Our gardens are not only a place for us to enjoy, they can also be vital as a support system for all kinds of wildlife, including butterflies.

As we all unfortunately know, many UK wildlife species, including butterflies, are in decline. The most recent The State of the UK’s Butterflies report by Butterfly Conservation suggested 76% of the UK’s resident and regular migrant butterflies were in decline. The good news is, as long as there are plants with suitable nectar for them, butterflies will visit gardens of any size, from the hugest estate to the smallest balcony. So we can all do our bit to halt this trend.

Plants for Butterflies By Season

A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on Buddleja, aptly known as ‘Butterfly Bush’

Butterflies have different needs from their food supply throughout the seasons.

By choosing a selection of plants that offer a suitable food source for butterflies in spring, summer and autumn you can encourage them to return and get to know your garden as a continued source of food.

Top Tip from a Hillier Gardening Club Member

The most important plant for our four most colourful butterflies is the humble nettle (Urtica Dioica). Every gardener should be encouraged to have a (suitably isolated) small area on their patch.

Great Plants for Butterflies in Spring

Erica carnea ‘Snowbelle’

In spring, food helps butterflies regain energy following their winter hibernation or return journey from winter migration. It also gives them energy for finding a mate.

Recommended plants:

  • Aubrieta
  • Erica (heathers)
  • Erysimum
  • Lavandula stoechas
  • Malus
  • Muscari
  • Primula vulgaris
  • Pulmonaria
  • Ribes sanguineum

Great Plants for Butterflies in Summer

Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’

In summer, butterflies still require a continued food source for survival and you will be rewarded with the sight of them flitting happily around your garden in the warm sunshine.

Recommended plants:

  • Allium
  • Aquilegia
  • Buddleja (‘The Butterfly Bush’)
  • Ceanothus
  • Centaurea nigra (common knapweed)
  • Cotoneaster
  • Dahlia
  • Erysimum
  • Geranium
  • Lavandula angustifolia
  • Lonicera
  • Oregano
  • Roses
  • Verbena bonariensis

Great Plants for Butterflies in Autumn

Verbena bonariensis

In autumn, butterflies use nectar as energy to survive hibernation or the strength to fly to a sunnier destination during winter – often travelling a far as Africa.

Recommended plants:

  • Aster
  • Buddleja (‘The Butterfly Bush’)
  • Cosmos
  • Dahlia
  • Gaillardia
  • Nepeta
  • Phlox
  • Scabiosa
  • Sunflower
  • Sedum
  • Verbena bonariensis.

Food Plants for Breeding

If you want to encourage butterflies to breed in your garden, as well as feed, you need to grow food plants that they will lay eggs on, that will ultimately hatch into caterpillars.

Plants that provide nutrition for caterpillars include:

  • Grasses
  • Hedera helix (Ivy)
  • Ilex aquifolium (Holly)
  • Nasturtiums
  • Quercus robur (Oak)

Top Tips for Creating a Butterfly Friendly Garden

  • If possible, choose plants that offer a food source throughout every season
  • Even if you only have a balcony to garden on, butterflies can find energy from plants grown in a window box
  • Butterflies like warm, sunny spots so try to position your butterfly-friendly plants in a sunny, but not windy, location
  • A small wildflower meadow patch in your garden will be loved by butterflies