Butterfly plants for shade


15 Flowering Shrubs For Bees

Bumble bee on manuka bush.

There are many wonderful flowering shrubs for bees. Here are 15 of my favourites – no doubt there will be a few you’d happily add to the list!

This website receives many visitors from around the world – please check a shrub is suitable in your country (and not considered to be an invasive species) before including it in your garden.

Flowering Shrubs For Bees And Other Pollinators – A Few Notes

  • Please try to ensure the shrubs you purchase have been grown without the use of systemic insecticides.
  • Look out for local plant fairs, and opportunities to swap with like-minded gardeners.
  • If you have any bee-friendly plants going spare, why not pass them on to friends, gardening clubs and neighbours?

Now for those shrubs!……

Berberis darwinnii – Darwin’s barberry

The orange flowers of Berberis provide food in spring.

Berberis darwinii is evergreen, and is one of my favourite flowering shrubs for bees, due to the mass of lovely orange flowers appreciated by bees and hoverflies alike, especially in early spring. Early spring is when bumblebee queens are feeding frantically to establish their colonies.

It’s also useful for creating a prickly barrier plant if you are concerned about security.

The flowers are followed by decorative blue berries. I was not sure whether the berries were attractive to birds, until I watched a blackbird snaffling a few – whether the berries are appealing to birds in all countries, I do not know. The leaves are small, and remind me of miniature holly leaves, although they are not so rigid. Sometimes, this shrub will flower again later in the year, although from personal observation, the flowers are not so abundant for the second flush.

Ceanothus – California lilac

Honey bee foraging on California lilac.

Ceanothus is a superb evergreen flowering shrub for bees – honey bees, bumblebees and solitary bees appreciate the lovely blue or blue and pinkish flowers. I like the earlier flowering varieties as again, they provide food for bees when foraging opportunities may be limited. However, if you have space, you can add a selection of different specimens to ensure extended flowering through spring to late summer. I have a page with more detail here.


Honey bee and bumble bee on Cotoneaster horizontalis.

Cotoneasters can be trees or shrubs, and some are evergreen. For a flowering shrub. I especially like Cotoneaster conspicuous ‘Decorus’ for attracting bees. Cotoneaster flowers are followed by berries – often in autumn and winter, when hungry birds are especially grateful for them.

Escallonia – Red claws

Escallonia is a favourite for bees.

Escallonia is available with white flowers as well as deep crimson red. I only have experience of the red varieties, which have lovely deep red flowers from spring through to summer (quite long flowering), and evergreen, glossy leaves.

I have a further page about Escallonia here. Our neighbour has a good sized shrub, and Escallonia features in a number of public planting schemes around the area in which I live. Quite tolerant of a variety of soils as long as they are well drained. Likes sunshine, but I note my neighbour’s shrub is in shade for part of the day. Great as a hedgerow plant.

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Hebe attracts all kinds of bees.

Many flowering hebes are fantastic for bees and other pollinators, including hoverflies and butterflies. This particular shrub pictured above, gets covered in bees and hoverflies (they are very active as I write). The variety may be ‘Charming White’.

Bumble bee on hebe.

Many varieties are available, however offering purple, blue and white flowers – but not all hebes are flowering, so be careful in your selection. A ‘must have’ flowering shrub for pollinators!

Hydrangea paniculata

Bumble bees love Hydrangea paniculata

Some hydrangea offer apparently nothing of value to pollinators in terms of nectar and pollen – they are decorative only. However, there are a few which are loved by pollinators, and Hydrangea paniculata is one of those. I have watched honey bees and bumble bees foraging on ours, and I love the soft clumps of white blooms. A wonderful flowering shrub for bees!

Hypericum – St. John’s Wort

Hypericum flowers provide an abundance of pollen for bees.

Wonderful varieties available, such as Hypericum perforatum. I love this shrub – definitely a favourite! I especially adore the varieties with lots and lots of anthers loaded with pollen, and find it especially amusing when a bumblebee lands clumsily, as if it’s their equivalent of jumping onto a feather bed!

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Just look at all that pollen the bumble bee has gathered on its hind legs! Yes, this flowering shrub provides absolutely loads of pollen for a variety of species of bees!
The flowers are followed by decorative yellow ‘hip’ type capsules for some species, or green or reddish/brownish berries for others. We also have the wild variety in our garden. It pops up here and there, and produces fewer and smaller flowers than the cultivated forms, but the bees visit it nevertheless.

Ligustrum vulgare – Common Privet

Ligustrum vulgare provides food for many types of pollinators.

Privet: Ligustrum vulgare (Common privet) – and also Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’ provide food for a variety of pollinators.

Ligustrum vulgare is sometimes overlooked, but this shrub make a useful addition to the wildlife hedge.

It’s an understated shrub in my view, but the white flowers are visited by bees, hoverflies and butterflies. This bushy flowering shrub is often used as a barrier hedge. It has small dark berries after flowering.
Please note: Ligustrum vulgare is considered an invasive species in some parts of the world, so please check before planting.

Butterflies visit Ligustrum vulgare too.

