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Butterflies and Moths: Attracting Butterflies


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To attract butterflies to your garden you need to provide nectar for the adults but it is just as important that there is food for the caterpillars, either in the garden or close by.

Many butterflies have very strict habitat requirements and it is not possible to duplicate these conditions in an average garden so, unless your garden adjoins such a habitat you are unlikely to see these species. The ones that we do see are very wide-ranging and generally feed on common plant species.

To attract butterflies into your garden you need to grow a selection of plants that will provide nectar from spring right through to the autumn. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot, ideally it should be south or south-west facing. Also, it is important to plant a number of each species to make a visible display and one that will give off a strong enough scent to attract the butterflies. Remember that single-flowered plants are best as the nectar in double flowers is inaccessible.

When deciding on what to plant it's a good idea to have a look at what the butterflies are feeding on in the wild in your area and then select something similar from the list below.

Don't forget that whatever you plant for butterflies will also attract moths; you will just have to go and look for them with a torch!

Nectar sources

Annuals and Biennials

African marigold Tagetes erecta
Ageratum Ageratum houstonianum
Alyssum Lobularia maritima
Candytuft Iberis amara
Cornflower Centaurea cyanus
French marigold Tagetes patula
Heliotrope Heliotropium cultivars
Honesty Lunaria annua
Marigold Calendula officinalis
Stocks Matthiola incana and hybrids
Sweet William Dianthus barbatus
Verbena Verbena rigida
Wallflower Erysimum cheiri

Herbaceous Perennials

Alyssum Aurinia saxatilis
Arabis Arabis alpina
Astrantia Astrantia major
Aubrieta Aubrieta deltoidea
Candytuft Iberis sempervirens
Catmint Nepeta× faassenii
Dahlias - single flowered types
Elephant's ears Bergenia spp.
Forget-me-not Myosotis spp.
Globe Artichoke Cynara cardunculus
Globe Thistles Echinops spp.
Golden-rod Solidago spp.
Hyssop Hyssopus officinalis
Ice Plant Sedum spectabile paler varieties are better
Jacob's Ladder Polemonium caeruleum
Michaelmas Daisy Aster novae-angliae
Mint Mentha spicata
Phlox Phlox paniculata
Red Valerian Centranthus ruber
Scabious Scabiosa spp.
Sea Holly Eryngium spp.
Soapwort Saponaria spp.
Sweet Rocket (Dame's Violet) Hesperis matronalis
Thrift Armeria spp.
Thyme Thymus spp.
Verbena Verbena bonariensis

Shrubs

Blackberry Rubus fruticosus
Butterfly Bush Buddleja davidii, also B. globosa
Cherry Laurel Prunus laurocerasus
Escallonia hybrids
Firethorn Pyracantha
Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Heather Calluna vulgaris
Heaths Erica spp.
Hebe spp.
Ivy Hedera helix
Japanese Spiraea Spiraea japonica
Lavender Lavandula spp.
Oregon Grape Mahonia aquifolium
Privet Ligustrum spp.
Sallows Salix spp.

Native Wild Flowers

Angelica Angelica sylvestris
Bugle Ajuga reptans
Buttercups Ranunculus spp.
Clovers Trifolium spp.
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale
Fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica
Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata
Hawkweeds Hieracium spp.
Hemp Agrimony Eupatorium cannabinum
Knapweeds Centaurea spp.
Lady's Smock Cardamine pratensis
Marjoram Origanum vulgare
Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria
Sallows Salix spp.
Scabious Knautia arvensis and Succisa pratensis
Stonecrop Sedum acre
Teasel Dipsacus fullonum
Thistles Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.
Valerian Valeriana officinalis
Water mint Mentha aquatica

For the caterpillars

Remember that without food plants for caterpillars to feed on there will be no butterflies to visit your flowers! The average garden is not really suitable for many butterflies to breed. Leaving one or two nettles is not enough to tempt a Small Tortoiseshell to lay eggs – she needs large patches. So, it is important to make sure we have large areas of nettles, thistles, etc. nearby. Popular food plants include holly, ivy, cabbage, nasturtium, honesty, grasses, cuckooflower, blackthorn which may encourage species like the whites, Orange-tip, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood to breed.

Other things you can do

  • Leave fallen fruit under trees to rot
  • Avoid using chemicals to kill garden pests as they will also kill caterpillars.

Printing of this publication for educational purposes is permitted, provided that copies are not made or distributed for commercial gain, and the title of the publication and its date appear. To copy otherwise, or to republish, requires specific permission from the Author or Staffordshire Ecological Record.

Created by SER © 2017 The Wolseley Centre, Wolseley Bridge, Stafford. ST17 0WT Last updated 10/04/2015
Operated by: Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, Staffordshire County Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council