Butterflies and moths take small amounts of pollen on their legs when they land on flowers, unlike bees that end up covered in polled. As they travel longer distances than bees, butterflies can spread pollen from many flowers over large areas. This helps to ensure that plants have a stronger and wider variation of DNA.
Regardless of whether you have a big or a small garden, you can easily give butterflies a hand in finding food. Make sure to pick up butterfly houses, flower seeds, and gardening equipment so that you can create your butterfly-friendly garden.
These vital pollinators are seeing their natural habitat declining alongside bees, with woodlands and wildflower meadows being affected through intense farming, road building, and housing developments.
Butterflies That Might Visit Your Garden
With a striking orange-brown colouring, Comma butterflies are distinguishable due to their underwings having a white comma and the wing edges being jagged. A preferred food-plant for Comma caterpillars, nettles provide food for these orange and black, spiny caterpillars.
The white patch on the larvae’s body make them seem like bird droppings, helping them to avoid predators who are discouraged from eating them. They also use elms, hop, currant bushes, and willow to lay their eggs on.
When you spot these beautiful butterflies, you’ll see how they got their name. Their wings have coloured eyespots on their wings – much like peacocks. Peacock caterpillars are black and spiny, hatching hundreds at a time. Both the caterpillars and the butterflies live together in groups in nettles’ leaves, in protective silk tents. Stinging nettles are their vital foodplant.
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Easy to spot due to their orange upperwings, blue-spotted edges, and black patterns, these are some of the most beautiful butterflies that visit UK gardens. Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars rely on nettles for their larvae to eat. The eggs are laid on the plants, hatching approximately a week and a half later. The spiny and black caterpillars emerge in groups on top of nettles in a protective silk web.
Painted Lady Butterfly
Although muted in colour, Painted Lady butterflies are white pretty insects – and you might have seen them around your garden already. Their black and white markings and brown base on their wings are distinct.
The Painted Lady caterpillar is a yellow-striped, spiny larva that eats the underside of nettle leaves. Mallow and thistles can also be used as a larval foodplant. They use nettle leaves attached with silk as a tent for protection.
Red Admiral Butterfly
Frequent visitors in UK gardens, Red Admiral butterflies have dark wings with white and red markings. Red Admiral caterpillars like nettles, hop, and small nettles as foodplants, laying singular eggs on the leaves of nettles. The eggs hatch approximately a week later, with spiny, black, and yellow-striped caterpillars emerging.
Like the Painted Lady butterfly, they also fold nettle leaves and clasp them with silk for protection.
Some UK butterflies, such as the Painted Lady, migrate during winter to Africa for the warmer climate. The Red Admiral, the Peacock, and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies hibernate in houses, butterfly homes, brickwork, or dried-out grass stalks.
Note: don’t disturb hibernating butterflies; put them in a shoebox with a small hole on a side (to allow them to fly away when they wake up) and make sure they are safe and dry, in a dark place.
Encouraging Butterflies to Visit and Stay in Your Garden
Butterflies have four stages in their lifecycle, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and to adult. Different species will prefer different areas to seek shelter in and to lay their eggs, and a butterfly house is a great way of providing them with a safe place.
Make sure to place your butterfly house facing south where it will get most of the sun. Butterflies love sun and warmth, as their wings evolved to soak up heat. The butterfly house will need to be dry and fixed in place for windy conditions.
Note that species like Tortoiseshells and Peacock butterflies are known to hibernate in winter, so don’t clean out your butterfly house as soon as the weather turns cold.
Butterflies eat nectar that they taste with their feet through sensors, drinking from flowers through their proboscis (a narrow and long tube similar to a straw). Their feeding habits are easy to see on a quiet, warm day when they land on your garden flowers.
Buddleia, or butterfly bush, can grow in practically any soil very easily. You may see these flowers with red, white, pink, or blue colours, typically blooming in July and August. Make sure to prune them in spring so they don’t grow too tall.
Lavender. These purple-blue flowers are great for low-growing hedges or edging beds, thriving under shelter and in sunny spots. They should be planted either in April or May, and they require well-drained soils and pruning to encourage growth.
Oregano is a perennial herb that can grow to around three feet tall, with pink, white, or purple flowers growing between June and September. This plant doesn’t need a lot of maintenance, and it works as a great ground cover or edging plant.
Nettles are food plants that are perfect for Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Painted Lady, Comma, and Red Admiral butterflies.
You can also plant the following plants:
For water, add a small dish with pebbles (so they don’t drown) and make sure that it’s filled with water on a daily basis. Also make sure to give butterflies sun and warmth if you find one on a cold day – it’s likely in trouble and it will need shelter.
Pick up a butterfly very gently, or cup it in your hands, and avoid rubbing their wings together or damaging them in any way. Their wings don’t regenerate, and they are very sensitive. Give it a bit of cool water with dissolved sugar – but don’t get any on their wings! – and let them drink their fill.
Make sure not to release it again when it’s cold or rainy but find a dry and sunny spot away from predators. The same applies to bees, ladybirds, hoverflies, and moths.
You can order some wildflower seeds for your garden to help all the beneficial insects and pollinators to thrive. Get in touch with our team on 0845 602 3774 to know more – we’re always happy to help and to answer any questions you may have.