What could be more evocative of summer than to see your garden filled with brightly-colored butterflies fluttering from flower to flower – beautiful to watch, but perhaps even more beautiful to see close up. Their fascinating life-cycle will prove irresistible to kids, too! But with their habitats under threat and numbers falling, what is the best way to attract them to feed and breed in your garden?
As is so often the case, creating the right habitat is key. While doing any of the steps set out here will help, if you are really serious about creating a healthy population of your favorite butterflies, it’s best to think about the whole life-cycle, from egg through to the mature butterfly.
Butterflies have evolved over millions of years to fit into the wild landscape, so it’s that wild landscape that we need to try and mimic – because many of the things we do and the plants we grow in our modern gardens might look pretty to us, but really are not enjoyed by the butterflies!
Look after the Caterpillars
When looking for a place to lay their eggs, butterflies will look for plants that will give their caterpillars the food and shelter they need. There are several well-known favorites: holly, ivy, stinging nettles, buckthorn and thistles for example. Leave a patch of your garden a bit wild.
Vegetable growers will not look forward to their cabbages and kale being devoured by caterpillars though – and it can be a problem. The last thing you should do of course is spray with insecticide. Instead, try moving any caterpillars you find onto less valuable plants by hand, while planting nasturtiums in amongst your crops can help as well, as these are well liked by the insects.
Feed the Adults
Butterflies feed on nectar of course, so you need to choose nectar-rich plants that have flowers throughout the season, not just at the height of summer.
Some early flowerers include: bluebells, dandelion, honesty, primrose, sweet william, wallflowers and violas.
Buddleia, hebe, lilac, lavender, valerian, forget-me-not and honeysuckle, thyme and ivy will flower later on in the summer and autumn.
If you have space for a patch of native wild flower meadow, they would love it – pretty too!
Plant your flowers in the sunniest spot you can find, and wait. They will find you!
About the Author
Stephen Bailey is an experienced gardener and garden designer who writes and blogs extensively on the subject. His website Tern Gardening Reviews has all sorts of information on gardening tips, tools, equipment.