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Leptospermum scoparium – Manuka Tree or New Zealand Tea Tree

Manuka shrub – Leptospermum scoparium.

Manuka shrub – Leptospermum scoparium, is an absolutely wonderful flowering shrub for bees, and I recommend it heartily. Leptospermum scoparium is evergreen, and is the shrub from which honey bees make Manuka honey. Bumble bees and various solitary bees love it too, and I have noticed that a little later, when the bumble bees and honey bees stop visiting so frequently, the hoverflies arrive. Quite long flowering from Spring.

However, it needs a sheltered spot and plenty of sunshine. We originally had 2 of these – one was in a more exposed position and didn’t survive. The other is against a sunny, warm wall of our house. The pink flowers are lovely, and are surely dripping with nectar as it gets covered in bees!

Pyracantha – Firethorn

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Firethorn – Pyracantha – gets covered in bees, and the gorgeous berries are adored by birds. Thorny, so it’s a good barrier shrub if you are concerned about security. Can tolerate some shade.

Try Pyracantha rogersiana, Pyracantha atalantioides, Pyracantha ‘Golden Charmer’ or Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ – but there are others available, also enjoyed by bees.

Prunus spinosa – Blackthorn, Sloes

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Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) – sloes, provides a good source of nectar and pollen for bumblebees, honey bees, solitary bees, butterflies and moths. Can be a shrub or tree, and is ideal for wildlife garden hedgerows.

White flowers in spring, and very valuable source of food when foraging opportunities are otherwise limited. A good, thorny hedge.

Ribes sanguineum – Flowering Currant

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I especially love ‘Brocklebankii’ which has lovely pink flowers and soft green leaves. If you are wanting to add a feel of ‘softeness’ to your border, this would be a very good choice, along with Spirea japonica (mentioned below).

A wonderful shrub for a cottage garden. The flowers of ‘brocklebankii’ provide food for bees in spring.

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Other varieties to consider are Koja, King Edward VII, Pulborough Scarlet or ‘Tydeman’s White’, which has paler pink flowers, or ‘White Icicle – Ubric’ which is creamy white, and is also attractive for bees.

Rosa – Roses (certain types)

Not all roses are beneficial for bees, but they certainly like wild roses, and Rosa rugosa. Rosa rugosa is simply one of my favourite of all flowering shrubs for bees. The roses are deliciously fragrant, and adored by honey bees, bumble bees and solitary bees of various species.

Bumble bee on wild rose.

I especially love to hear the loud buzz from bumblebees as they ‘buzz pollinate’ to release the ample pollen – i.e. vibrate their flight muscles rapidly against the anthers. The lovely fragrant pink or white flowers are followed by gorgeous fat, decorative rose hips.

If you are concerned about intruders, this is a great flowering shrub to choose, because it’s prickly, but it will need plenty of sunshine.

Spirea japonica

Bumble bees love Spirea japonica.

Various pink flowered varieties are widely available and attractive to bees. We have this shrub (variety – ‘Magic Carpet’ in our front border, and it gets covered in bees and hoverflies of all types for about a couple of weeks or so in mid-summer.

I love the soft appearance of the flowers. I give it a clip in autumn to keep the shrub a moderate size, but do follow the instructions for pruning for the specimen you select.

Viburnum opulus – guelder rose

Guelder rose features lovely red berries through late autumn into winter – these are loved by birds.

A superb flowering shrub for bees, Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus), is perfect for a wildlife garden, as the gorgeous white flowers are enjoyed by bees and hoverflies, and the lovely red berries are an important food source for a variety of finches and thrushes. It quite likes damp but well drained soil. It will tolerate some shade.

Further information: see my page about notes on flowers loved by bees, or may page about why trees and shrubs are so beneficial for bees and pollinators.

Image: Wouter Hagens at en.wikipedia

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Best plants for bees

Gardens are extremely important for bees and other pollinators, and vice versa.


Bees need flowers for sustenance, and flowers need bees for pollination. But it’s important the flowers you grow provide the food bees need. You can also help the wildlife in your garden by creating dead wood habitats, or build a pond for wildlife.

If you want to embark on making your garden as wildlife-friendly as possible, watch this video series with Monty Don on creating a wildlife garden.

Great flowers start with pollination, and for that you need bees. Find out how to get the busiest garden insects to work for you, in our feature.

Bees need flowers for sustenance, and flowers need bees for pollination.

Single flowers

Most double flowers are of little use, as they’re too elaborate. Some are bred without male and female parts, while others have so many petals that bees can’t get to the nectar and pollen. So, single dahlias and other single blooms are popular with many bees, while doubles are usually ignored.

Purple flowers

Bees can see the purple more clearly than any other colour, so grow lots of purple plants, such as lavender, alliums, buddleja and catmint. That said, flowers of other colours will still attract bees, so don’t go pulling them all up! You can prolong the flowering of many plants by deadheading them.

Tubular-shaped flowers

Tubular-shaped flowers such as foxgloves, honeysuckle, penstemons and snapdragons are the favourite feeding places of long-tongued bees such as the garden bumblebee, Bombus hortorum.

