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The Best Annuals For Butterflies, Bees & Other Pollinators

With temps to high 10C today I’m getting excited about spring and my flower garden. Recently I posted about perennials, here is a list of annuals. Go to Davy Russell’s site for illustrations by Davy Russell. I hope you enjoy them!

by Davy Russell Leave a Comment

While native perennial flowers are the foundation of my pollinator garden, annuals add pizzazz and lots more pollen and nectar sources to draw more butterflies, bees, and other pollinators to your garden.

These are the top-performing annuals in my zone 5 pollinator garden.

1 – Cosmos


Cosmos rank #1 in my garden for attracting a wide variety of butterflies and bees. Plus, I love the feathery foliage. Cosmos come in shades of pink, as well as white and orange.

Light: Full sun.
Height: Up to 24″.
Bloom Time: Spring/Summer/Fall.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bees, syrphid flies, beetles.


Tawny-edged Skipper (Polites themistocles) on CosmosHalictid bee (Agapostemon virescens) on Cosmos.

2 – Zinnia

I LOVE zinnias because they send up a profusion of blooms all season long until frost ends the show. There are a lot of Zinnia varieties, but the ones that performed the best in my garden so far have been the Profusion series and State Fair.

Profusion zinnias send up, well, a profusion of blossoms, making easy (and highly visible) masses of color that last all season. Mine never exceeded 12 inches in height and bushed out, so they are great for front of the garden.

State Fair gets tall – about two feet, and are perfect for middle of the garden.

Light: Full sun.
Height: Up to 24″.
Bloom Time: Spring/Summer/Fall.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bees, syrphid flies, beetles.

Peck's Skipper (Polites pekius) on Profusion Zinnia. “Peck’s Skipper (Polites pekius) on Profusion Zinnia.”


Profusion Zinnia.Fritillary sp. on Profusion Zinnia



 Profusion Zinnia.Longhorn Beetle (Euderces picipes) on Profusion Zinnia.“Longhorn Beetle (Euderces picipes) on Profusion Zinnia.”

3 – AlyssumAlyssum “These low-growing masses of honey-scented white blossoms are a pollinator magnet! They are an excellent border plant in a pollinator garden.

Light: Full sun to part shade.
Height: Up to 10″.
Bloom Time: Summer.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bees, syrphid flies, beetles.

Syrphid Fly (Toxomerus marginatus) on Alyssum.“Syrphid Fly (Toxomerus marginatus) on Alyssum.

4 – SunflowersSunflowersIt doesn’t get better than sunflowers when it comes to attracting pollinators and other wildlife. With tall plants and giant blossoms, sunflowers are highly visible and irresistible to butterflies, bees, and all sorts of pollinators. As an added bonus, the seed heads attract chickadees, gold finches, titmice, nuthatches, and woodpeckers after the blossoms have been spent.

Light: Full sun.
Height: Up to 6+’.
Bloom Time: Late summer.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bees, syrphid flies, beetles.

 – PetuniaPetuniaPetunias look great in hanging baskets as they send out cascades of trumpet-shaped blossoms all season long (as long as you deadhead them regularly).

You can also put them in large clumps at the front of the garden, or in window boxes.

Light: Full sun to part shade.
Height: Up to 12″, but may spread out.
Bloom Time: Spring/Summer/Fall.
Best For: Butterflies, bees, bee flies. Hummingbirds may also visit.

Petunias are popular with beesPetunias are popular with bees” “aligncenter”



6 – Lantana

LantanaLantana adds a splash of deep red, orange, and yellow in your garden. These drought-resistant, hot-weather plants are the perfect additions to your summer garden.

Light: Full sun.
Height: Up to 36″.
Bloom Time: Summer.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bees, and syrphid flies.

Lantana with fritillary butterfly.Lantana with fritillary butterfly.”


7 – Annual Daises

DaisiesAnnual daisies draw in pollinators of all types thanks to their big, showy blossoms.

Gerber daisies are the most common ones found in garden stores. I planted Arican Daisies in 2015 and loved them. They brought in bees and butterflies. The blossoms close up at night and on cloudy days, only opening when they are bathed in full sun.

Another daisy I planted in 2015 was Butterfly Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum frutenscens), which is pictured above. It was constantly covered in interesting insects including moths and beetles.

Osteospermum (also called African or Cape Daisies) are a big hit with bees and butterflies. They also tolerate cooler, early spring weather, taking a break during the hottest part of summer before giving an encore of blooms in the fall.

Light: Full sun (some varieties tolerate part-sun).
Height: Depends on variety and can range between 12″ and 36″.
Bloom Time: Summer/Fall.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, and syrphid flies.

Red Admiral butterfly on African Daisy.Red Admiral butterfly on African Daisy.”

8 – Pansies

Pansies are great very early-season annuals that will provide a nectar source to bees and other pollinators emerging from hibernation in the spring.

Light: Full sun/part sun.
Height: About 8″.
Bloom Time: Spring/Early summer.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bees.

Pansy with pollinator.Some of the tiniest pollinators visit pansies.

9 – Ageratum (Floss Flower)

AgeratumAgeratum, also known as “floss flower”, is another blue flower that is supposed to attract pollinators. I pretty much only saw tumbling flower beetles on mine.

Light: Full sun/part shade.
Height: 6″.
Bloom Time: Summer.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, beetles, bees.

Banded Longhorn beetle (Typocerus velutinus) on AgeratumBanded Longhorn beetle (Typocerus velutinus) on Ageratum.

 10 – Lobelia erinus

Lobelia erinusI’m a sucker for blue flowers, so when I saw lobelia erinus in the garden center, I couldn’t resist. Plus, the tag said they attracted butterflies.

While they looked great in my garden, I didn’t really see any activity to them all season except for a few brief visits by a bee fly.

Light: Full sun/part shade.
Height: 8″.
Bloom Time: Spring-Fall.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bee flies, bees.

  11 – Pentas

PentasI love the look of Pentas (also known as “Star Flower” because of their star-shaped blossoms). I have also read that they are pollinator magnets, particularly attractive to butterflies.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see hardly any activity on the pink and red ones that I planted in my pollinator garden. Rain storms also knocked the blossoms off, and they never looked as good all season long as they did when I first planted them.

Nevertheless, I’ve heard great things about them and they are worth a try in your own garden.

Light: Full sun.
Height: Up to 15″.
Bloom Time: Summer.
Best For: Butterflies, moths, bees.

 12 – Calendula

Also known as “pot marigold”, Calendula is notorious as a bee magnate.

I haven’t grown Calendula in my garden yet, but I have seeds starting right now and plan to enjoy them in 2016.

13 – Lavender

Not only does lavender smell heavenly, it’s a bee and butterfly magnet. I haven’t grown this one either yet, but plan to in 2016.

14 – Borage

I have never planted borage before, but I plan to for the 2016 season. Borage is a rich nectar source for bees, and it’s one of the favorite flowers for bumblebees. Borage is an edible herb, and can be added to salads.