I don’t know about you, but I adore butterflies. I love the way they bring movement into my garden, I love the colours and the way my Grandchildren react to them. But most of all I love the fact that butterflies are an indicator of the health of our environment. If we keep seeing plenty of them in the UK, we’re doing OK.
This orange tip butterfly is feeding from one of our native wildflowers, Garlic Mustard. Garlic Mustard flowers quite early in the year (April-May) and is the preferred larval food plant for this species of butterfly.
What Attracts Butterflies?
In short. Living plants.
Like all living things butterflies need a source of food, or water and of shelter. They need those three things in their adult stages (the butterfly) and in their larval stages (caterpillars) and the two sets of requirements are not always the same. Neither are they the same for every species of butterfly. And therein lies the secret to butterfly gardening. Variety.
- A wide variety of plants
- Plenty of the right sort of flowers
- Plenty of the right sort of foliage
- A variety of features – water to drink, shelter from wind and rain, hot spots for sunbathing, places to perch.
Choosing Butterfly Friendly Plating
Butterflies themselves are not too fussy about the plants they feed from. They seem to be attracted to blue or purple flowers more than any other colour but they don’t actually mind yellows, pinks, whites etc.
Large splashes of colour seem to be more attractive than random flowers planted hither and thither. Maybe it’s easier for the butterflies to pick out colour swathes as they flutter past at height. So go for the biggest splurge you can manage.
Caterpillars on the other hand, are extremely picky. For some species of butterfly the caterpillars will only feed on one type of plant. If you want to attract butterflies, you need to be sure that their preferred laval food plant is available – even if it’s not particularly pretty.
This is where an old fashioned cottage garden or meadow style planting is ideal. Flowering plants are placed in close proximity to each other and there is room between them for larval food plants too. “cosy” planting creates a big splurge of colour, plenty of shelter from the elements and (depending on your plant choices) a nice variety of species to choose from.
Plants For Butterfly Larvae
Butterfly lavae definitely prefer our native wildflowers to anything else. They will have evolved alongside these plants.
This butterfly friendly garden has a wide variety of native flowering plants and grasses. The mown path allows visitors to get up close and personal to butterflies and other insects without having to disturb them. A great place to take photographs!
Many people will know that the Peacock Butterfly likes to lay its eggs on stinging nettles. Not many people feel comfortable inviting stinging nettles into their gardens.
But how about Birdsfoot trefoil? It has pretty yellow flowers and is also highly attractive to bees. The caterpillars of the Common Blue butterfly, the Cryptic Wood White, Dingy Skipper, Green Hairstreak, Short Tailed Blue, Silver-studded blue and Wood White butterflies choose this as their primary food source.
Birdsfoot trefoil and vetch – two beautiful wildflowers making a stunning display that will attract butterflies, moths and bees.
Meadow grasses are vital for several butterfly species and as there are fewer expanses of long grass our towns and countryside, gardeners can make a bit difference by hosting meadow-like areas.
There is a comprehensive list of butterfly larval food plants on this website. Worth taking a look at if you’re planning some planting. (One of my favourites on here is the blackthorn. It makes a great hedge AND come the autumn time you get sloes. What do sloes make? Why sloe gin of course – don’t mind if I do!)
Plants For Butterflies
What butterflies need are nectar rich plants. Ones that give them plenty of energy and keep them coming back for more. Buddleia is a favourite of course, as is cosmos. But once again, our UK native wildflowers come right to the top of the list of butterfly friendly plants.
Clover, Scabious, Knapweed, Musk Mallow, Cornflower, Yarrow are all common wildflowers that butterflies (and bees) adore and that are easy to grow in the garden.
Find a list of butterfly friendly plants here http://butterfly-conservation.org/292/gardening.html
Low Maintenance Butterfly Gardening
If you want butterflies in your garden but you would prefer a low maintenance option – why not create a wild flower area?
Each of the five varieties of Meadowmat are attractive to people AND to butterflies. They’re easy to install and even easier to care for. Browse around the website for more information or use the links below to learn more about wildlife gardening.
Find out more about wildlife gardening here (there is a FREE downloadable information leaflet on this page)