Flowers for all seasons

It’s vital you provide flowers throughout the year. Bees are most active from March to September, but overwintering queens and workers may emerge on warm days in winter, too. It’s also a good idea to have at least two nectar- or pollen-rich plants in flower at any one time during this period. The nectar feeds the adult bee, while the pollen is collected to feed the young. You can never have too many!

Try the following to attract more bees into your garden:

Spring flowers

Early-summer flowers


Late-summer flowers

Kate Bradbury says

The perennial wallflower, Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ flowers pretty much every day of the year, particularly in milder regions. It’s a great nectar plant and a good choice for a small, bee-friendly garden.

Bees, Birds & Butterflies

Create a Habitat for Monarch Butterflies

Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. With shifting land management practices, we have lost much milkweed from the landscape.

Please plant milkweed to support monarch populations, and their incredible migration! Planting milkweed is a great way to help other pollinators too, as they provide valuable nectar resources to a diverse suite of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. See back of page for suggested plants.

Bees are Beneficial

You’ve probably heard by now that bees in the U.S. are disappearing. There’s plenty you can do in your own garden to help local bee populations survive and thrive. The following tips will help you create a beautiful garden that is helpful to bees and other beneficial insects.

  1. Create Diversity and Color – Some creatures may be color blind, but not bees. The more color and the wider variety of flowers in your garden, the better. They are particularly fond of blue, purple, yellow, and white flowers.
  2. Use Native Plants – Bees in your area will be most attracted to native plants that they are familiar with, such as Milkweed (Butterfly Weed), Gaillardia, Beebalm (Monarda), Sunflower.
  3. Plant Flowers in Clusters – Larger groupings of flowers (instead of sporadically spaced single plants) attract more bees, although a small garden area or container plantings are beneficial.
  4. Plan for a Succession of Blooms – Plant some flowers that bloom in spring, some in summer, and some in fall. That will provide food for the bees over a long period of the year.
  5. Plant in Sunny Areas – Bees prefers to forage in sunny, protected areas where they won’t be bombarded by wind. Sunny spots produce the most prolific flowers as well.
  6. Put Flowers in the Vegetable Garden – If you intersperse some flowers that bees love with your veggies, it will help increase pollination of your vegetables for a better crop.
  7. Allow Some Vegetables and Herbs to Bolt – Leaving a few vegetables and herbs in the garden in the fall will allow them to flower and provide late season food for bees.
  8. Garden Organically – Use non-toxic forms of pest control. Traditional pesticides may kill beneficial insects like bees and butterflies.

Flowers that Attract Bees:

Basic Needs for Wildlife

The basic needs of bees, birds, and butterflies, are similar to our own needs; food, water, & protection. A wide variety of food will attract the most wildlife, such as flowers for nectar, seeds, berries, and insects. Adding water to your landscape will increase the frequency wildlife will feed and nest in your yard. Birdbaths, fountains, ponds, and even moist soil are all beneficial. Wildlife need protection or cover from the elements and from their predators. This is achieved by having a combination of both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs, along with varying sizes and colors of annuals, herbs, perennials, and grasses.

Posted by Janeen Wright|October 13, 2016

Pollinator friendly perennials are the foundation of a well-rounded pollinator garden. They help increase pollination rates of native bees and honeybees, and their foliage and flowers provide food and shelter for beneficial insects that help keep harmful plant pests under control.

Public interest in plants for pollinators is driving up demand for them. Whether you’re a greenhouse grower-retailer or a wholesale operation, perennials that attract bees, butterflies, and other important pollinators are a good bet for increasing plant sales.


In “Which Annuals And Perennials Are Good For Pollinators?,” Dave Smitley, Professor in the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University, recommends 45 perennials that are sure to attract bees. The list includes:

  • Anise hyssop/Agastache foeniculum
  • Astilbe, false spirea/Astilbe spp.
  • Basil, sweet basil (annual)/Ocimum basilicum
  • Bee balm/Monarda spp.
  • Bellflower/Campanula spp.
  • Betony/Stachys monieri
  • Black-eyed Susan, coneflower/Rudbeckia spp.
  • Blanket flower/Gaillardia
  • Blazing star/Liatris spicata
  • Butterfly bush/Buddleja or Buddleia spp.
  • Butterfly weed/Asclepias tuberosa
  • Catmint/Nepeta spp.
  • Chrysanthemum (open types)/Chrysanthemum
  • Clematis/Clematis spp.
  • Common poppy, red poppy/Papaver rhoeas
  • Common yarrow/Achillea millefolium
  • Coral bells/Heuchera spp.
  • Cornflower/Centaurea spp.
  • Fennel/Foeniculum vulgare
  • Foxglove or beardtongues/Penstemon spp.
  • Garden speedwell/Veronica longifolia
  • Globe thistle/Echinops ritro
  • Hosta/Hosta spp.
  • Hyssop (naturalized in North America)/Hyssopus officinalis
  • Large-leaved aster/Eurybia macrophylla
  • Lavender/Lavandula
  • Lemon balm/Melissa officinalis
  • Lupine/Lupinus spp.
  • Mints/Mentha spp.
  • New England aster/Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
  • Oregano/Origanum vulgare
  • Pentas/Pentas spp.
  • Peony/Paeonia spp.
  • Pincushion flower/Scabiosa caucasica
  • Purple coneflower/Echinacea purpurea
  • Rosemary/Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Russian sage/Perovskia atriplicifolia
  • Salvia/Salvia ‘Victoria Blue,’ S. nemorosa ‘Black and Blue’
  • Sea holly/Eryngium maritimum
  • Sedum/Sedum spp.
  • Stokes aster/Stokesia laevis
  • Sunflower/Helianthus
  • Swamp milkweed/Asclepias incarnata
  • Sweet alyssum/Lobularia maritima
  • Thyme/Thymus spp.

