Alyssum saxatile Basket of Gold
Flowers for Beneficial Insects


Flowers that Attract Beneficial Insects
by Diane Linsley

What are the best flowers for attracting beneficial insects to your garden?

Most gardeners are aware of the importance of planting flowers for beneficial insects. Not only are beneficial insects good for your garden, but they are also useful to have around when teaching children about nature. Children are fascinated by beneficial insects - especially the all-time-favorite ladybug.

If you have small children, consider planting only edible flowers in the vegetable garden, so they don't get confused about what's safe to eat. Other flowers can be planted in a border outside the vegetable garden. Be cautious and well-informed before eating any plant or flower. Some people are allergic to certain flowers.

It's usually best to stick with annual flowers inside the vegetable garden, since you'll be rotating your crops every year. It's nice to have a special section for perennial flowers, maybe as part of the herb garden. Some herbs are perennials or biennials, so they need a permanent spot where they won't be disturbed by digging or rototilling. 

Here are some of the best flowers for beneficial insects. You can also plant flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. These garden visitors are good pollinators. And did you know that hummingbirds eat aphids?

Annual Flowers for Beneficial Insects

Alyssum 'Carpet of Snow' (Lobularia maritima) -- Masses of tiny, white flowers that attract beneficial insects like parasitic mini-wasps and hoverflies. Easy to grow from seed. Also see Alyssum 'Royal Carpet'.

Basil -- A popular herb with flowers for beneficial insects and bees. The aromatic foliage may repel tomato hornworms and aphids. For more basil varieties, see Heirloom Herb Seeds.

Calendula -- Orange, apricot or yellow flowers. The petals are edible. Attracts hoverflies and bees. Easy to grow from seed. For more calendulas, see Annual Flower Seeds.

California Poppy -- Native wildflower that blooms in a wide range of colors. Heat and drought tolerant. Attracts bees and hoverflies. For more California poppies, see Annual Flower Seeds.

Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower) -- Colorful flowers for beneficial insects, including bees, ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, and parasitic mini-wasps. Easy to grow from seed. Also see Centaurea cyanus 'Blue Boy'.

Cosmos -- Showy flowers that attract beneficial insects, including lacewings, hoverflies, parasitic mini-wasps, and predatory beetles. Easy to grow from seed. For more cosmos, see Annual Flower Seeds.

Dill -- This herb can be used as a trap crop for aphids. The umbel flowers attract hoverflies, ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic mini-wasps.

Fennel -- A tasty vegetable with umbel flowers that attract ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, parasitic mini-wasps, and predatory beetles.

French Marigold (Tagetes patula) -- Annual flowers for beneficial insects. The roots repel nematodes. Easy to grow from seed. For more marigolds, see Annual Flower Seeds.

Gilia capitata -- Native wildflower with small, round heads of blue flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Easy to grow from seed.

Monarda citriodora (Lemon Beebalm) -- Annual herb with fragrant leaves that can be used in teas. Native to the United States and Mexico. The pink, whorled flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Morning Glory (Ipomoea) -- Large, showy flowers that attract ladybugs and syrphid flies. Grow this vigorous vine on a trellis. For more morning glory, see Annual Flower Seeds.

Nigella 'Miss Jekyll Mix' (Love-in-a-Mist) -- Easy-to-grow, self-sowing annual. The flowers attract bees. Nigella damascena and Nigella sativa seeds are edible.

Snapdragon (Antirrhinum) -- One of the best flowers for bumblebees. For more snapdragons, see Annual Flower Seeds.

Sunflower -- Large flower heads loaded with pollen that attracts beneficial insects and butterflies. A host plant for many butterfly species.

Tithonia 'Torch' -- Large, bushy annual with orange-red, daisy-like flowers that attract hoverflies and minute pirate bugs. Native to Mexico.

Zinnia -- Brightly colored flowers that attract beneficial insects, including bees, hoverflies, ladybugs, and parasitic mini-wasps. Easy to grow from seed. For more zinnias, see Annual Flower Seeds.


Perennial Flowers for Beneficial Insects

Agastache foeniculum (Anise Hyssop) -- Native wildflower. Perennial herb with licorice-flavored leaves that are nice for teas. Spikes of lavender-blue flowers that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. First-year flowering perennial.

Alyssum saxatile 'Basket of Gold' -- The bright yellow flowers bloom in late spring before most other flowers get started, providing an early food source for ladybugs and hoverflies. 

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) -- Native wildflower. Bright orange flowers that attract bumblebees, honeybees and hummingbirds. Host plant for several butterfly species. 

Common Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) -- The flowers attract hoverflies, bees and parasitic mini-wasps. The leaves and flower buds are used in cooking.

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) -- Native wildflower. Used in herbal medicine as an immune stimulant. The flowers attract parasitic min-wasps, praying mantis, and bees. The ripening seed heads attract birds. For more echinacea, see Perennial Flower Seeds.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) -- A traditional herb used to treat migraine headaches. The white, daisy-like flowers attract hoverflies. Self-sows.

Gaillardia aristata -- Native wildflower. Showy, scarlet-red and yellow flowers that attract native bees and butterflies. Easy to grow from seed.

Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum) -- The flowers attract beneficial insects and bees. The leaves have a nice, strong, garlic flavor. Allium species make good companion plants for roses because they repel aphids.

Hesperis matronalis (Dame's Rocket) -- The young leaves are edible. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, which are important pollinators. For the white-flowered form, see Hesperis matronalis 'Alba'.

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) -- Perennial herb with dark, violet-blue flowers for butterflies, bees and bumblebees. The leaves are used in cough remedies.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) -- A good tea herb with lemon-scented leaves. The flowers attract beneficial insects, including hoverflies, tachinid flies, and parasitic mini-wasps.

Linum perenne (Blue Flax) -- Native wildflower. Delicate, sky-blue flowers that attract native bees, honeybees and butterflies.

Parsley -- The umbel flowers attract many beneficial insects such as lacewings, tachinid flies, ladybugs, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps.

Penstemon strictus (Rocky Mountain Penstemon) -- Native perennial. Tall spikes of vivid blue flowers that attract ladybugs, hoverflies, native bees, bumblebees and hummingbirds. For more penstemons, see Perennial Flower Seeds.

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan) -- Native wildflower. Large, golden-yellow, daisy-like flowers for beneficial insects, including lacewings and bees. Also see Rudbeckia subtomentosa.

Solidago nemoralis (Goldenrod) -- One of the best flowers for attracting beneficial insects in late summer to fall. Attracts assassin bugs, big-eyed bugs, bees, ladybugs, lacewings, hoverflies, praying mantis, and parasitic mini-wasps.

Thyme -- English thyme is a kitchen herb. Creeping thyme is a perennial groundcover. The tiny flowers attract hoverflies.

Viola tricolor --  I let violas self-sow wherever they like. They don't disturb the vegetables, and the edible flowers make nice cake decorations. Attracts a variety of small beneficial insects in the cool weather of early spring and autumn when there are few other flowers in the garden.


Related Articles

Flowers for Butterflies -- Attracting butterflies with nectar and host plants.

Flowers for Hummingbirds -- The best flowers for attracting hummingbirds.

Self-Sowing Annuals -- Flowers that reseed and come back every year.


Recommended Resources

Flowers at the Border by Heidi Kratsch -- University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Native flowers that attract beneficial insects and pollinators.

Attracting Native Pollinators by The Xerces Society

Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects by The Xerces Society


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