How to encourage garden butterflies

 In Butterflies and Moths, Gardening for Wildlife, Nature, Wildlife

If you’ve wondered how to encourage garden butterflies then read on!

When walking both the South West Coastal Footpath and the Pembrokeshire Coastal Footpath I was walking among clouds of butterflies.

small tortoiseshell, butterfly

Small Tortoiseshell on Buddleja

This got me wondering what we could do to encourage these garden butterflies into our own little patch.










Garden Butterflies like it hot



garden butterflies on Sedum, Ice plant, bees,

Small Tortoiseshells on Ice Plant [Hylotelephium Herbstfreude]

The recent hot spell was good news for garden butterflies and moths alike!

These invariably do well when the weather is settled. They like it when 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 referring to those beautiful colourful ones that can upstage even the prettiest bloom in the garden!




Coastal Conditions

Meadow brown butterflies, garden butterflies

Meadow Brown garden butterflies

It is always said that for butterflies to do well they need shelter. And yet judging by the 45 degree angle of every tree on the coast that isn’t perhaps quite so important!

Clearly our coasts are windy places. But they are also areas that are full of wild flowers and are far from intensively managed.

These narrow strips are made up of simple plant species. These plants are often the un-improved species of garden plants that we grow in our gardens.


Thrift, thyme, campion [both red and sea], honeysuckle, scabious and many more are there.

It is these plants that are the corner stone to butterfly and moth survival there.

If you look closely you can see the very early flowering plants. These help the early emerging species and first generations to flourish. Half buried in the grass it’s not hard to find violets, primroses and cowslip plants.

As summer fades the autumn flowering ones will emerge too.




Garden Escapes


Brimstone butterfly on primroses

Brimstone butterfly on primroses

You can find garden escapees along these coastal strips. These are attractive to insects too.

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!










Food Plants

Bird's foot trefoil, flower meadow

Meadow filled with Bird’s Foot Trefoil

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

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

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

That lovely lawn weed ‘bird’s foot trefoil’ is a food plant too! Many other so called lawn ‘weeds’ are too.




garden butterflies on bluebells

Orange tip butterflies on bluebell

Many plants that we can grow in our gardens will also be helpful to bees and other insects.

But some flowers are adapted so that only the long tongues of moths and butterflies can reach deep into their throats to get a sip of nectar. Honeysuckle is a classic example.









Suggested Plants to Grow

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

But remember, the wider the range of plants and the longer the flowering period they have, the greater the chances butterflies and moths will visit you.

You’ll also get greater range of garden butterflies in your garden.

My advice would also be to avoid double flowered and highly hybridized varieties.

Garden Butterflies on a yellow flower

Gatekeeper on Rudbeckia

Remember that the single flowers are the most attractive to garden butterflies.

Hardy Shrubs ~ Buddleja, Hebe, Lavender.

Herbaceous Perennials ~ Achillea, Ajuga, Allium, Aster, Chrysanthemum, single flowered Dahlias, Echinacea, honesty, perennial wallflowers, Rudbeckia, Scabious, Sedum/Hylotelephium, Sweet Rocket, Verbena.

Rockery Plants and Herbs ~ Thyme, heathers, marjoram, mint, Sedum, Viola, Dianthus.

Climbing Plants ~ Campsis, Dutchman’s Pipe [Aristolochia], Eccremocarpus, honeysuckle and jasmine.


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.

If you want a more comprehensive list there is one here.

Remember that any of the plants that are good for bees are also good for butterflies too.


Cabbage White Butterflies

Garden Butterflies

Large White butterfly on nettle

And as to those cabbage whites?

Well to avoid spraying them regularly with pesticides use an organic garlic spray to deter them. You’ll need to spray regularly to coat new leaves as they develop.

Alternatively, here’s a recipe to make your own garlic spray. You could keep these butterflies off your cabbages by covering them in fine environmental fleece tent. I bought mine from Gardening Naturally. Details here.




Netting covering cabbage plants

Netting over cabbage






Citizens Science

Marbled White butterfly

A Marbled White butterfly

Why not take part in the Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count?

This annual survey carried out by thousands all around the country enables us to monitor how well – or how badly – butterflies are doing.

The Butterfly Conservation organisation is behind this and you can learn more about them here.

It’s very easy to do and you can use your iPad or smart phone with the downloaded free app.

Simply enter each type and number as you see them.

Don’t worry about whether you will be able to tell one from the other because the app shows pics and gives defining details.

Alright I have to admit with all the white butterflies in the air in my garden I do get a bit confused between large, small and veined ones!

But after just 15 minutes I had counted 52 and 7 distinct species!

Give it a go and make your contribution to science. You have until mid August to do it.

a red admiral butterfly

A beautiful Red Admiral

Incidentally, most of those 52 butterflies were on or around a Buddleja shrub. Little wonder that its common name is ‘butterfly bush’. I’ve written a blog on this hardy shrub here.


Which plants are the most popular in your garden with butterflies and moths?

Did you know that over-ripe fruit is attractive to some butterflies?



[This article is adapted but taken from Alan’s regular Saturday gardening column in the Western Daily Press and several other West Country newspaper titles]




Further recommended reading

If you do in fact garden close to the coast then you might enjoy reading my blog about gardening on the coast.

There’s more really useful advice on garden butterflies here.


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