You can find more lists of pollinator plants in the Extension publication: “Protecting and Enhancing Pollinators in Urban Landscapes for the U.S. North Central Region.”

Janeen Wright is Editor for Greenhouse Grower. You can email her at . See all author stories here.

Bee Happy | Bee Friendly Plants for Your Garden

Many bee species populations, including honey bees, have been been declining and you can make a difference in your own garden by planting bee friendly plants.

Copyright: sonnydaez / 123RF Stock Photo

Did you know that bees love to live in urban settings where there are short flight paths to a wide variety of different plants, shrubs and flowers? In fact, bees are more likely to thrive in your backyard, community or patio garden than on vast acres devoted to single crop plantings.

All creatures that eat plants (including humans!) depend on pollinators. Almost three quarters of the foods we eat, fruits, nuts, vegetables, and herbs, need pollinators to reproduce. By attracting the bees, you not only help them, you will triple the yield of fruit and veggies in your bee friendly garden.

Here’s a few of our favourite Bee Friendly Plants to attract and help bees thrive in your backyard garden.

Bee Balm – This aptly named perennial flower is amazing for the bees while still beautiful in the garden, long flowering, full sun 24” high comes in red or pink.
Echinacea – A sturdy pink flowers with interesting cones. Hardy, late summer flowering. Grows 36” high in full sun.
Hyssop – Lovely tall spires of magenta blue flowers, fragrant, mid summer bloomer, Grows 24”-36’ in full sun or part shade.
Foxglove – Tall showy old fashioned flowers that bees love. They come in a wide variety of colurs but most in shades of purple and pinks. Best in part shade. They can grow 36” or taller!


Lilacs – A common favourite! The bees were so enthralled with the lilac shrubs growing over the path to my back door that you couldn’t hear yourself above all the buzzing. Lilacs grow about 8’-10’ tall and wide so give them space and they love full sun.
Honeysuckle – This fast growing wonderful shrub is covered with blooms late spring. Grows 8’-10’ tall in sun or part shade. It comes in yellow, light pink and dark pink
Weigela – Lovely tubular flowers in June and often on and off for the rest of the summer this shrub comes in all kinds of colours and sizes to suit every space.


Bees love herbs and some of their favourites are lemon balm, oregano, mint, sage, thyme, lavender and rosemary.
Obviously this is a small list of bee friendly plants to choose from but if you are interested in making a difference in a bee’s life this summer then drop in to your local garden center …or stop by and see us. We can help!
Even what seems like a small contribution, just a tiny flower pot or patch, with your favourite perennial or herb, can provide a valuable pollinator habitat for the bees. So why not create a welcome place for the bees this summer? After all bees are easy to please!


Bee Friendly Plants For Shaded Areas: Shade Loving Plants For Pollinators

While much attention these days is paid to the important role that pollinators play in the future of our planet, most plants suggested for these hardworking little pollinators need full sun to develop their flowers. So how do you help pollinators do their job if you have mostly shade in your yard? With the right plants, you can attract pollinators to shade and part shade flower beds. Read on to learn more.

Bee Friendly Plants for Shaded Areas

Generally, bees prefer to buzz around plants in full sun, but there are some shade plants that bees love just as well. Honeybees are usually attracted to yellow, white, blue and purple flowers. Native bees, like the mason bee – who actually pollinates more plants than honey bees, are attracted to fruit tree blossoms and native shrubs and perennials.

Some shade tolerant plants for bees are:

  • Jacob’s ladder
  • Bleeding heart
  • Bee balm
  • Coral bells
  • Hosta
  • Columbine
  • Hellebores
  • Penstemon
  • Viola
  • Bellflowers
  • Trollius
  • Trillium
  • Fuchsia
  • Torenia
  • Clethra
  • Itea
  • Mint
  • Lamium
  • Cranesbill
  • Ligularia

Additional Shade Loving Plants for Pollinators

Besides bees, butterflies and moths also pollinate plants. Butterflies are usually attracted to plants with red, orange, pink or yellow flowers. Most butterflies and moths prefer plants with flat tops that they can land on; however, the hummingbird sphinx moth can flutter around small tube flowers to collect nectar and pollen.

