10 Best plants for Bees and Butterflies

Bees and Butterflies are looking for food, and they will make your garden a regular stopping place if you provide the food they like. Some plants are magnets for bees and butterflies, and if planted, guarantee bees and butterflies will visit your garden. 

You don't need to have a garden, we can grow many of these plants in containers on a windowsill, balcony or small patio. 

These 10 best plants listed here are easy to grow, which means you can plant them, sit back and enjoy nature. It is sad, although inevitable essence of modern living, that we become more urbanised. Houses need to be built, people need homes, and there is less and less habitat for wildlife. Gardens can provide a green corridor, strips of habitat containing food and environments suitable for bees and butterflies.  You can create a wildlife friendly habitat, plant some plants and shrubs described below, and the bees and butterflies will come to you.  I took the videos to show it works.

I started with 10 shrubs and plants, but I keep adding to the list so there are now 12 great plants for pollinators, butterflies and wildlife all listed here. Of course, there are many more plants attractive to bees and butterflies listed these additional pages check out:-

Wildlife friendly garden plants for bees and butterflies 

 Plants for Butterflies 

How to Create a Wild Garden

Help for Bumblebees and planting for Bumblebees

If you are interested in the science behind planting for wildlife,  the scientific information and another top 10 plants for bees.

Spring flowering plants for Bees 

Plants for Bees 

There are ideas here for providing nectar all the year round. Spring and early spring is especially important to bees when the solitary bees are emerging and need nectar. Growing Spring flowering plants attractive to Bees will provide early much needed food.

It is interesting to see, looking at the top 10 plants below, there is a preponderance of blue and mauve flowering plants because bees like blue as this short video shows!

 At the bottom of this page are 6 really short videos to illustrate just how attractive some of these plants are to wildlife. 

The 10 best plants for Bees and Butterflies

Allium cristophii with Bee

1. Alliums and Chives

Bees love all members of the Allium family, which includes chives and onions, both of which flower. 

I love chives, grow a clump of chives and have a clump of bees. Chives are a perennial herb, once planted they will come back reliably year after year.  They also make a lovely ornamental flowers for the front of a border. Chives are a low maintenance plant which prefer a sunny spot but will tolerate a degree of shade, and they are not fussy about soil conditions. In a good growing year, Chives can be cut back once the flowers have faded and they often produce a second flush of flowers. Chives are also suitable to be grown in a container.

Not all Chives are created equal, and one variety which attracts a large amount of pollinators and butterflies is Allium nutans, also known as Siberian Chives. This video shows it all:  a mass of insects all over the chives. These Allium nutans were planted in the kitchen garden of Rudding Park, near Harrogate in Yorkshire. 

On YouTube there is also a slo- mo moment with the bees.  Amazing to see a flight in slow motion, especially as many say by the laws of aviation bees should not be able to fly. 

Onion flower with butterfly
Culinary onion in flower

Even onions are popular

Sometimes onions produce flowers in a process known as bolting, and there is plenty of advice about how to stop this happening. I let nature do its thing as the flowers are attractive, I've even used them as cut flowers, and the bees and butterflies love them.

There is another short video showing the attraction of onions; have a nature moment watching busy bees.

I could write so much about the Allium family, enough to say they a great garden wildlife plant. 

Sedum

Sedum with gatekeeper
Gatekeeper butterfly on Sedum

Sedums are a butterfly magnet and when in flower, a good mature Sedum will attract several butterflies at anyone time.  It is no exaggeration to say on a warm, sunny day there can be up to half a dozen butterflies at any one time.

The Sedum flowers are attractive to butterflies even before they are in full flower. In the image left, the Sedum flowers are still in bud, but it has already attracted the attention of a Gatekeeper butterfly. 

 

All Sedums are easy to grow, the most common are the ruby red ones but equally attractive, are the white varieties, and as shown in the image top left the small low growing Sedums.  By early August I am eagerly waiting for my Sedums to flower so I can watch the bees and butterflies.  I took the video on a warm day in early autumn and you can see the Sedum teeming with pollinators, honeybees and butterflies which look striking on the white Sedums. If you are thinking of planting some, Crocus has a good range including a white variety Hylotelephium spectabile 'Stardust' shown on the video.

Blue Geranium  ibericum
Geranium ibericum

3. Geranium common name Cranesbill

This is one of the Geranium family, common name Cranesbill, G. ibericum is just loved by the bees, not least because bees love blue, and based on good science.  Watch this short relaxing video, close your eyes and slip back to a warm sunny day, birdsong and bees. 

Geraniums are (mostly) herbaceous perennials which die back over winter and return with fresh new growth each spring. Geraniums are easy to grow and require no maintenance, and will form a good-sized clump in a short space of time.

There are a number of Geraniums in the group, all easy to grow, the blue and purple varieties are best for the bees. 

4. cerinthe major

This plant is unusual, not so commonly grown, but another bee magnet. In 2020 because of all the restrictions, it was impossible to buy plants or seeds. Having grown a few in 2020, I have saved the seed for germination in 2021.

Cerinthe major can be grown from seed in the spring and is (usually) an annual, with grey blue foliage,  and purple flowers which hang down and are much loved by bees. It will self seed itself in many gardens but is only hardy to H3. 

If you are planting for bees,  it is a magnet, and an easy to grow annual from which you can save seed and grow each year, for free.

cerinthe major
cerinthe major

5. Buddleia common name Butterfly Bush

No list would be complete without including a Buddleia as the" Butterfly Bush", and it is not an exaggeration, as does attract many butterflies and pollinators. The flowers are aromatic and if planted in a warm sunny spot,  the shrub will be covered with butterflies feeding on it.

