Gardening for butterflies

Brimstone (male)

Gardens can act as important stepping stones between nature reserves and other natural habitat by offering abundant supplies of nectar and foodplants.

Butterflies will visit any garden, however small, if they can feed from suitable nectar plants and a well thought out garden can attract many species of butterfly. If you manage your patch to create breeding habitat you may see even more.

Nectar provides butterflies and moths with energy to fly and find a mate. In spring, it helps butterflies refuel after winter hibernation or a gruelling journey to Britain from southern Europe or Africa.

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In autumn nectar helps butterflies and moths to build up their energy reserves so they have the best chance of surviving hibernation or the journey back to warmer climes. Another way to help butterflies is to allow them to breed in your garden - only with the right foodplants can they lay eggs of the next generation, and so the more we grow for them, the more butterflies there will be.


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. 
  • 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 to peat available from garden centres.


The best plants for summer nectar:

Small BudBuddleia (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 BonariensisVerbena bonariensis. Stems up to a metre tall support heads of lilac-purple flowers from August to October. Easy to grow from seed, plant March to April in well-drained soil. These can provide useful height at the back of a border. Only half hardy so can be a short lived perennial.

LavenderLavenderFlowers are a purplish-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 thrives in a sunny, sheltered position in well-drained soil. Lavender should be planted in April or May and pruned back to encourage bushy growth.

WallflowerPerennial 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.

OreganoMarjoram (Oregano). A perennial herb, growing from 20 to 80cm 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?

Nectar plants - Want to know what else you can do to make a difference in your garden? Download our list of nectar plants for butterflies in order of flowering month. 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 here.




Foodplants - Caterpillars need foodplants to survive, and butterflies 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 on them too. Download our list of foodplants here.





More inspiration - If you are still looking for more ways to attract butterflies to your garden download our Gardening For Butterflies leaflet. Read it here.