Some part shade to shade loving plants for pollinators like butterflies and moths include:

  • Astilbe
  • Fragaria
  • Mint
  • Balloon flower
  • Yarrow
  • Lemon balm
  • Blue star amsonia
  • Jasmine
  • Verbena
  • Honeysuckle
  • Buddleia
  • Clethra
  • Fothergilla
  • Ligularia
  • Hydrangea

Don’t be discouraged by a little shade. You can still do your part to help pollinators. While bees and butterflies need the warm sun in the morning to dry the dew off their wings, they can oftentimes be found seeking the refuge of shade in the hot afternoon. A large variety of blooms, both sun loving and shade loving, can draw a wide variety of pollinators.

Winter doesn’t want to quit!

Feeling like spring will never arrive? Let’s fantasize a little. Let’s think about gardens in bloom. And butterflies. We’ll soon be seeing them. Really!

When you think about a butterfly garden, shade may not be the first attribute that comes to mind. But really, maybe it should be. Or at least it should be one of the first.

Ok, maybe not shade for shade’s sake, but for the food plants that cast it.

When you think about it, many butterflies rely on woody species – trees or shrubs – as food plants for their caterpillars. For example, of the six species of swallowtail butterflies that are possible where I live in New Jersey, four require trees or shrubs as food plants, and one uses a shade tolerant vine. Most of the hairstreaks, many of the azure and brushfoot species, and the Hackberry and Tawny Emperor all require trees or shrubs as their caterpillar food plants.

Hackberry Emperor

Other butterflies have evolved to use shade tolerant herbaceous species like violets, Black Cohosh, and Golden Alexanders as food plants. So a shade garden can be a really valuable asset to the butterflies in the neighborhood.


My husband and I chose our house because we like the natural woods that surround us on two sides, preserved 24 years ago by the developer. Even though we live in a townhouse community at the edge of a small town, the woods give us the illusion of living in the country. We love the trees for their own beauty as it evolves through the seasons. And we love the birds they bring to feast on the fruits and insect protein that are abundant here.

Tufted Titmouse in Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)

Carolina Wren

Somewhat to our surprise, we found we also had butterflies. As we learned more about them, we realized we had some very desirable territory for butterflies, and other critters, too. Finally, I understood when I saw an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail flitting high up in the White Ash or Tuliptrees, that it was a female laying her eggs on their leaves.

Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) blossom

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

The Mourning Cloak may have been drawn here because of the elm trees in the woods behind the house.

Mourning Cloak nectaring at Red Maple (Acer rubrum) blossoms

Why were Spicebush Swallowtails visiting our woodland garden? It’s the food plants, silly; their namesake Spicebush is present here, and so are Sassafras trees, which they are also willing to use.

Spicebush Swallowtail with Purple Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia)

The birds and butterflies have a somewhat mutually beneficial relationship. It’s true that the birds may be interested in eating the butterflies sometime during their lives, but on the plus side, birds keep insect predators of butterflies in check. As a bonus, birds also provide dietary supplements for butterflies that are inclined to dine on mineral sources. The Silver-spotted Skipper pictured here is sipping the nutritious offerings conveniently left by one of the local birds in the form of its droppings.

Silver-spotted Skipper getting minerals from bird droppings

After stoking up, this little butterfly was off, maybe in search of an appropriate place to lay her eggs, like a near-by Black Locust tree.

Red Maple, White Ash, Sassafras, Flowering Dogwood, Blackhaw Viburnum, and a Crab Apple all grow in the common area along side our house. As the trees grew over the years, they shaded out the lawn surrounding them.

Before the shade garden

Moss developed where grass once grew. Chickadees plucked the moss until their beaks were full, gathering the soft lush material to line their nests. This was great!

Chickadee in Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)

So we decided to embrace the shade. It was futile trying to maintain a lawn that disappeared by July every year. We got permission from our homeowners’ association to plant a shade garden under the trees and in place of the lawn that once grew next to them. This was a win for our association, since money would no longer have to be spent fruitlessly reseeding, fertilizing and mowing the lawn, or more accurately, the mud.

Now we have a constantly changing display of blossoms, ferns, sedges, foliage, and fruits. We took advantage of the moss, encouraging it to cover a winding path through the garden. There is always something blooming from about mid-April to the end of November; sometimes longer if the Witch-hazel is especially happy. After that, the fruits offer visual appeal for us, and food for our local residents. The birds love the new habitat, and we have more butterflies than ever, enjoying nectar and other food sources, and looking for a place to start the next generation.

Our wildlife-friendly shade garden

I have my desk facing a second floor window so I can be easily distracted by birds, or watch a female Spicebush Swallowtail pause on a Sassafras leaf to lay an egg, then float down to lay another on the Spicebush that entices her below.

In future episodes, I’ll tell you more about the plants here and the critters we see enjoying them.

Note: This is part one of a 3 part series. For part 2, click here, A Butterfly Garden that Embraces the Shade – Spring. For part 3, click here, Embracing the Shade: Summer and Fall

This article was adapted from one that was published in the Winter 2012 issue of Butterfly Gardener, a publication of the North American Butterfly Association.

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Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Visiting a Zinnia in the Garden

A butterfly garden is no more complicated than any other garden and with a few simple tips you can easily convert a garden area to a butterfly haven or start a new garden from scratch. Butterfly gardens can be as big as you want or as small as a few containers.

