Growing Wildflowers for Bees and Butterflies

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Growing wildflowers

Spring has sprung and already I’m seeing many more butterflies and bees than were about even last week. They’re wonderful insects, especially loved by us gardeners for the incredible work they do pollinating our crops. So let’s show them some love – by growing more wildflowers!

Wildflower Power

Flowers attract all kinds of beneficial insects – not just bees and butterflies but also predatory insects such as hoverflies and ladybugs. Together they help to boost harvests and keep common pests like aphids under control.

Flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen offer the most food for these insects. Wildflowers are best because they usually have simple, single flowers that are easier for flying insects to access. And it figures that native bugs will be more familiar with native wildflowers.

Match your wildflowers to your growing conditions for best results

Grow What Thrives

Your local climate and soil will determine what you can grow. Some wildflowers, for example yarrow, knapweed and ox-eye daisy cope very well with sandy, free-draining soils that are prone to drought. Others like primrose, cowslip and buttercup are better suited to heavy clay soils.

Take time to research which wildflowers are native to your region then check their suitability to the conditions found in your garden to make sure your preferred wildflowers will thrive there.

Aim to have plenty in flower at all times of year

Plan for Flowers Year-Round

Plan to have flowers throughout the year if you want beneficial insects to set up a permanent home in your garden. Shrubs such as witch hazel flower from late winter, and let’s not forget the plethora of bulbs – snowdrops and crocuses, followed by daffodils, fritillaries and tulips. Native bulbs will naturally spread over time to become a permanent and very welcome feature of your garden.

At the other end of the season, examples of fall flowers include sedums, ivy and colchicum (also known as autumn crocus).

Our Garden Planner includes a helpful selection of flowers, including several wildflowers, that are perfect for growing within a fruit and vegetable garden. Click the ‘i’ Information button next to the plant in the selection bar for details of their cultivation and suitability as companion plants to popular crops. Drop them into your plan, and see how easy it is to incorporate flowers among your edible plants.

Alternatively, select one or more vegetables in your plan and click the heart-shaped Companion Planting button to see plants that are beneficial to grow together.

Some flowers will self-seed so you only need to plant them once

Choose Self-Seeding Wildflowers

Many wildflowers are self-seeders, meaning they naturally drop seeds that germinate and grow on with little or no intervention from you. This is a major advantage to growing wildflowers – often you only need to plant once for a lifetime of blooms. Once you get your eye in, their seedlings are easy to spot and removing unwanted plants takes very little effort. Many self-seeders, such as Mexican fleabane, will happily establish in cracks within paving or walls.

Popular self-seeders include calendula, borage, and poppies, as well as a number of biennials or short-lived perennials like teasel, hollyhock and foxglove.

To introduce self-seeders in the first place simply scatter seeds onto prepared ground then rake in. If you want to grow them among your vegetables sow them in rows between crops or to the side of the plot as a ‘pollinator strip’. Alternatively, start seedlings off in pots then transplant them to where they are needed.

Create a Wildflower Meadow

Wildflower meadows are both beautiful and a feast for visiting bees and butterflies. By simply leaving an area of lawn alone through spring and summer – uncut, unfed and unwatered – you’ll be able to see if any wildflowers are already there. Then once you have seen what’s there you can easily supplement the display by planting plugs or bulbs of other wildflowers.

Wildflower meadows can be made on any scale

Another option is to sow a wildflower mix onto empty ground. Cornfield mixes are excellent for this purpose, providing a riot of color with an accompanying throng of insects mere months after sowing. Rake dug over, weed-free soil to a fine tilth then broadcast the seeds evenly over the surface. Rake again so the seeds are in contact with the soil then pat the surface down with the back of the rake. If it’s dry, water the sown area to speed germination along. The seedlings should appear within a couple of weeks.

You can mark out areas of wildflower meadow on your garden plan by selecting the meadow texture from the palette, then choose a solid shape and add it to your plan.

Wildflowers are great for bees and butterflies, and to be honest they’re pretty darn good for the soul too! Please drop us a comment below to share your favorite wildflowers for attracting these beneficial bugs.

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Show Comments


"Hi I am trying to naturalize and stabilize well maintain the river bank I live on. any ideas and suggestions greatly welcomed .only lived here almost 2 years,and I love it and want to preserve and maintain it "
Anji on Friday 5 April 2019
"Hi Anji. Where are you looking to do this? What's recommended would depend very much on where you are, as different wildflowers are best for different locations."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 April 2019
"Do you think you can sprinkle a wildflower mix through grass without preparing the soil and expect flowers to bloom? I have bee hives and want to create a wildflower garden around them but the grass is very well established."
Trudy on Monday 6 May 2019
"It is possible, but the results will be very varied and you ideally need to keep the grass very well cut to stop it outcompeting the flowers. Better would be to establish wildflowers by planting plug plants of wildflower species into the lawn. These young plants will then be able to get away better."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 7 May 2019
" HI, Would wildflowers grow under a pine tree??"
Dorothy Schmick on Wednesday 26 June 2019
"This can be a challenge, as conditions will be both shady and dry. You might try searching a wildflower seed/plant specialist. They often carry recommendations for specific conditions, including shade. Some woodland wildflowers may be suitable, but the very dark and dry conditions under pine trees are notorious for being rather barren because of it. If you can, an open site in full or part sun is best."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 July 2019
"Can I put wild flower mixture seeds in pots for sowing insteat of garden directly?? What is the type of soil to put in the pots?? Thank you in advance"
Nashwa on Wednesday 30 September 2020
"Hi Nashwa. Yes, you certainly can. Look for packets of wildflower seed mix that perhaps mention sowing into pots also. Many wildflowers often thrive in poorer soils, but there are some that thrive in richer soils - the sort you could provide using standard potting mix in a containers. These are sometimes referred to as cornfield annuals and would include species like corncockle, cornflower and poppy. Those species are specific to the UK, but there will be similar wildflowers that will thrive in pots wherever you are."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 1 October 2020
"Are these good for using in my garden. wildflower seed bombs? "
Simon on Thursday 29 October 2020
"Any wildflower seeds should be of species native to your location. So these seed bombs would be great for UK gardeners, as this is where the company is based. For impact and cost effectiveness, buying loose wildflower seed would be best - you'll be able to cover a wider area. But seed bombs are certainly a lot of fun and would make an unusual and thoughtful gift or talking point."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 29 October 2020
"Having fun reading older guides on your site. In our garden (in the Netherlands) our most popular plants are a crabapple, large rosemary and other blooming herbs such as thyme and lavender. The crabapple and rosemary often sound like a drunken bee party is going on. The joyful buzzing makes us laugh in delight. "
Veronica Gallagher on Saturday 8 May 2021
"You paint a wonderful picture there Veronica - a drunken bee party, I love it! "
Ben Vanheems on Saturday 8 May 2021

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