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

Many UK wildlife species including butterflies, are unfortunately in decline. The most recent The State of the UK’s Butterflies report by Butterfly Conservation suggested 80% 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

Tortoiseshell butterfly

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’

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
  • Helleborus
  • Lavandula stoechas
  • Malus
  • Muscari
  • Primula vulgaris
  • Prunus
  • Pulmonaria
  • Ribes sanguineum

Great Plants for Butterflies in Summer

butterflies love lavendar

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
  • Salvia nemerosa
  • Verbena bonariensis

Great Plants for Butterflies in Autumn

Verbena bonariensis

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
  • Stinging nettles and Ivy are extremely valuable sources for many native butterfly caterpillars to feed on.
  • Butterflies enjoy both native and non-native plants
  • Often double flowered plants lack nectaries and whilst beautiful don’t have nectar for pollinators, worth checking before planning in a wildlife garden.
  • Visiting the garden centre every month will help you to find which ones flower throughout the year. Early and late nectar sources are a very valuable addition as these are often the most lacking.

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