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Gardening For Butterflies

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Find out how to attract butterflies to your garden.
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Even the smallest garden can be an important haven for butterflies. Garden flowers provide a valuable source of nectar, which is the main food supply for butterflies. This source of food has been greatly reduced in the countryside over recent years, posing a threat to many butterflies. 

Any garden can make a large difference when benefiting butterflies. A good butterfly garden will be full of colourful flowers, providing nectar from spring to autumn. Butterfly gardening can be carried out in the most formal of gardens by choosing cultivars of plants that are rich in nectar.  For example choose single varieties over double ones, as they tend to have their nectar producing glands out bred.

Butterflies favour places that are warm and sheltered, so it is important to bear this in mind when planning your garden. Adult butterflies feed on sugary nectar of many species of flowers.  Their caterpillars feed however mainly on one type of plant. For example, several butterflies lay their eggs on nettles as their caterpillars feed on the leaves.  Ideally therefore, a butterfly garden will contain both caterpillar food plants, and nectar-rich flowers for the adults.

Below is a list of plants arranged by their flowering times. Aubretia flowers from April to May, whilst Ivy flowers from October to December. By carefully choosing which plants to put in your garden, you can attract butterflies throughout the season.

Food Plants for Butterflies

  1. Aubretia
  2. Catmint
  3. Mint
  4. Heliotrope
  5. Forget-me-not
  6. French Marigold
  7. Hebe Varieties
  8. Red Valerian
  9. Candytuft
  10. Bluebell
  11. Lobelia
  12. Purple Loosestrife
  13. Sweet Rocket
  14. Honesty
  15. Scabious
  16. Lavender
  17. Buddleia
  18. Phlox
  19. Primrose
  20. Ox-EyeDaisy
  21. Helichrysum Species
  22. Sweet William
  23. Bugle
  24. Michaelmas Daisies
  25. Marjoram
  26. Evening Primrose
  27. Ice Plant
  28. Wallflower
  29. African Marigold
  30. Ivy
  31. Honeysuckle
  32. Lilac

Caterpillars and the plants that you will need to attract them to your garden.

CaterpillarFood Plant
Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell Nettle
Painted Lady Thistle
Large White, Small White Nasturtium, Cabbage
Holly Blue Dogwood, Holly, Ivy
Brimstone Alder Buckthorn, Purging
Common Blue Birdsfoot Trefoil, Black Medick
Orange Tip, Green-veined White Arabis, Honesty, Garlic Mustard

During late summer many butterflies feed on rotting fruit.

Between 15 and 20 different types of butterfly may visit an average sized garden during the course of the year. Most butterflies over-winter as caterpillars, but some hibernate in cool, dark places such as garden sheds, so make sure not to disturb one if you find it hibernating

For every butterfly that visits your garden, there may be more than 20 types of moth. You can attract moths to your garden by planting night-scented flowers, such as Honeysuckle, Evening Primrose, Nicotiana, Jasmine and Sweet Rocket.

More informationWildlife Trusts Wales

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