There’s something so magical about stepping out into your garden in summer and seeing the soft glow of fireflies dotting the night sky. As children, many of us gathered fireflies in jars and marveled at how they lit up in our hands. However, today, firefly populations are on the decline due to several factors, including urban sprawl, habitat loss, light pollution, and pesticides.
More than ever before, fireflies and other beneficial insects depend on us to help them make a comeback. That’s why we put this guide on fireflies together for you! In the list below, you’ll find everything you need to know to build a backyard habitat for fireflies and attract these amazing nighttime pollinators to your garden.
7 ways to attract fireflies to your yard
Many insect populations have been declining in recent years, including bees, Monarch butterflies, and fireflies. If it seemed like there were more fireflies when you were a child, the unfortunate truth is that there were. But there are certain steps that every backyard garden can take to help firefly populations bounce back so that our night skies are once again lit up by these nocturnal wonders!
1. Plant native pine trees
It’s no secret that fireflies love the dark. And that’s exactly why pine trees are one of the best plants to grow if you want to attract fireflies to your yard! Pine trees have dense, evergreen foliage that can block out the light and reduce light pollution from outdoor lamps and streetlights that may otherwise interfere with firefly mating and signaling.
Fireflies often lay their eggs in the canopies of pine trees as well, and firefly larvae that fall to the ground will typically shelter in the pine needles scattered on the soil beneath the trees. This makes pine trees essential for firefly reproduction and population growth.
At a time when insect populations are plummeting, planting pine trees in your yard is an easy way to provide a safe shelter for fireflies and other wildlife. But if you want to help out wildlife even more, look for native pine tree species, which offer the most benefit to fireflies. If you need help finding pine varieties that are native to your location, this website can help!
2. Grow the right plants
Fireflies are omnivores, and they eat pollen, nectar, and other insects, while firefly larvae can eat worms, slugs, and snails. So, if you want to attract fireflies, there are a few steps you can take to ensure that any fireflies that arrive in your garden will have plenty of food to eat.
First, it’s always a good idea to plant native plants, which are highly attractive to an assortment of insects. Which native plants are appropriate for your garden will depend on where you live, but some of the most common native plants to grow for wildlife include:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Joe Pye weed
- Cardinal flower
- Eastern red columbine
Beyond native plants, you can also grow different herbs and flowers that produce a lot of nectar and pollen. These plants will provide sustenance for fireflies, and they will also attract insects that fireflies feed on. Examples of more plants to grow for fireflies include:
- When allowed to flower, many different herbs are irresistible to insects. Some of the best herbs for firefly gardens are dill, sage, cilantro, parsley, and mint.
- Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and other brassica plants are often targeted by pest insects, including slugs and snails. While this is normally a problem in vegetable gardens, if you want to draw fireflies to your home, you may want to plant a few extra brassica plants for wildlife and see how many insects they attract!
After you’ve planted your flowers, don’t forget to add organic mulch and compost too! Both of these garden products improve the quality of your soil and help to attract earthworms to your garden. Since firefly larvae feed on worms, this is another way to boost firefly populations.
3. Mow less
Fireflies prefer taller grass and will often shelter in overgrown grasses and shrubs during the day. Allowing grass to grow a bit longer throughout the growing season can benefit firefly populations and help out other pollinators too. Conversely, mowing the lawn often or cutting grass very short can actually reduce the number of fireflies!
To help out these insects, consider raising the mower deck on your lawnmower a few inches and reduce how often you cut your grass. However, if you live in an HOA or other environment where you can’t allow grass to grow long, there are other options.
One way to still keep a manicured lawn while providing a habitat for fireflies is to convert a portion of your landscape to a dedicated wildflower garden. Alternatively, you can plant ornamental grasses around the border of flower beds or grow an entire bed full of ornamental grass plants, such as pampas grass or fountain grass. That way, fireflies will have lots of long grass to hide in, but your lawn can still look as tidy as you like.
4. Add a water feature
Fireflies are often found congregating near standing water or other water features, and you can draw more fireflies to your property by providing them with a water source. Bird baths, ponds, and fountains will all work for fireflies. However, these water elements may also attract mosquitoes, which you definitely don’t want!
One way to keep the mosquito population in check while still attracting fireflies is to use mosquito dunks in your water feature. Mosquito dunks are made with a naturally occurring bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), which is a targeted insecticide that kills mosquito larvae in water. However, this product won’t harm fireflies, bees, and other wildlife, and it’s safe to use in organic gardens!
