Bees, Butterflies & Beneficials: Plant a Friendly Garden!

how to create habitat for "good bugs"

When you plan your garden, who do you have in mind? Usually we’re thinking about what we like to eat and what we like to smell, but what about all those other creatures that share our garden? I’m not talking about the unwanted visitors - the deer, groundhogs, rabbits, and neighborhood cats - but the visitors we’d like to encourage - bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects. They help us with pollination and help to keep a healthy balance of “good” and “bad” bugs, and we can provide them with much-needed habitat. By carefully selecting a few appropriate flowering plants, particularly some native plants, you can turn your garden into a sanctuary for these welcome insects.


We all love the honeybee for obvious reasons, but there are also many kinds of native bees that are crucial for pollination. All kinds of bees can use our help right now. We salute our local beekeepers who are doing their best to nurture bees in spite of all the challenges. Our favorite example is Mockingbird Meadows, a biodynamic farm and bee sanctuary in Marysville, and a great resource for anyone interested in sustainable beekeeping.

Bees are on the search for two food sources from flowering plants: nectar (an energy source) and pollen (which provides proteins and fats). You can have your own mini bee sanctuary by doing the following:

• Plant color & diversity - Bees love blue, purple, yellow, and white flowers, and different species are adapted to feed from different flowers.
• Arrange flowers in large clusters, with about four feet of a single species (rather than single plants here and there)
• Plan for various flowers that bloom in succession, spring, summer, and fall
• Garden organically!

Plants that Attract Bees:

Agastache, Basil, Bee Balm (Monarda), Bee’s Friend, Blackberry, Borage, Butterfly Weed, Catnip, Chives, Coneflower, Cosmos, Crabapple, Cucumbers, Dill, Echinacea, Flax, Lavender, Lavender Hyssop, Lemon Balm, Lupine, Melons, Mint, Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa), Raspberry, Rosemary, Salvia, Squash, Sunflowers, Thyme, Zinnia


In even a small sunny space, you can create a welcome habitat for butterflies by providing the following:

• Food (nectar plants) - Plant flowers in large diverse groups that vary by color, season of bloom, height, and flower structure.
• Cover - Shelter your garden from the wind, and provide cover such as shrubs and log piles. Butterflies also like some open, sunny spaces for sunbathing.
• Water - Create permanent water puddles by burying a bucket or lid filled with equal ratios of sand and soil, saturated regularly with water.
• Larval plants - Butterfly larvae feed on other species of plants, varying widely according to species, but including milkweed, spicebush, black cherry, and nettles.

Plants that Attract Butterflies:

Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) - painted lady, cabbage, milbert’s tortoise shell, mourning cloak, eastern tiger swallowtail, hummingbirds
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) - whites, sulphurs, brushfoots, skippers, blues
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) - monarch, red admiral, swallowtails, skippers, larvae, hummingbirds
Greater Coreopsis (Coreopsis major) - eastern tailed blue, spring azure, pearl crescent, viceroy, red admiral, hummingbirds
Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) - monarch, painted lady, checkerspots (also edible for humans!)
Ox Eye Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) - atlantis fritillary, European skipper, early haristreak
Pinchushion Flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea)
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) - tiger swallowtail, viceroy, great spangled fritillary, whites, hairstreaks, blues, skippers
Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) - painted lady, cabbage, milber’s tortoise shell, hummingbirds
Yarrow (Achillia species) - coppers, hairstreaks, skippers, sulphurs

And keep these common “weeds” around:
Goldenrod (Solidago) - sulphurs, whites, coppers, monarch, hairstreaks, viceory, painted lady
Ironweed (Vernonia noveborancensis) - tiger swallowtail, monarch, great spangled fritillary, silver-spotted skipper, spicebush swallowtail

Although some lovely and familiar exotic plants attract butterflies - such as Queen Anne’s Lace, Butterfly Bush, Lantana, and others - OSU Extension warns against planting these exotic plants as they can interact negatively with wildlife and compete with native plants.


It’s a jungle out there! Diverse gardens are complex ecosystems with a food chain all their own. Most of us are familiar with the “bad bugs” that wreak havoc on our crops, fewer of us are acquainted with the “good bugs” that can help us to keep a healthy balance in the garden. Even organic pesticides can harm the insects we’d like to keep around, so be careful when you apply anything to your garden to control a pest problem. Instead, you can proactively plant a number of plants that will attract beneficial insects or “beneficials” to your garden.

Steps you can take:
• Mix flowers in the vegetable garden. This will attract pollinators and improve the pollination of your vegetable crops.
• Sometimes it’s as easy as letting a plant go to seed. Don’t pull out plants such as dill and cilantro as soon as they bolt - they both attract beneficial wasps with their clusters of tiny flowers.
• Dedicate 5 to 10% of your garden to plants that attract beneficials, and try to have something blooming throughout the season.

Some insects you want to get to know include:

Lacewings - Their larvae are known as aphid lions, with good reason. For a period of 15 to 20 days, a larva will eat 100 or more insects a day, including aphids, mealybugs, thrips, and mites.

Lady beetles - The larvae look like tiny black and orange alligators, and, along with the adults, feed on aphids, thrips whiteflies, spider mites, and other soft-bodies pests.

Wasps - There are many species of beneficial wasps, including both predators and parasites. Some parasitic (braconid) wasps actually lay their eggs in the bodies of other insects, such as aphids and caterpillars. When the eggs hatch, they feed on their host’s body fluid. If you ever stumble across a tomato hornworm covered with little fuzzy white appendages, let it be! Its days are numbered, and soon many more beneficial wasps will hatch out. Similarly, if you have an outbreak of aphids, and you can identify that some have been parasitized (“mummies”), the wasps might really knock back the aphid population while you just sit back and watch.

Plants that Attract beneficials:
(Remember, you must let them reach their flowering stage!)

Aster, Buckwheat, Cilantro (Coriander), Cosmos, Dill, English Lavender, Fennel, Mints, Parsley, Rattlesnake Master, Speedwell, Stonecrops, Sweet Alyssum, Wild Bergamot, Yarrow