6 Ways to Attract Fireflies to Your Yard

A glowing lightning bug on a fern frond at night.
My Garden Life
March 11, 2024
Table of Contents

By Shanon Adame

Fireflies, also known as lightning lugs, light up gardens and backyards throughout the United States. Symbols of summer and whimsy, they delight children and adults alike with their soft, twinkling glow. Sadly, firefly populations have been on a downfall in recent years and more gardeners are looking for ways to attract fireflies by creating backyard habitats to support them.

Despite the name “firefly,” these insects are not flies. They are a class of beetles belonging to the Lampyridae family. The most common species in North America is Photinus pyralis. Their famous glow is due to a phenomenon called bioluminescence; light produced by a chemical reaction within a living organism. Fireflies use this system of flashing in order to communicate with each other.

A glowing firefly sits on a child's finger.

A fact many may not know is that not all fireflies can fly! The little guys you see flitting around the yard happen to be all males, as only male fireflies are capable of flying. The females, lacking wings, hang out on the ground and use their bioluminescence to let the males know they are ready for mating.

Unfortunately, these charming little bugs are facing real challenges. Due to loss of habitat, light pollution, and pesticide use, the firefly population is dwindling. To help increase their population, there are a few things we can do to attract them and help them thrive.

1. Limit Artificial Lighting

Fireflies are nocturnal and artificial lights, such as porch lights or solar lights, may interfere with their ability to signal to each other. Consider replacing bright bulbs with bulbs that emit a soft, warm glow. Keeping blinds and curtains shut in the evening is another way to prevent artificial light from hindering firefly communication.

A suburban home at night with a deck lit with an abundance of ambient light sources.

2. Preserve Natural Habitat to Support Fireflies

Fireflies love areas with tall grass and shrubs. Cutting back on lawn mowing is one way to help increase firefly population. If letting your lawn grow is not possible, consider planting taller ornamental grasses along the perimeter of your yard or home.

Close up of a firefly on a blade of grass.

3. Plant Native Plants to Attract Fireflies

Speaking of planting, native plants provide essential food sources to fireflies in the larval stage. Native plants like pines, goldenrod, buttonbush, and frogfruit are just a few examples of plants that will help create a sustainable ecosystem in your yard that will be attractive to fireflies.

Use plants to attract fireflies to your yard. A lightning bug drinking nectar from a yellow coreopsis flower.

4. Provide Water Sources

Fireflies like to be near moist areas and need damp soil to lay their eggs in. Adding water features like fountains or ponds can help attract fireflies. A more budget-friendly option is to leave shallow dishes of water out; just beware of mosquitos, as they are also attracted to standing water and use it to lay their eggs.

Yellow dandelions and tall grasses at the edge of a small pond.

5. Provide Fireflies with Their Preferred Food Sources

Adult fireflies will eat other fireflies, pollen, or nectar. Planting a pollinator garden is a great way to ensure the adult fireflies have plenty to eat. However, firefly larvae are carnivorous and feed mainly on snails, slugs, and worms. Starting a woodpile will help to attract snails, slugs, and worms that tend to live on and around debris piles. These creatures become a food source that will then attract fireflies in their larval stage. If you aren’t keen on keeping a woodpile in your yard, an easy thing to do is just to let fallen branches and leaves remain where they are on the ground.

Old logs provide a food source that will attract fireflies in the form of slugs and worms.

6. Reduce Pesticide Use

Pesticides can be detrimental to fireflies and other beneficial insects, as well as the overall ecological balance in your yard. Not only do chemical pesticides negatively affect adult fireflies and fireflies in the larval stage, but they also impact other beneficial insects. Consider replacing chemical pesticides with natural solutions such as plant-based pesticides, neem oil, beneficial nematodes, or diatomaceous earth.

It’s important to note that these natural approaches can also be damaging to fireflies but they generally have less long-term impact on the environment. Try to limit their use only to areas where treatment is essential to protect specific plants or structures from insect infestations,

A hand with a scoop applying diatomaceous earth around vegetable plants in a garden.

Ornamental Plants that Attract Fireflies

Although fireflies tend to inhabit untended, natural areas, it is possible to use attractive ornamental plants in your landscape that will also support fireflies and their various stages of development. Here are just a few options to consider incorporating into your landscape to increase shelter and food sources for fireflies:

Purple Leather Flower, Bluebill (Clematis pitcheri)

Purple Leather Flower, Bluebill (Clematis pitcheri)

Purple leather flower is a perennial, deciduous vine native to the south and central United States where it can be found growing at the edge of woods, bluffs, and slopes. Plants produces a steady supply of nodding, urn-shaped blooms over a long season from spring to fall. The purple petal-like sepals that surround the actual flowers are thick and give the plant its common name of “leather flower”. The flowers are followed by interesting, “spidery” seed heads that often persist into winter. Bumblebees love the flowers!
Frogfruit, Turkey Tangle Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora)

Frogfruit, Turkey Tangle Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora)

