6 ways to make your garden a haven for butterflies
Nicky Roeber is the online horticultural expert at Wyevale Garden Centres and, in this article, he takes a look at how you can transform your garden into a butterfly paradise. Read on to find out more.
When you’re sitting out in your garden, there aren’t many more lovely sights than a butterfly floating by on its way to your flowers. However, here in the UK, our butterflies are facing big problems — 76% of our species have suffered long-term declines in abundance and occurrence, according to research by the charity Butterfly Conservation.
Butterflies have had it rough for a while, but 2016 was a particularly bad year for the insects, sitting as the fourth-worst year on record. The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme reported that 40 of 57 natural species suffered a decline between 2015–2016, so it’s really important that from 2017 onwards we do all we can to help support our butterflies populations.
With this in mind, it’s worth thinking about the ways you can turn your garden into a haven for our British butterflies. If enough people make the effort to do so, we could begin to see a recovery for many species. Here are my top six tips for creating a butterfly-friendly outdoor space.
Get to know your local butterflies
Before you go ahead and make any changes to your garden, do some research and find out which butterfly species are likely to frequent your area. The Big Butterfly Count is an annual effort to keep tabs on the country’s population and species dispersal — they have a great interactive map that you can use to find out what’s been counted near you. With this insight, you can look into what your local butterflies love and really cater to their needs.
Go for butterfly-attracting plants
You can encourage butterflies to pay your garden a visit by adding plants that they love. They need sustenance from March until November, so cultivating a range of flowers that offer nectar rich flowers from the spring into the autumn is a great way of helping. Aubretia, sweet rocket, and wild primrose are great for the springtime, lavender, chrysanthemums, and French marigolds work very well in summer, while buddleja (the butterfly bush), Michaelmas daisies, red valerian and ice plants are ideal for the beginning of autumn.
This is just a selection; there are many other butterfly attracting plants friendly flowers. Plant in groups rather than single flowers to make it easier for pollinators to find them, they look better mass planted anyway! The Royal Horticultural Society has a detailed list of garden plants that are perfect for pollinators and look great as well. It is well-worth a look.
A place to breed and overwinter
To help the butterfly population thrive, you should also grow plants that help them to breed and overwinter. A patch of long grass makes an ideal butterfly breeding ground. Larvae love to feed on the likes of stinging nettles, holly, and ivy as they grow. You can help to support their development by adding these to your garden.
Create warmth and shelter
Butterflies rely on the sun to stay warm, but our British weather doesn’t always provide them with what they need. To improve conditions in your garden, choose a sunny spot for your nectar-rich plants, preferably with some open space nearby where they can spread their wings and warm their bodies. Creating shelter is also important, as butterflies need to stay out of the wind and rain to thrive. Make sure you keep some trees or shrubs around to give them a place to escape from the worst of it. If you have the space why not replace your fence with a hedgerow of native shrubs.
Give your visitors a place for puddling
Butterflies often like to land on damp sand or mud to drink water and absorb some minerals — behaviour that is known as puddling. You can fill a shallow dish or pan with some wet sand and lay it out in the open for butterflies to take a rest and refresh themselves. Make sure you keep the sand moist.
Avoiding using chemicals in your garden
Recent research by the Universities of Stirling and Sussex suggests that there is correlation between the use of certain pesticides (neonicotinoid based) and a dramatic decline in pollinators, including butterflies. In light of this, you should avoid using any pesticides insecticides in your garden — the Bumblebee Conservation Trust have a great article about controlling pests naturally without harming butterflies and other pollinators that you should read.
Follow the tips laid out here, and you’ll soon be helping the UK’s butterfly population to thrive. Plus, your garden will be full of colour come next spring, which is always a bonus!