Butterflies are beautiful visitors to our gardens – and they need our help. If you want to attract butterflies to your garden, whatever its size, there’s plenty you can do.
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The most useful thing you can do is to provide butterflies with plenty of nectar to feed on. As the butterfly season lasts from March through to November, try to provide nectar throughout this time.
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Choose a wide variety of nectar-rich plants, so that you attract the widest range of species, and plant the same types of plant together, in blocks – it makes it easier for the butterflies to visit.
A butterfly-friendly garden could attract more than 15 types of butterfly – more if you also provide food plants for their caterpillars.
Here’s our advice for attracting butterflies to your garden.
Choose a sunny, sheltered spot
Butterflies like to be warm, so grow nectar plants in a sunny, sheltered spot. If you can, plant the same type of plant in blocks – butterflies then won’t have to waste energy by flying too far for their next nectar source.
Provide spring nectar
Spring flowers are vital for butterflies coming out of hibernation. Good, nectar-rich plants for spring include Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ (which flowers in summer and autumn, too), aubretia, violet, wallflowers, primrose, hyacinth, bluebell, grape hyacinth, lilac and sweet rocket.
Provide summer flowers
Some of the best plants for for summer nectar include buddleja, Verbena bonariensis, lavender, marjoram (Origanum), red valerian and hebe. You could also include honeysuckle, cranesbill, catmint, cosmos, feverfew, helenium, echinacea and heliotrope.
Provide autumn flowers
Autumn flowers help butterflies build up their energy reserves for winter, so try to keep supplying them nectar at this time of year. Good sources include Hylotelephium (Sedum) spectabile, Michaelmas daisy, ivy, single chrysanthemums and heather.
Water your plants well – this means they will produce more nectar for hungry butterflies. Mulching your plants will help the soil retain moisture and will nourish the plant, too, keeping it healthy.
Deadheading helps to prolong flowering, which means more nectar. Find out how to deadhead your plants.
Don’t use pesticides and leave some weeds
Don’t use pesticides, especially on or near plants that are in flower or are larval food plants. They kill butterflies and other pollinating insects, as well as spiders, ground beetles and ladybirds. And don’t be too precious about weeding – dandelions, daisies and clover are sources of nectar.
Leave fallen fruit
If you leave some fallen fruit under your pear, apple or plum tree, some butterflies, including red admiral and painted lady, may feed on the sugary juices.
Sow a meadow or grow wild flowers
Several butterflies, including skippers, meadow brown and gatekeeper eat wild grasses. Leave an area of long grass and they may breed there. Butterflies feed on wild flowers in the countryside and in your garden, too, including knapweed and red campion.
Provide caterpillar food plants
Another way to attract butterflies is to provide food plants for their caterpillars. Holly, ivy, nasturtiums and wild strawberries are all caterpilllar food plants. The only caterpillars that do real damage are those of cabbage white butterflies.
Provide a basking place
Butterflies love to spread their wings and bask in the sun – it raises their body temperature, which means they are able to fly and remain active. If you can, provide somewhere for them to bask – large leaved plants, rocks or stepping stones and bare soil are all ideal.