The dramatic decrease in the number of bees in our gardens and countryside has been well documented. However, there is also a decline in the number of butterflies and moths. These beautiful and beguiling insects not only provide a spectacle in the summer garden and country meadows but are a useful indication of the general health of a habitat because of their sensitivity to changes in the ecosystem. Here are some useful tips on how to attract butterflies and moths into your garden.
Both butterflies and moths have two distinct phases to their lives, the caterpillar and the adult, so it is important to cater for both when planning a butterfly and moth friendly garden. As with all wildlife, the starting point is to be as organic as possible and not to use sprays. Water is as important to insects as it is to birds, so supply plenty of water in dry weather. Butterflies prefer the sun and dislike wind, so make sure you grow their favourite plants in a sunny and sheltered spot.
Butterflies and moths do hibernate, so as with other beneficial insects leaving dead leaves on some plants in the border or in outdoor planters over winter will give them somewhere to sleep. Ivy is a favourite. Also leaving a few windfall apples and other fruit behind in your autumn clear-up will provide butterflies and moths with a good source of food prior to hibernation. Another common place for these insects to hibernate is a greenhouse or shed, so leave a window or door ajar to allow them to fly in and out. Butterflies like to lay their eggs on the young shoots of nettles, so leave a patch to grow in a sunny corner of the garden.
Like bees and other beneficial insects, butterflies feed on nectar, so probably most important of all is to provide plenty of nectar rich flowers for them to feed on. Because many butterflies can emerge as early as February or March and still be around as late as November, it is important to grow a range of nectar rich plants to span the whole season. Keep this in mind when planning border planting and the planting of outdoor planters. Many of the plants suitable for butterflies are wild flowers such as dandelion, teasel, thistle, camion and valerian, so if you can devote a small part of your garden to wild flowers you will be richly rewarded with plenty of butterflies. Other garden perennials are just as attractive to butterflies. Perhaps the best known is buddleia or butterfly plant. Others include lavender, mint, primrose, forget-me-not, goldenrod, sedum and sunflowers. Moths love buddleia, scabious, honeysuckle, white campion, petunia and tobacco plant.
Source: Jo Poultney