Gardens can act as important stepping stones between nature reserves and other natural habitat by offering abundant supplies of nectar. Butterflies will visit any garden, however small, if they can feed from suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract up to 18 species of butterfly. If you manage your patch to create breeding habitat you may see even more.
Tips on how to attract butterflies
- Butterflies like warmth so choose sunny, sheltered spots when planting nectar plants.
- Choose different plants to attract a wider variety of species. Place the same types of plant together in blocks.
- Try to provide flowers right through the butterfly season. Spring flowers are vital for butterflies coming out of hibernation and Autumn flowers help butterflies build up their reserves for winter.
- Prolong flowering by deadheading flowers, mulching with organic compost, and watering well to keep the plants healthy. Plants that are well-watered will produce far more nectar for hungry butterflies.
- Don't use insecticides and pesticides. They kill butterflies and many pollinating insects as well as ladybirds, ground beetles and spiders.
- Don't buy peat compost. Peat bogs are home to many special animals and plants, including the Large Heath butterfly, which is declining across Europe. There are now good alternatives available from garden centres.
The best plants for summer nectar
Buddleia (The butterfly bush). Very easy to grow in almost any soil. Different varieties will flower in pink, red, purple, and white. Usually in bloom through July and August. These shrubs need pruning well in Spring as they can grow 5' to 8' from the ground in a single season.
Verbena Bonariensis. Stems up to a metre tall support heads of lavender flowers from August to October. Easy to grow from seed, plant March-April in well-drained soil. Can provide useful height at the back of a border. Only half hardy so can be a short lived perennial.
Lavender. Flowers are lilac-blue in color and grow on spikes through the summer. Plants can be used for edging beds or grown to form an attractive, low-growing hedge. It will thrive in a sunny, sheltered position in well-drained soil. Lavender should be planted in April or May and pruned back to encourage bushy growth.
Perennial Wallflower (Bowles Mauve). Produces a profusion of sweet-scented purple flowers from April all through the summer. Wallflowers make great bedding plants and will grow well in full sun or light shade. Plant in well drained soil.
Marjoram (Oregano). A perennial herb, growing from 20 to 80 cm tall. White, pink or purple flowers grow on spikes from June to September. A good edging plant and useful ground cover, requiring little maintenance. The smaller varieties also do well in rock and alpine gardens.
What else can I plant in my garden?
The 100 best plants for butterflies. Want to know what else you can do to make a difference in your garden? Download a list of the 100 best butterfly plants in order of attraction. Even if you plant just one, or go all the way and plant the full list, the butterflies (and bees!) will thank you for it. There are plants here for every sort of garden from big to small, from urban to wild. Download the list.
Food plants for caterpillars. It's not just butterflies and moths that you can attract to your garden, but caterpillars too! Caterpillars need food plants to survive, and butterflies and moths will be attracted to your garden to lay their eggs. Another benefit is that the more caterpillars you have, the more birds you are likely to attract to feed from them too. Download our list of food plants.
Plants to attract moths. There are likely to be over a hundred species of moth in an ordinary urban back garden. Like butterflies, moths need to refuel with nectar. Find out more about which plants are best for moths. Some moth caterpillars will eat the leaves of a fairly wide range of plants, but most are restricted to a few types of plant or even just one plant species. Discover more about moth caterpillar foodplants.
What about improving my garden?
Be inspired by these planting plans for your flower beds:
You can still provide for butterflies with a window box or patio pots. Many nectar plants are ideal for container planting. If you have a larger plot, why not go low maintenance and create a wild flower meadow? You can also download our leaflet Gardening For Butterflies.