My passion for butterflies started out of a container that had parsley (among other plants) planted in it for decoration. We were very surprised to find some pretty little caterpillars all over it one day. That started a deep passion for me and over the next several years I converted all my garden plants to butterfly nectar plants and host plants. I still continue to expand the gardens and/or introduce new butterfly plants.

General Gardening Procedures Apply to Butterfly Gardens As Well

  • Soil preparation is the same as with any garden. Plants vary in their precise needs but in general most plants need healthy soil with a certain amount of organic matter mixed in to grow well. Fortunately, butterflies and native plants go hand-in-hand so you will almost certainly find plants that will grow well in your soil type and are also attractive to butterflies.
  • Since butterfly plants often consist of many native plants, you will find that your fertilizer requirements may be lower. Organic fertilizer is always best but I have had no problem with some use of chemical fertilizer in the soil.
  • Butterflies do not care about the shape of a garden so you can lay out your garden any way you wish: garden plots, foundation plantings, along fences, even containers.
  • Regular garden design applies: plant your taller plants in the back, group plants with complimenting colors if possible and plan to have various flowers in bloom throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Not only is this aesthetically pleasing but your butterflies will appreciate varying heights of flowers and the availability of nectar all through the butterfly season. Also, a variety of different plants/flowers equates to a larger diversity of butterflies.

Tiger Swallowtail
Butterfly Visiting a Butterfly Bush

  • If possible, plan your butterfly garden with some wind shelter. I have butterfly plants all around my house, deck, and yard so some areas are more sheltered than others. It’s never been a big issue for us and unless you live in an area that is consistently windy all summer long, then I wouldn’t let the lack of a windbreak deter you.That being said, shelter is great if you can work it in to your design. Using shrubs such as butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii, a nectar source) or spicebushes (Lindera benzoin, a host plant) as a windbreak would be ideal.

Butterflies love a sunny garden, Usually

Butterflies are cold blooded and must be warm in order to fly. Many butterflies must have temperatures greater than 65F or higher to fly so they use the sun to warm themselves. It is not surprising then that most butterfly nectar plants are sun-loving plants.

When it comes to host plants, there are more varieties that will tolerate some (or a lot) of shade. So, plan your flowering nectar plants for the sunny areas and some of the host plants will fit nicely into your part-shade or shady areas. If you can manage to find at least 6 hours of good sunlight in parts of your yard then that will open your choices of nectar plants (and host plants) considerably.

If, however, you live in a very shady area then all is not lost. There are some varieties of butterflies that actually prefer shady, wooded areas and not-surprisingly, these butterflies do not rely on flower nectar as their main food source. Instead they are more attracted to rotting fruit, dung, tree-sap, etc.

I do not have experience with butterfly gardens in very shaded areas, but if that was what I was working with, I would aim more towards planting the host plants that like shade (Dutchman’s Pipevine, Lindera benzoin), using butterfly fruit feeders rather than relying solely on nectar plants, and trying a few shade-loving nectar plants such as Sweet Joe Pye Weed, Cut-leaf toothwort (Cardamine diphylla), Canada lily (Lilium canadense), and Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa).

Choosing Plants for Your Garden

There are two different categories of plants, host plants and nectar plants, that are important to butterflies. Basically, nectar plants provide the nectar that adult butterflies drink from the flowers while host plants provide the leaves that the caterpillars eat before becoming a chrysalis (from which the adult butterfly emerges). Nectar plants will attract passing-by butterflies while host plants will attract egg-laying female adult butterflies.

Having both creates colonies and larger populations of butterflies that stay around. It fulfills the butterfly life cycle and turns a garden of butterflies into the fun and fascinating place that it can be.

Our companion article about Attracting Butterflies lists some of the top butterfly attracting nectar plants and a few host plants with which to get started. Also please visit our articles about Nectar Plants and Host Plants if you would like some ideas for specific plants that will attract certain butterfly species to your garden.

In making your plant choices, keep in mind that the varieties that are native to your area will perform best in your soil/environment. For example, Milkweed has many different varieties that are suited to different areas of the United States and Monarchs will use a tremendous amount of the available varieties. However, I certainly do not restrict myself to native plants and am always ready to try a new butterfly plant in my garden.

When purchasing your plants try to buy them from smaller garden centers, online wildlife/nature/organic-type nurseries or grow your own from seed. The reason for this is to avoid pesticides. Growing from seed is the safest but many smaller nurseries can tell you whether or not their plants have been treated with pesticides.

I have heard of plants from the big “box stores” killing caterpillars because they are treated with pesticide. I’m guessing the nectar plants may not be treated with pesticides as often as the host plants are simply because the growers of the host plants need to keep the caterpillars off so they have some plants left to sell! So, just be aware that plants from big retailers may be harmful, especially to caterpillars, for a month or more after the purchase.

