Gardening for Butterflies and Moths

 In Gardening for Wildlife, Gardening tips, Visit Britain, Wildlife

Gardening for butterflies and moths; have you considered doing it in your garden?

Sedum, butterflies, bumblebees, flies, flowers

Common Tortoiseshell butterflies, bees and flies on Sedum Ice plant

I’m surprised at how many butterflies and moths I’ve seen so far this year.

This got me wondering what we all could do to encourage these beauties into our own gardens.

Weather can affect the fortunes of butterflies and moths alike! They invariably do well when the weather is settled and we get plenty of sunshine without too much wind.

But I’m not just talking about the clouds of large and small cabbage white butterflies that you have to fight your way through to find your cabbage patch! I mean those beautiful colourful ones that can upstage even the prettiest bloom in the garden!



Comma, nettle,, gardening for butterflies and moths

Comma butterfly on nettle

Regular readers may recall that I enjoy walking our coastal footpaths. I’m always struck by just how many butterflies and moths you see there.

It is often said that, for butterflies to do well, they need shelter. Yet judging by the 45 degree angle of every tree on the coast that isn’t perhaps the case! Clearly our coasts are windy places.

Coasts are also strips that are full of wild flowers and far from intensively managed. There are many plants there that are un-improved species of garden plants.

Thrift, thyme, red campion, alpine campion, honeysuckle, scabious and many more are there. It is these plants that are the corner stone to butterfly and moth survival.

Look more closely and you can see the very early flowering plants that help the early emerging species and first generations to flourish.

Brimstone butterfly on primrose flowers

Brimstone butterfly blends in on primroses

Half buried in the grass it’s not hard to find violets, primroses and cowslip plants and as summer fades the autumn flowering ones will emerge too.

Of course, you can find garden escapees along these coastal strips and these are attractive to insects also. Privet, Buddleja, monbretia and Michaelmas daisies are all more at home in our gardens than on the coast but they all seem to make a success of living on the edge!



Provide food plants when gardening for butterflies

caterpillar, scarlet tiger, moth, gardening for butterflies and moths

Scarlet Tiger moth caterpillar

We mustn’t forget that gardening for butterflies and moths also also means providing food plants for their caterpillars.

Long grass is surprisingly important so perhaps leave a corner un-mown until late summer.

Stinging nettles are a favourite food plant for several butterflies and can be easily kept in check since they have remarkably shallow roots that are easily removed.

Bird’s foot trefoil may be a weed but it’s a food plant too!  Many other so called lawn weeds are food plants too.

Many plants that we can grow in our gardens will also be helpful to bees and other insects so you will also be helping these when gardening for butterflies and moths.

I’ve learnt that some flowers are adapted so that only moths and butterflies can use them. Their long tongues reach deep into these flower throats to get a sip of nectar.


Plants for Gardening for Butterflies and Moths 

I list here a range of easy to grow plants that will have butterflies queuing up to visit your patch.

Do remember that a wide range of plants which are long flowering will increase the chances that butterflies and moths will visit your garden. It will increase the number of moth and butterfly types too.

Avoid double flowered or highly hybridized varieties when gardening for butterflies and moths. Remember that the single flowers are always the most attractive.

Hardy Shrubs; Buddleja, Hebe, lavender.
sweet rocket, painted lady butterfly

Painted Lady butterfly on Sweet Rocket

Herbaceous Perennials; Achillea, Ajuga, Allium, Aster, Echinacea, honesty, Knautia, perennial wallflowers, Rudbeckia, Scabiosa, Sedum, Sweet Rocket, Verbena.
Rockery Plants and Herbs; Thyme, heathers, marjoram, mint, Sedum, violas, Dianthus.

Of course, there are many more good butterfly and moth plants but you won’t go far wrong if you plant a good mix of my shortlist. There is a more detailed list of great garden plants for butterflies here.

The Royal Horticultural Society has some tips on gardening for butterflies and moths here.

cabbages, netting, flower pot

Cover your brassicas with netting to exclude cabbage white butterflies

But what of the pesky cabbage white butterflies that can be so troublesome?

Spray your crop regularly, not with pesticides, but with organic garlic spray!

This makes your brassicas less attractive to butterflies so that they do not lay their eggs on them.

Covering them with in fine environmental fleece works very well too but you must make certain that you have no gaps.


If you are especially interested in wildlife you might enjoy reading this blog of some wildlife on a trip I took to the Alaskan Inside Passage on a small cruise boat.


butterfly on cowslip in grass

Marbled White butterfly on cowslip in grass

moth on green shoots

Scarlet Tiger moth on Chaenomeles

butterfly on a plant

Gatekeeper butterfly on marjoram

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