5. Leave brush in place
Birds, insects, and other wildlife are drawn to wild places, and they tend to avoid landscapes that are very open with minimal hiding spots. In gardens, leaving a few brush piles or allowing plant debris to overwinter in garden beds can encourage fireflies to take up residence and breed. Wood piles also provide safe refuge for fireflies, and the rotting wood can attract the slugs and snails that fireflies will feed on.
If you prefer a more manicured landscape, you can create a compost pile in one section of your yard or pile a stack of wood for your woodstove. Even small areas of natural shelter like this can do a lot to support wildlife and fireflies too!
6. Turn off the lights
Fireflies are famous for their ability to glow at night, which is called bioluminescence. These insects use this nocturnal light show to attract mates, and they also glow to alert predators that they aren’t worth eating because they will taste awful! However, when lights are left on outside after dark, it can make it much harder for fireflies to communicate and breed.
When creating a wildlife garden for fireflies, make sure you keep outdoor lighting in mind and do what you can to reduce light pollution. That can mean putting outdoor lights on timers, turning off lights when they’re not in use, and swapping out porch lightbulbs for yellow LED bulbs, which are more energy efficient and create less light pollution. You should also consider the lights in your home and use blinds or curtains when you can to keep light from filtering out into your garden.
7. Go organic
In addition to habitat loss and light pollution, the overuse of synthetic pesticides is the other main reason why fireflies and other insect populations are on the decline. So, if you want to build a habitat that’s safe for fireflies, the single best thing that you can do is to avoid using pesticides whenever possible.
While pesticides are primarily used to treat destructive garden insects, like aphids and cabbage loopers, they can harm other insects too, and they can kill fireflies. Pesticides also destroy the insects that fireflies and their larvae feed on, disrupting their food supply and limiting their ability to reproduce. On the other hand, organic pest control options are much safer for wildlife and fireflies, and they can be just as effective as chemical options if you know how to use them.
Floating row covers installed at the beginning of the season can be great at preventing a wide range of insects, including cabbage loopers and squash vine borers. Organic insecticidal soap and neem oil sprays can combat a wide variety of insects, including mites, scales, and aphids, and they’re much safer for beneficial insects. And BT thuricide is a very useful, targeted insecticide that can be used to treat cabbage loopers, but it's safe for bees, fireflies, and organic gardens!
Frequently asked questions
Most adult fireflies feed on nectar and pollen, and they visit many plants in the course of an evening, transporting pollen as they go. While we may not think of it, fireflies are excellent pollinators! Additionally, firefly larvae feed on a variety of garden pests, including slugs and snails, and they can help you keep your garden naturally pest free!
No, fireflies are difficult to raise in captivity, and you can’t purchase them for your garden in the same way you can buy other insects, like ladybugs and lacewings. That’s why if you want to have fireflies in your garden, you need to create the right conditions to attract them!
Fireflies often rely on native pine trees for shelter and breeding, while tall grass and shrubs are where fireflies prefer to hang out during the day. Adult fireflies also feed on nectar and pollen, and growing the right plants can lure fireflies to your garden too. Native plants and flowers that are rich in pollen, such as flowering dill, sunflowers, and zinnias, can be a hit with a wide range of beneficial insects, including fireflies!
Lightning bugs and fireflies are two names for the same insect. The difference really just comes down to regional dialects and what people prefer to call these insects. Ultimately, there is no difference between fireflies and lightning bugs.
During the day, fireflies will usually shelter in shrubs and tall grass. Allowing your grass to grow a bit taller or planting ornamental grasses can provide a habitat for fireflies to rest in during the heat of the day.
As with many other insects, firefly populations are on the decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation, light pollution, large-scale farming practices, and the increased use of pesticides. Now, more than ever, creating wildlife habitats is critical for the survival of fireflies and many other species too!
Just as with bees and Monarch butterflies, firefly populations have been on the decline in recent years, but there are things that we can do about it. Keeping gardens organic and encouraging others to opt for organic pest control measures are two ways to help pollinators like fireflies. Creating your own wildlife habitat or firefly garden is another excellent way to help firefly populations make a comeback!
For more pollinator gardening tips, check out our guide on creating a pollinator habitat or learn the best plants to grow for hummingbirds. All of these steps and more will help fireflies and other wildlife too!