Group your Plants to Help Butterflies Find your Garden

A butterfly garden is the perfect place to go-all-out with extravagant explosions of color! More is better with butterflies and they like group plantings of the same plant (seeds are cheap if you don’t mind raising plants from seed). For example, if you have a package of Zinnia seeds, don’t spread them in different places around your garden, instead, make a large patch of zinnias. The same holds true for host plants. Groupings of the same plant make it easier for the butterflies to see, smell, and thus find your garden.

Having stated that larger is better, do not be deterred if you only have a small space. Like I mentioned in the beginning, my butterfly passion started with a parsley plant in a container. So, plant with extravagance whether it is large colorful garden plots or a few brilliant containers.

No Pesticides in Butterfly Gardens

Pesticides are designed to kill insects which, of course, include butterflies and caterpillars. Using native plants will help reduce the need for pesticides and outside of that you may just have to accept the occasional pests if you want to keep the garden healthy for your butterflies and caterpillars. My milkweed gets some aphids and milkweed bugs each year but neither slows down the caterpillars from munching it down to bare stems. You may need to explore various non-chemical options if a serious problem erupts

Garden Designs for Butterflies

If you are interested in more information and some actual garden design plans, you may want to invest in a book. There are several on Amazon.com, but one in particular that I am familiar with and personally use often as a reference is Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard by Sally Roth. Out of the books I have come across, this is my favorite. Although I am sure there are other good ones out there, this book also comes highly recommended through customer reviews so if you’re interested, you may want to take a look.

Accessorize your Garden for Greater Butterfly Attraction

There are other items that you can add to your garden to enhance your butterfly environment such as fruit feeders, mud puddles, and basking stones. To read more about these please visit our article about Attracting Butterflies. Butterfly gardening is so much fun and so rewarding. I hope this article is helpful and I wish for you a colorful garden full of flying flowers!

A pollinator-friendly garden can be created in the shade

Pollinators are an important natural resource in Georgia, providing an estimated value of $360 million in pollination services. Agricultural crops and native plants need pollinators to successfully produce fruit and seeds.

Unfortunately, pollinators face a growing number of challenges, like parasites, diseases, habitat loss, weather extremes and misuse of pesticides. Providing flowers is one way to help local pollinators. Thoughts of pollinator habitats conjure up images of wildflower meadows or cottage gardens blooming in the full sunlight.

For homeowners surrounded by shade, pollinator-friendly landscapes can seem unattainable, but they don’t have to be.

Landscapes featuring trees and an abundance of shade can be great resources for pollinators, too. Existing flowering trees, shrubs and shade-tolerant herbaceous plants in shaded landscapes are beneficial resources for pollinators, and they can easily be added to a landscape to provided “trees for the bees.”

Not all trees with eye-catching blooms are beneficial to pollinators but planting a variety of trees can ensure a year-round supply of blooms to help provide nourishment for pollinators.

Eastern redbuds are covered with purplish-pink flowers in the early spring. The handsome white flowers of dogwoods follow about a month later. Tulip poplars grow to be large trees that provide shade to a landscape and feature greenish-yellow flowers in late spring. The white flowers of a catalpa tree brighten yards in the early summer, while crape myrtles and bottlebrush buckeyes provide bursts of color during the heat of summer. Witch hazel trees provide a splash of yellow to complement fall foliage. Some other trees that can be used by pollinators include American plum, red maple, sugar maple, red buckeye, white fringetree, persimmon, American holly, yaupon holly, chastetree and black locust.

Shrubs provide floral resources for pollinators starting with whitish-yellow flowers on paperbush in February, rounding out the year with white, wispy groundsel bush blooms in October. Spring bloomers include painted buckeye, sparkleberry, mayberry and blueberry. Pink abelia, lavender American beautyberry, white buttonbush, and white oakleaf hydrangea flowers can liven up landscapes in the summertime.

Hydrangeas are beautiful shrubs for shady landscapes, but not if your goal is to provide pollinator resources. The dense blooms of the popular mophead hydrangeas (Hortensia cultivars) are a collection of brightly colored modified leaves that mimic flowers. They do not provide pollen or nectar for pollinators. However, delicate lacecap hydrangeas, smooth hydrangeas and panicle hydrangeas are packed with fertile flowers for pollinators to enjoy.

Trillium, begonias, violets, columbine, hostas, bleeding heart, Carolina jessamine, trumpet creeper, bugleweed ajuga, and hardy geranium are all shade-tolerant herbaceous plants that provide bright splashes of color throughout the growing season. Many of these herbaceous plants can be easily found at local garden centers. Take care of the roots of nearby trees and shrubs when planting smaller plants. It can be tempting to cut through roots to get “bedding” plants close to tree trunks, but damaging tree roots can negatively affect the tree’s overall health.

With these tips from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension and a little effort, you can turn your shade-dappled landscape into a pollinator paradise. Add a couple of extra trees, shrubs, and shade-tolerant herbaceous plants to feed native pollinators. Then sit back with a glass of sweet tea and enjoy all of the new visitors from buzzing bumblebees to graceful butterflies flitting around your new pollinator-friendly landscape.

This article is part of UGA Extension’s “Trees for Bees” project aimed at educating adults and children on the benefits of installing plants that attract pollinators.

