes dark brown) appearance and the double rows of white dots prominent on the outer margins of the upper forewings. 

The Sootywing’s favorite host plants are lambsquarters, amaranth, and cockscomb (celosia). Adding some of these to your garden or in the case of lambs quarters simply letting them grow can help this butterfly thrive in your yard. Adult Common Sootywings can be found feeding on dogbane, common milkweed, purple loosestrife, and wild indigo. 

Photograph of a Long-tailed Skipper from Mass Audubon

Long-tailed Skipper Urbanus proteus

The Long-tailed Skipper gets its name from the long tails on its hindwings. It can also be identified by its iridescent blue-green head, thorax, and basal areas of both wings. 

This species of caterpillars feed on legumes, including cultivated varieties. Legumes include all sorts of beans and peas, alfalfa, clovers, and wisteria. Many of these species also happen to be really easy to grow. In their butterfly stage, they will feed on a variety of flowers. 

Photograph of an Orange Sulfur from Mass Audubon

Orange Sulfur Colias eurytheme

The Orange Sulfur can be identified by yellow-orange to darker orange upper wing surfaces.

Like the Long-tailed Skipper, Orange Sulfur Caterpillars feed on legumes. However, Orange Sulfurs have a strong preference for alfalfa earning them their nickname the alfalfa butterfly. As adults, they aren’t selective about which type of flowers they feed on.

Additional Tips

A few great flowers for many butterflies include:

The most important consideration with flowers is providing blooms throughout the season. Plant successions and choose flowers with a variety of bloom times from early to late. Choosing native plant varieties can also help butterflies succeed.  Check out our Welcome-to-the-Garden Pollinator Collection.

Avoid the use of pesticides whenever possible. Even certified organic pesticides can affect more than the targeted species. Especially if you live in a dry area consider adding a water feature for butterflies and other pollinators to drink from. 

These are just a small fraction of the Mid-Atlantic’s native butterflies. If you’d like to help butterflies and other pollinators consider some of these tips as your planning and working in your garden this season.