Hoverflies are fantastic, fascinating insects to have in the garden.
Many hoverflies have evolved to resemble unpalatable or stinging insects like bees and wasps, while remaining harmless themselves, to deter would-be predators – a type of mimicry called Batesian mimicry.
Unlike honeybees and bumblebees that have ‘tongues’ for accessing and drinking nectar, most hoverflies have simple mouthparts with no tongue. This means they prefer to visit flowers with easily accessible nectar and pollen, so most tubular flowers like foxgloves, lavender and penstemons are off the menu.
As well as helping to pollinate the flowers in your gardens, the larvae of many hoverflies have a voracious appetite for aphids and other garden pests, so it’s just as important to provide for them as you would other pollinators.
In this No Fuss video guide, wildlife gardening author Kate Bradbury reveals which plants to grow to attract hoverflies to your garden:
More on gardening for pollinators:
Umbellifers like this yellow-flowered fennel have broad flowerheads comprised of lots of small flowers, with nectar that can be easily accessed. Honeybees are also fond of the flowers. Easy to grow, doing best in a sunny spot with well-drained soil.
This fragrant evergreen has beautiful white flowers, with protein-rich pollen held on the end of numerous stamens, and nectar at their bases. Myrtle is good for a warm, sheltered spot in full sun.
A UK native, Eupatorium cannabinum grows best in moist soil in full sun or partial shade, where the dusky pink flowerheads attract a huge range of pollinators including hoverflies, honeybees, bumblebees and foraging beetles. Watch Monty move a eupatorium.
Michaelmas daisies or autumn asters provide a profuse show of nectar-bearing flowers that hoverflies and other pollinators will flock to. Watch Monty Don plant asters.
Aquatic plants like these marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) will help to open up your pond or bog garden to pollinators. Hoverflies have been found to show a preference for yellow and white flowers, so these aquatic marigolds are perfect.
Though often regarded as weeds (particularly the wild species), knapweeds (Centaurea spp.) are prolific nectar producers and their flowers look gorgeous in a wildflower meadow. Equally popular with hoverflies is the creeping thistle, Cirsium arvense.
Apple trees have relatively large, open flowers that are easy for hoverflies to access. Other trees with suitable blossom include pears, plum, hawthorn and blackthorn.
Like fennel, wild carrots are umbellifers, possessing the bright clusters of tiny flowers that hoverflies enjoy. They’re ideal for a sunny spot in an informal border. In shadier spots, try umbellifers like astrantias or Selinum wallichianum.
The bright blooms of tagetes, or French marigolds, are an effective attractant for hoverflies. These hardy annuals are easy to sow and grow from seed, so a little effort will reward you and the pollinators with masses of blooms.
Given the propensity of hoverfly larvae to eat aphids, the flowers that attract adult hoverflies make fantastic companion plants for your veg plots, pots and containers. The adults seek out colonies of aphids and lay their eggs nearby, so the larvae have a food supply when they hatch.
Even more flowers for hoverflies
- Sweet alyssum
- Oriental poppies