Butterflies and bees are both beneficial insects that help plants to reproduce. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators like moths and birds carry pollen from one flower to another, which is how they achieve the reproduction of plant species. But what if you establish a butterfly garden to attract butterflies, but don’t want to attract bees?
The reality is that butterfly gardens can and usually do also attract bees. Even though you may design a butterfly garden primarily to attract butterflies, many flowers that attract butterflies also attract bees. Both creatures are attracted to nectar and pollen, which is why they are both so important in nature as pollinators.
What are bees attracted to?
Bees are attracted to various elements when they forage for food. The primary attraction for bees is flowers that offer nectar and pollen, as these are their main sources of nutrition and energy.
Bees rely on a consistent supply of food throughout the growing season. Having a diverse selection of flowering plants that bloom at different times can help attract bees year-round.
Flowers attract bees, but the color and shape of flowers make a difference to them. The New York Botanical Garden’s Plant Information Service explains that bees don’t see color the same way we do.
For this reason, plants on the blue and yellow end of the color spectrum attract them because they can see these colors. Darker colors, including red, appear black to bees and don’t attract them.
According to the Michigan State University Extension, bees prefer perennial plants and herbs. Some of the scented herbs and flowers that attract bees include basil, bee balm (of course), borage, catnip, chamomile, hyssop, lavender, marjoram, mint, and rosemary.
MSU states that most annual bedding garden plants seem to be less attractive to them. But petunias attract bees as do cornflowers, chrysanthemums, calendula, marigolds, salvia, and many other species.
Bees are also attracted to the butterfly bush because it provides a copious amount of nectar from the mass of tiny, strongly-scented flowers that make up its flower head. It’s not surprising that its flowers attract butterflies as well.
But, as the University of Maryland Extension warns, it isn’t native to North America. On the contrary, the butterfly bush is an invasive species.
Bees also need shelter to breed and water to survive. You are likely to find bees where these elements are present along with a good source of pollen and nectar.
Do bees get attracted to a butterfly garden?
Bees are often attracted to butterfly gardens. When plants attract butterflies it’s usually because they produce nectar and pollen. So, it stands to reason that while butterfly gardens are primarily designed to attract butterflies, they often contain a variety of flowers that are also appealing to bees.
By including a diverse selection of nectar-rich flowers that bloom throughout the growing season, you can create a habitat that attracts both butterflies and bees. Doing this will improve the overall biodiversity and pollination potential of your garden.
Reasons why bees are Attracted to your butterfly garden
Bees and butterflies are both important pollinators, and many of the flowering plants that attract butterflies also provide valuable food sources for bees. They are also both attracted by water, either small fountains or even shallow mud puddles, which are a favorite for butterflies.
Even if you don’t intentionally design a butterfly garden, if you find the flowers you have planted are attracting butterflies, there’s a good chance it will attract bees too. These two beneficial insects co-exist very happily in the right environment where they can nest and find shelter, food, and water.
How do you prevent bees from coming over to your butterfly garden?
Nobody’s going to judge you for trying to prevent bees from visiting your butterfly garden. One common reason people discourage bees is because they are afraid they will be stung.
Certainly, if you’re allergic to bee stings, it’s a very good reason! So, what can you do to keep them away but still attract butterflies?
You could choose plants that are less likely to attract bees, like those that are wind-pollinated. But then they won’t attract butterflies so much.
You could also avoid flowers with a heavy fragrance or plants that don’t flower at all. While they won’t attract butterflies, some plants including herbs like parsley, dill, and fennel, attract their caterpillars.
Something to consider is that because bees do not see color the same way humans do, they are attracted to certain flower colors. Plants on the blue and yellow end of the color spectrum attract bees because those are the colors they can easily perceive.
Darker colors such as red appear black to bees, and since black is the absence of color bees are not naturally attracted to plants with red hues. But red flowers will attract butterflies to your garden,
In addition to red, the butterflies’ garden favorites include orange, pink, and purple. So choose these colors rather than the blues and yellows that attract bees.
Decomposing organic matter including rotting plants or fallen fruit attracts bees. Maintaining a clean environment by removing organic debris that might attract bees is therefore a good idea.
Also, while both butterflies and bees are attracted by water, you could introduce water so that it is a butterfly- but not bee-friendly. For example, a shallow bird bath with slippery sides will make it difficult for bees to land.
There are also some butterfly species that are less likely to attract bees than others. If you’ve got the time, research and select butterfly species that occur in your region that are known to have minimal appeal to bees.
Butterfly gardens generally do attract bees, primarily because these pollinators have many similarities in terms of what they like in a garden. Both beneficial insects rely on the nectar and pollen they find in flowers for nutrition and energy.
While many people are happy to have both butterflies and bees in their gardens, some prefer to attract butterflies and do all they can to keep bees out. If this is your approach, you need to familiarize yourself with what bees don’t like, without jeopardizing your chances of attracting butterflies.