Buddleia is easy to grow but some varieties can get large  (although growers have been breeding patio sized varieties) it's best to check the label carefully. A  popular variety widely sold,  B. davedii, which can grow up to 5 meters. This means it needs a fair amount of space in the border. The Buddleia group has many varieties and you are sure to find one suitable for your garden and you can select a patio sized variety which would be suitable for growing in a container and a balcony.

Buddleia (especially davedii,) can be an invasive self seeder, prune the flower heads as soon as they have bloomed to prevent the shrub seeding.

Purple Buddleja davidii  with  Peacock butterfly
Buddleja davidii
russian sage Perovskia atriplicifolia soft blue flowers attractive to bees
Perovskia atriplicifolia

6. Perovskia common name Russian Sage

We all know that Lavender and Nepeta attract bees, but this is Perovskia atriplicifolia, common name Russian Sage, although there is nothing Russian about it. It is an easy to grow herbaceous perennial which has silver, aromatic leaves and lovely spikes of blue flowers which the bees flock to. Russian Sage, in common with all Sages, likes dry growing conditions and a sunny spot, and will reward with a cloud of blue and bees. Although not clear from this image, there were masses of bees on the blue flowers of the Perovskia. It looks very good when planted alongside a blue-painted exterior/fence.

7. Monarda common name Bee Balm

Monarda is another great bee magnet. I have seen swathes of Monarda growing in RHS gardens with so many bees you could not count them.  There is a clear hint in the name, as Monarda's common name is bee Balm. 

Monarda will grow in some shade, although it flowers best when planted in full sun and a good well-drained spot. Monarda is easy to grow, a herbaceous perennial returning each year if the growing conditions are right. It dislikes winter wet. Monarda forms large clumps as it matures, which means it is not ideal for container growing.

monarda
Monarda 'Squaw'
Cotoneaster
 Cotoneaster franchetii,

8. Cotoneaster

When planting for Bees and Butterflies, it is easy to concentrate on plants and overlook shrubs which are often easier to maintain and many, such as the Cotoneaster,  have all year round interest. This simple shrub has everything going for it. The small white flowers which appear in the spring are loved by bees, the bush hums with activity. In autumn it is covered by bright red berries which the blackbirds love. 

There are over 200 species of Cotoneaster in the genus, evergreen and deciduous, ranging in size from ground cover to a medium-sized tree. Illustrated is Cotoneaster franchetii, evergreen or semi-evergreen it grows to around  2.-2.5m with an upright habit. 

There is a warning with Cotoneasters.  Some varieties are listed in Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it a criminal offence to allow that species to escape into the wild. This means taking care to select a suitable variety and you can check schedule 9 here to ensure you buy a variety which is not so invasive. 

9. Herb Oregano

Illustrated is the herb Oregano with a Peacock butterfly. Oregano is an aromatic herb plant, very attractive to butterflies and pollinators.

It is a perennial which keeps its woody stems all winter and needs to be cut back in the spring, allowing the new growth to come through. Oregano is tough, tolerant of most conditions, and fully hardy. It tends to sprawl in the border, and can be checked by the Chelsea Chop. I have also seen it used to good effect where several plants are together made into topiary clipped into ball shapes, (see below).  This variety is Origanum vulgare, and its only drawback is the extent to which is self seeds. Oregano can be grown in a container and is suitable for growing on a balcony.

herb oregano
Oregano vulgare
Clipped Oregano as topiary

If you think that Oregano looks too "cottagey" for your garden but would like to attract pollinators, check out this image taken at Beningbrough Hall. The Oregano has been clipped into topiary shapes. To make room for the pollinators, the Oregano would have to flower, which means clipping the topiary shapes early in the year around the Chelsea chop time and then at some point the plant would become less manicured when it flowered.  

Common garden and culinary varieties flower in white or purple.

lavendar

10. Lavender

When considering the best plants for bees, Lavender has to come into the mix. The lovely aromatic flowers and leaves are always attractive to the bees. Lavender is particular about its growing conditions. It is a Mediterranean type plant, and it likes a sunny spot with dry, well-drained soil. 

If your garden is colder, or with heavy clay soil prone to water logging in the winter, Lavender will not tolerate these conditions and the better option is to grow lavender in containers or substitute Nepeta which will attract its fair share of pollinators, (and, unfortunately, cats!)  Both would be suitable for growing on a balcony.

Persicaria amplexicaulis
Persicaria amplexicaulis

11. Persicaria amplexicaulis

Many of our favourite bee friendly plants need full sun, so here is a welcome exception. Persicaria amplexicaulis will grow in semishade and in moisture retentive, damp or even boggy soil.

It is loved by honeybees and pollinators as the video below shows. It is a fairly vigorous perennial, which makes drop its leaves in winter in cold areas, although it is very hardy classified as H7. It makes a dense clump of ground cover and flowers for a long time through midsummer to early autumn. 

English ivy with bees in November
English Ivy with bees in November

12. English Ivy

Hedera Helix, the native English Ivy, when mature, produces flowers and berries which support a wide range of wildlife, particularly late in the year before hibernation. The nectar and pollen are food for insects including bees, hoverflies and wasps, the berries have high fat content and loved by birds, and the plant itself provides shelter for insects and small mammals.

Very good value for money in terms of providing for wildlife. 

Updated 15.01.2021