By midsummer we look forward to the butterflies that visit our garden. They seek out the flowers in the meadow to feed on nectar, and some use the grasses to lay their eggs upon.
Others will rest and open their wings on the leaves of shrubs and trees and may choose these as host plant on which to breed. I the evenings moths seek out similar habitats, safe havens away from hungry bats that emerge at dusk.
So how can you attract more butterflies into your garden, ideally a wider variety, other than those cabbage whites that come to feed on your brassicas?
Remember you can attract butterflies to feed and to breed so it’s worth considering both. Here are 7 top tips to help you to turn your plot into a butterfly haven:
1. Try to provide nectar sources throughout the season, not just in midsummer when butterflies are most plentiful.
Spring flowers, such as primulas and myosotis provide nectar for butterflies that overwinter and are coming out of hibernation. Some overwinter in sheds or barns, or in a butterfly box if you have one in the garden.
Autumn flowers, such as ceratostigma and Verbena bonariensis provide nectar for late flying butterflies that are about to go into hibernation.
2. Butterflies like a warm, sheltered environment to feed and to breed. Plant nectar sources and plants on which they are likely to lay their eggs in sheltered sunny positions in the garden, way from strong winds.
3. Try to plant nectar plants in very visible positions. Where space allows plant in groups or drifts. Larger blocks of lavender, marjoram and thyme which are good sources of nectar and pollen are more effective at attracting bees and butterflies looking for food.
Clumps of nepeta (catnip), small flowered scabious and sedums are good examples of perennials that work well in this way.
4. Plants that are well watered and growing vigorously produce more nectar. Many seasonal bedding plants, such as zinnias and dianthus are very effective at attracting butterflies.
Keep dead-heading to encourage more blooms, water and feed regularly. You will not only help the plants, but you will help attract the butterflies.
5. Grow as wide a variety of good nectar plants as possible in your garden. The greater the diversity, the more different species you are likely to attract.
This is also true of the plants butterflies choose as their breeding ground. Do a little research and find out which plants some of your native butterflies lay their eggs on. This list will help: http://butterfly-conservation.org/files/caterpillar-food-plants.pdf
6. If butterflies are going to breed in your garden you will have to love the caterpillars. Butterflies lay their eggs on their chose plant (often a grass).
Then the caterpillars emerge, feed and eventually pupate. Avoid insecticides at all cost: kill the caterpillars and you won’t have the butterflies.
So you will have to put up with some caterpillar damage on the chosen host plant.
7. Most butterflies lay their eggs and breed on specific native plants. These may not be the most desirable garden subjects.
If you have the space keep a few growing in a wild corner, however there are often wild subjects growing close by where the butterflies can breed and they will visit your garden to feed, if you plant the right nectar plants.
For example in the UK several common butterflies including peacock, red admiral and small tortoiseshell breed on nettles, but they will flock to buddleja, nepeta, verbena, salvia and just about any other nectar source in the garden.
A few of the best nectar plants to attract butterflies:
Buddleja is number 1 – It really earns its common name: butterfly bush. If you have a small garden try one of the dwarf varieties and grow it in a pot.
Dianthus barbatus (sweet William)
Lonicera periclymenum (common honeysuckle)
Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender)
Sedum spectabile (ice plant)
Aster (Michaelmas daisy)
Origanum vulgare (marjoram)
Echinacea (cone flower)
For further suggestions visit Butterfly Conservation http://butterfly-conservation.org/files/100-best-butterfly-nectar-plants.pdf
Gardening For Wildlife: Attract Birds, Bees & Butterflies