Frogfruit is native to the southern United States and can be found in tropical regions throughout the world. Plants produce a low, spreading mat of short, blunt, rounded leaves that makes a great groundcover in frost-free regions. Short spikes of lavender-pink flowers appear in the spring and bloom into fall. Frogfruit is a host plant for the caterpillars of several butterflies that feed on the foliage. The flowers are a source of nectar for many pollinators. Also known as Lippia nodiflora. A reliable groundcover for frost-free regions. Looks great filling in between rocks and spilling over container edges.
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

The cardinal flower is an eye-catching wildflower, native to a large region of North America. The clump-forming plants produce tall stems of lance-shaped leaves topped by a spike of brilliant red flowers. The blooms are a valuable source of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. Cardinal flower’s tolerance to moist conditions make it a good choice for a rain garden or marshy meadow.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

The glossy green leaves of buttonbush appear later than most shrubs. The charming, rounded white flowers are followed by small fruit which remain throughout winter. Attracts butterflies. Thrives in constantly wet areas where most plants would fail. This versatile selection can be grown as a small tree or large shrub. Perfect for use in swampy areas and areas around ponds, lakes and streams. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings.
Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor)

Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor)

Morning Glory gets its name from the magnificent, trumpet-shaped blooms that open each morning. The flowers last for just a day, but there will be more blooms tomorrow. Be sure to provide a trellis or some other type of structure to support the vine. This is a great plant for temporarily hiding unsightly objects such as an old tree stump or brush pile. Native to Central and South America. Beautiful trained to fences, posts, latticework and trellises. Use to create a quick and beautiful privacy screen on a trellis near a patio or porch.
Japanese Beech Fern (Thelypteris decursive pinnata)

Japanese Beech Fern (Thelypteris decursive pinnata)

Japanese beech fern is a fast growing, easy-care fern that forms a clump of lush green fronds. Ferns lend a peaceful feeling to any setting. Dependable color and texture looks great all season. Especially nice in waterside gardens. Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Looks great in woodland settings. Best planted in groups.
Poplar, Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

Poplar, Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)

Poplar are also known as cottonwood for the abundance of cottony seed capsules produced by the females of the species. Many named varieties of Populus deltoides are seedless males – allowing for the enjoyment of the glossy foliage and quick growth without the potential mess. A classic favorite for landscape focal points. Makes a breathtaking specimen plant. Best used for large scale plantings.
Beardtongue, Beardlip penstemon (Penstemon barbatus)

Beardtongue, Beardlip penstemon (Penstemon barbatus)

Beardtongue is a wonderfully long-flowering perennial, native to the western United States. Delicate tubular blooms dangle off long stems, amongst narrow, lance-like leaves. The flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds, making them an even more valuable addition to the garden. Excellent for borders, rock gardens, or mass plantings. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings. Terrific plant for hummingbird gardens.
Ornamental Grass

Ornamental Grass

Ornamental grasses are a gardener’s dream! They offer a perfect combination of dramatic form, low maintenance, and year-round interest, all available in a wide range of colors, sizes and textures. Grasses also add a dimension of sound and movement to the garden as the long, loose foliage shifts and rustles in the breeze. An excellent focal-point for container plantings too! Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Creates a pivotal accent point in any garden. Provides dramatic color and form to autumn and winter landscapes.
Garden Lupine, Big Leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus)

Garden Lupine, Big Leaf Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus)

This lupine species is native to Western North America and prized for its beautiful natural blue flower color, as well as many varieties that can be found in a broader range of colors. Dozens of tiny, pea-like blooms cluster on upright stalks in an attention demanding display. They thrive in light, acidic soil and cool summers. Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Ideal choice for cutting gardens. Cut flowers are long-lasting in fresh bouquets. Best planted in groups.
Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Goldenrod is a fast spreading, upright perennial perfect for providing a casual, quick-filling patch of color. Clusters of many tiny flowers form golden cones of bloom above fine-leaved stems. Perfectly suited to informal, naturalized settings. Excellent for use in difficult spots where nothing else can survive. Provides long lasting cut flowers.
American Elderberry, Sweet Elder (Sambucus canadensis)

American Elderberry, Sweet Elder (Sambucus canadensis)

Elderberries bring multi-season beauty to the landscape with umbrella like clusters of dainty blooms and an abundance of small berries showcased amongst lush foliage. Many varieties have the added appeal of cut or brightly colored foliage. Provides instant form and structure to the landscape. Dense foliage makes a great informal hedge row or privacy screen. Makes a breathtaking specimen plant.

Add More Enchantment to Your Yard With Dragonflies

By making just a few thoughtful adjustments to your yard, you can create an environment that is helpful and attractive not just to our firefly friends, but also to a wealth of other beneficial insects. If you don’t see fireflies right away, don’t be disappointed. Due to the decrease in population, it may take a season or two to really see a difference, but the fireflies will thank you!

Dragonflies enjoy similar habitats as fireflies so why not entice both of these delightful insects to your garden spaces! In addition to their entertaining antics, dragonflies consume an incredible number of mosquitoes to help keep your yard pest-free. Learn more in our article, Plants to Attract Dragonflies for Natural Mosquito Control, about plants and other features that will support dragonflies.

Close up of an emperor dragonfly on a gladiolus leaf.

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