Planting for Pollinators

Bring beneficial birds, bees and butterflies to your garden by growing plants and flowers they love.
Tiger swallowtail butterflies feed on the nectar of many wild and cultivated flowers. They're often found in parks and deciduous woodlands.

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Tiger swallowtail butterflies feed on the nectar of many wild and cultivated flowers. They're often found in parks and deciduous woodlands.

Photo by: Photo by Lynn Coulter

Photo by Lynn Coulter

Tiger swallowtail butterflies feed on the nectar of many wild and cultivated flowers. They're often found in parks and deciduous woodlands.

Wonder where the wild things are? Scientists say Monarch butterflies are disappearing, along with honeybees and many other bee species, and cite everything from severe weather to loss of habitat to disease as contributing factors.

Pollinators like birds, bees and butterflies are vital to our food supply, but they also add incredible beauty to the world. We can’t solve their problems overnight, but we can help them by growing plants they need for food and shelter.

Native plants and wildflowers are great choices for pollinators. It’s best to include a mix of flowers, vines, grasses, trees, shrubs and bulbs. Use annuals and perennials for successive waves of blooms and seeds; this will help keep your wildlife buffet open throughout the growing season.

How to Attract Butterflies

Butterflies prefer orange, red, yellow, pink or purple and they’re drawn to flowers with flattened tops or to tubular-shaped flower clusters. It’s best to grow your flowers in masses to help butterflies find them more easily.

Successful butterfly gardens should offer host plants for butterfly larvae (caterpillars) as well as nectar-producing plants for the adults. Leave a weedy patch or two in your landscape, if possible—Monarch caterpillars feed only on milkweed plants, while others munch on clover, thistle, leaves or grasses.

If you’re concerned about caterpillars eating holes in your ornamental or edible plants, try growing extras, and try not to stress over ragged-looking foliage. Tattered leaves are a small sacrifice to make for the colorful, fascinating butterflies they become. And remember: Never use chemicals on plants that pollinators visit. You don’t want to harm or kill the guests you've invited to dine.

How to Attract Bees

Bees are drawn more to single blossoms than doubled types, and seem to prefer blues, purples and yellows. Avoid keeping your garden too neat; like other pollinators, bees like areas that are natural, overgrown and even weedy. As with butterflies, grow plants for bees that will bloom in succession, so there’s a steady supply of food (nectar and pollen). Native species and wildflowers are ideal choices for a bee garden.

How to Attract Birds

Bird watchers don’t need to be encouraged to plant bird-friendly gardens. They already know how much pleasure these winged visitors provide, with their beauty, movement and songs—not to mention how much fun it is to watch birds build nests, raise their young and teach them to fly.

Birds can also be valuable pollinators, carrying pollen on their heads and wings as they move around the garden. Grow plants that produce seeds, nuts and fruits to attract birds to your garden, and don’t be too quick to deadhead all your flowers. Allow some to set seeds, at least by autumn, so the birds will have plenty to eat as the cold weather arrives and other food sources decrease. Orioles and hummingbirds will visit flowers that produce nectar; they prefer tubular pink, red or orange blooms. Tanagers, some warblers, mockingbirds and grosbeaks may also drink nectar.

For best results, grow plants in “layers,” using tall trees or plants, then medium-sized plants, and finally a layer of short plants. Drifts of leaves underneath tress and shrubs will offer worms and other insects for birds to eat. Use hedges, thorny shrubs or patches of brambles to give birds safe places to escape from predators and build nests. 

Extras That Encourage Pollinators

  • A bird bath, kept clean and filled with fresh water.
  • Feeders stocked with a good quality seed mix and/or sunflower seeds.
  • A few flat rocks in a sunny spot, so butterflies can bask. 
  • White or pale yellow flowers; night-bloomers like moonflowers; and flowers with rich perfumes, for nocturnal moths.

Next Up

Where to Buy Vegetable Plants Online

It's perfectly acceptable to grow many veggies and herbs from transplants instead of seed, and you can even order some online.

Grow an Olive Tree

Grow an olive tree indoors and let it take summer vacations outdoors. If your climate is warm, you can even plant it in your garden.

When Are Peonies in Season?

Discover the nuances of peony season, from bloom time to planting time.

Companion Planting for Tomatoes

Learn what companion plants to grow alongside your tomatoes to improve tomato plants' health and boost your harvest.

Planting and Growing Yarrow

Learn what you need to know about growing yarrow.

Japanese Maples: A Guide to Planting and Care

Delicate beauty and vibrant colors make the Japanese maple a coveted choice for landscaping or for containers.

Begonias: How to Plant, Grow and Care for Begonias

Discover some begonia varieties to try in your home and garden and find out how to make sure they thrive with our begonia care tips.

Companion Planting for Onions

Onions are easy to grow and so ueful in the kitchen. Learn what other vegetables and herbs grow well with onions in the garden.

Companion Planting for Eggplant

One of the most beautiful vegetable garden plants, eggplant can be plagued by pests like flea beetles. Try companion planting techniques to protect your eggplant crop.

Companion Planting for Okra

Boost your okra harvest by planting with companion plants, plus learn about creative ways to use okra in the garden.

Go Shopping

Spruce up your outdoor space with products handpicked by HGTV editors.

On TV

Luxe for Less

12pm | 11c

Home Town

1pm | 12c

Home Town

2pm | 1c

Home Town

3pm | 2c

Home Town

4pm | 3c

Home Town

5pm | 4c

Home Town

6pm | 5c

Home Town

7pm | 6c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Home Town

8pm | 7c

Home Town

10pm | 9c

Home Town

11pm | 10c

Home Town

12am | 11c

Home Town

2am | 1c

Home Town

3am | 2c

Home Town

4am | 3c

Home Town

5am | 4c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.