How to Attract Butterflies But Not Bees To Your Yard

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Everyone loves butterflies – they can really help to ‘complete’ the look of a garden or backyard! They also have a huge part to play in helping with pollination, too. However, attracting butterflies sometimes means using the same techniques that we would use to attract bees. Is there a safe, humane and easy way to attract butterflies, not bees, to your backyard?

Attracting butterflies without bees to your yard or garden is as simple as choosing appropriate flowers and plants. Some will attract butterflies and repel bees outright – and if you’re serious about keeping buzzing insects away from your garden, this is the route to take.

Let’s consider a few plants and flowers that will bring in the butterflies, and will also likely keep bees away, too.

Flowers and plants that attract butterflies, not bees

Thankfully, there are indeed flowers that attract butterflies, but that deter bees. Butterflies, on the whole, don’t tend to be as fickle as bees when it comes to available plants – various hydrangeas are fantastic for attracting butterflies, for example. Finding the balance between lots of butterflies and a few bees, however, can sometimes be tricky.

It’s down to shape, smell and color, most of all – so let’s break this all down.

Blooms

The general rule of thumb for blooms that bees avoid is to plant flowers that are not considered practical for them. For example, the average bee will likely head towards a bloom that’s easy for them to walk on while sipping nectar – roses and poppies, meanwhile, are unlikely to offer this kind of support, regardless of their scent and pollen potential.

Do also think about planting flowers that only ever bloom nocturnally. As diurnal animals, bees are unlikely to ever come across them – and you can still benefit from sweet-smelling flowers that look wonderful in the dusk. Superb nocturnal bloomers include honeysuckle, petunia, and some species of phlox. However, you still may get some butterfly visitors despite their nocturnal blooming.

Finally, consider those flowers that pollinate dependent on wind, not on insects. It’s unlikely bees will show interest in these blooms, as they have evolved without relying on each other. Plants that flower and spread their seed on the breeze include the pussy willow tree, and the dandelion (and who hasn’t blown out a dandelion to help it pollinate?).

Colors

Butterflies love all kinds of red blooms, but bees are not keen. Believe it or not, this is largely thanks to the fact that bees can’t see red! Reddish colors tend to be dull, almost lifeless to their eyes – meaning they’re unlikely to make a literal beeline for them. However, you can safely expect a butterfly or two to flutter across a patch of red flowers with abandon. 

Blooms such as poppies, peonies, and zinnias are great starting points if you want to bring butterflies but not bees to your yard. However, avoid red flowers that are highly scented, as the smell alone could attract local bee populations. The point here is to remove the visual attraction, but olfactory attraction is still possible (bees are still highly sensitive despite their color blindness!).

Scents

As mentioned, a bee’s sense of smell is one of its biggest assets. Therefore, it stands to reason that you should start planting flowers bees hate the fragrances of. Unfortunately, you don’t really have much of a choice in this regard. However, bees tend to dislike added scents (such as peppermint oil, citronella or even garlic powder) as opposed to those produced by natural spray.

A bloom you may wish to try – if you want to keep attracting butterflies and avoid bringing in the bees – is chrysanthemum. Bees don’t tend to favor this flower too much (and it can even harbor dangerous spiders) – though anecdotal evidence is mixed. On the whole, you are likely to be restricted if you’re avoiding bees on fragrance alone – it’s better to lead with shape and color, first.

Cucumbers in the butterfly garden

If you are already growing vegetables in your garden – and have a few cucumbers planted – you may already be doing enough to balance the butterflies and the bees. But why is this?

Butterflies love to eat the flowers from all kinds of fruits and vegetables, and there is no doubt that they absolutely love the flowers that bloom on cucumber plants. However, due to acid present in cucumbers, both bees and wasps tend to stay clear of them.

In fact, it can even be a good idea to leave cucumber peels out in your garden to deter bees naturally – if you wish. These plants are not difficult to grow – and if you are already growing a vegetable plot, you already have a great crop of natural bee deterrents should you want them.

Why should I avoid attracting bees to my garden?

There are plenty of great reasons why you should want to bring bees to your yard. However, the way you set up your wild garden is entirely your choice. It may be that you are allergic to bee stings or that you simply don’t want to risk large waves of the creatures entering your space.

However, even if you want to avoid attracting bees to your yard, it’s important to remember to be humane about how you repel them. Avoid using insecticides or any harsh chemicals to keep the bees away, as this could do serious harm to creatures that don’t deserve such harsh treatment.

It’s worth remembering that bees are endangered to varying extents. Therefore, as a responsible wild yard owner, you need to ensure that your deterrents are natural – otherwise, you could be upsetting the local ecosystem. Not only that, but when you use insecticides to get rid of one type of creature, the others will suffer, too.

It is normal for you not to want certain insects around you, including bees, especially if you fear or are allergic to them. That being said, the chances are that even in a no-bee zone, the occasional critter will likely come to give it a try. In those situations, the best thing to do is to let nature take its course and keep inside if you are worried about getting stung!

However, thanks to your beautiful, flourishing, and butterfly-filled garden, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy the sights and reap the benefits of incredible pollinators.

You are also likely to find that many of your plants specifically grown for your butterflies also attract beautiful birds.

If you’re keen to start attracting butterflies to your hand but don’t want to get stung by a bee or two along the way, opt for red blooms, muted scents, and odd-shaped flowers as a starting point.

About author
Robert has been an avid birdwatcher pretty much his entire life. Living in the suburbs he does his best to bring wild birds into his backyard. He currently has 13+ bird feeders in his yard and also raises and races homing pigeons. Robert writes part-time for Wild Yards, mostly about the subject he cares most about - birds.

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