How to Attract Butterflies

I’m making a few changes to our garden to encourage butterflies to spend some time here. Many of our butterfly species have falling numbers and that bothers me a great deal. It’s likely that environmental changes such as housing construction and road building plus farming methods and land management have all affected the habitat and food supply that our butterflies need. There’s not much I can do about all of that in the wider environment but I can make some changes here in our own garden which may be useful to them.

Caterpillars-Eating-Nasturtiums

Butterflies need two sorts of plants.
1) Plants to lay their eggs on which become food for the caterpillars when the eggs hatch.
2) Plants rich in nectar or fruit for adult butterflies to feed on.

Speckled-Wood-Butterfly-on-Bramble

We already have quite a few well established plants that butterflies love.
Hedera helix Common Ivy grows in our boundary hedges and we also have patches of wild Blackberries and Nettles too. In the tamer parts of our garden we have a few shrubs such as Buddleja davidii which have lovely long panicles of nectar laden blooms.

Peacock-Butterfly

Butterflies become active quite early in the year, usually late February or early March. I’ve seen some Peacock butterflies today sunning themselves in a sheltered spot with wings outstretched to make the most of the warm afternoon. Early flowering plants such as Crocus, Aubretia and Primroses are brilliant for these first butterflies. They have hibernated this winter probably somewhere in our garden or close by. Apparently they like dry places with fallen leaves and nooks and crannies to shelter in. I think it was the delicate scent of the Primroses that attracted them today. We have a circle of pale lemon Primula vulgaris and soft blue Anemone blanda around the Oak Tree in the Spring Garden. Or perhaps it was the sweet scent of the hyacinths that drew them in. Either way these early butterflies will feed then find a mate and lay the first batch of eggs this spring which will soon become our summer butterflies.

Small-White-Butterfly

There’s no doubt that adding some beautiful butterfly friendly flowers to any garden makes it easier for our native butterflies to find food. And if I can persuade our neighbours to join in too then several gardens together will provide a great resource for butterflies.

Many of our popular garden plants are suitable for butterflies including herbs such as Lavender, Mint, Chives, Marjoram and Thyme. I’ve discovered that allowing grass to grow long and flower is helpful to many butterfly species and the humble Daisy and Dandelion are some of the best nectar plants too.

Small-Tortoiseshell-Butterfly

I’m adding a few more plants specifically for butterflies and their caterpillars this year. As usual I will be growing them from seed so watch this space for some photos to show progress! In the meantime there are plenty of spring flowering plants to keep them going so I’m quite optimistic that we’ll have many more butterflies than last year.

Thanks very much for reading, liking and sharing! Happy Gardening. Gillian 🙂

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17 thoughts on “How to Attract Butterflies

  1. What a great and informative post. Question. Can any of those plants you mention be planted in pots for a deck or terrace pot garden? It would be nice to catch a glimpse of a butterfly every now and then. Thank you!!!!

    1. Most plants can go in a nice big pot. You just need to remember to give the plants plenty of water they dry out quickly in containers) and feed each week too.

  2. Great post–thanks for the reminder about attracting butterflies in both their larval and adult form. That seems to be the hardest concept for new butterfly gardeners.

  3. This is an excellent reminder of work that I need to do in my yard. I will need to include different plants for my zone, but the theory and the importance is the same.

    1. There’s always more we can do for our wildlife isn’t there Leah? Here many nectar rich plants do the job. A lot of them have lots of tiny tubular flowers making up the flower head. Looking forward to seeing your butterfly plants later in the year!

  4. Great post, Gilian. A lovely and timely reminder to think about planting both host and nectar plants for butterflies. I’ve only seen a few overwintering Painted Ladies here on fine warm winter days, apparently, they like damp stone ‘salty’ walls to roost on.

      1. Not sure if it’s thistles, though we have many here. As you say, great websites now for host and nectar plants – important gardeners plant for both cycles ;).

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