The loss of flower-rich habitat since the 1930s has taken its toll on our pollinators, but thoughtful planting of a plot even the area of the page that you are reading can make a world of difference to a bee. That may seem a drop in the ocean, but every centimetre planted with the right flowers counts. According to Richard Glassborow of the London Beekeepers’ Association, “Window boxes, planters and pots can collectively contribute to a flower-rich environment.”

Small plants have a massive part to play in this, even in the most inhospitable environment. Pretty little Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) will happily seed into walls and steps; creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) transforms gravel into an oasis for bees and butterflies; and the spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’) can brighten even the darkest corner.

Furthermore, small plants in containers are portable, making them an excellent choice for those of us who live in rented accommodation. Containers of pocket-sized pollinator-magnets brighten doorsteps and concrete plots, and offer tenants the chance to experience the sense of wellbeing associated with gardening. At the end of a tenancy, planters can be moved to a new property to become the neighbourhood’s latest must-visit pollinator cafe.

When selecting plants for butterflies, bees and hoverflies, avoid double flowers and cultivars with little or no pollen or nectar. If in doubt, look out for the RHS Perfect For Pollinators logo. Here’s my selection of the best small plants for pots. They may be Lilliputian in stature, but their value is immense.


Catmint Nepeta nervosa ‘Blue Moon’. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

A balcony on a busy road may not seem the most promising location for flowers, but consider white thrift (Armeria maritima ‘Alba’), which is only 15cm tall. Delicate pompoms of pure, white flowers held atop grassy foliage belie the true nature of this tough little perennial: its cliff-dwelling ancestry makes thrift a superb plant for sunny, urban sites and window boxes.

Diminutive relatives of larger pollinator-magnets are a boon for gardeners with little outdoor space. The catmint Nepeta nervosa ‘Blue Moon’ is 30cm high and 20cm wide, while Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’ is a compact viper’s bugloss that can be grown from seed scattered in a container. Either can be teamed with dainty, pale yellow scabious (Scabiosa columbaria subsp. ochroleuca) and the cascading, fragrant flowers of sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima ‘Snowdrift’) for a light, summery mix.

For a taller, more sumptuous scheme, combine the stately purple spires of Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ with the trailing stems of ornamental oregano, Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’. Hardy annuals can also be sown directly into a container. Try California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii) for a bright and beautiful, pollinator-friendly display. For a slightly larger space, sow honeywort (Cerinthe major), allow it to seed around, and you’ll be rewared by years of flowers for the cost of a packet of seeds.

Come autumn, plant bulbs and corms that flower in late winter: they are inexpensive and portable, yet these plants, barely 15cm high, can be lifesavers for bees in February. Make them a feature in shallow bulb pans or add to containers of perennials. Early crocus (Crocus tommasinianus), early bulbous Iris (Iris reticulata), and Misczenko squill (Scilla mischtschenkoana) bloom in sun or light shade.

After flowering, allow leaves to die down naturally. Perennials will help mask fading foliage – hardy geraniums are especially adept at this. Striped bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum var. striatum), at 15cm tall, is perfect for pots.


Shade from buildings and trees need not be a barrier to planting a container of elegant blooms for bees. Helleborus x hybridus ‘White Lady’ mingling with white common bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa f. alba) and the violet-blue flowers of Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’ will brighten a shady corner, while providing a bee feast from winter until May, after which contrasting foliage will add interest.


The purple-pink blooms of chives are attractive to butterflies and bees. Photograph: RichardChaff/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A potted potager can provide flowers for pollinators and food for our plates, too. Try pink-flowered dwarf runner bean ‘Millionaire’, or shrubby herbs such as oregano and thyme. Harvest herb leaves as required, but allow the plants to flower for pollinators.

For a productive container overflowing with nectar-rich flowers, combine edibles with ornamentals. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are useful in the kitchen, and their purple-pink blooms are attractive to butterflies and bees. Plant them with pollinator-magnet aubrieta, or nestle chives in with oregano, marjoram or thyme for a portable herb garden.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) ‘Little Lady’ is a favourite with bees and butterflies. Underplant with thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Snowdrift’) for a cool combination.

The leaves of the edible herb rock hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis subsp. aristatus) cope well with pollution, making it an excellent addition to urban containers. Its deep blue flowers and dark green foliage associate well with the cream and green foliage and pale flowers of the thyme variety ‘Silver Queen’.

Container care

Planters must have drainage holes, but there is no need to add crocks to the bottom – they do not benefit plants and in fact may even worsen drainage. Instead, plant annuals and vegetables directly into multipurpose compost; for perennials, plant into a loam-based one. Water regularly between April and September, and over the summer regularly apply a feed such as liquid seaweed. However, don’t be too generous when feeding herbs, because it can affect their flavour. Deadhead to help prolong the flowering season and, very importantly, avoid using insecticides on the flowers.

• Visit the RHS or London Beekeepers’ Association for more information about plants for pollinators.

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Shade Loving Plants

These shady characters provide plenty of planting options for those shady spots in the garden. Shade in the garden provides challenges and opportunities and requires a special group of shade tolerant plants to survive and thrive.

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