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How to Make a Butterfly Garden?

One of my favourite things to do is to make special areas in my garden for wildlife. With a little bit of thought about the plants you buy, you can make your garden attractive not just for you to enjoy but for wildlife too. In this article, I’ll talk about how to make a butterfly garden. I’ve got three different ways to do this, so don’t worry if you haven’t got loads of space.

StrikiIf you are lucky enough to have a garden, you could plant a butterfly border. Or, how about a butterfly pot on the patio? If you just have space on windowsills or a balcony I’ve got that covered too, with advice on how to plant up a butterfly windowbox.

I love seeing butterflies I’ve never spotted before. Many butterflies have suffered declines, but the good news is that your garden can be an excellent haven for them.

If you choose the right plants, you will soon start to see a butterfly revival. And If everyone grows a few flowers that butterflies like, it will make a big difference.

Read on to find out more.

Why It’s Good to Attract Butterflies?

Did you know that butterflies pollinate flowers just like bees do? Moths are pollinators too. By spreading pollen from plant to plant on their legs, butterflies and moths help plants to reproduce.

Some of the fruit and vegetables we eat rely on insect pollinators – tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, squashes. So insects are very helpful to have around.

As well as bringing colour and beauty to your garden, butterflies are part of the food chain. Butterfly and moth caterpillars are food for frogs, toads, hedgehogs, birds and other wildlife. These are all helpful animals to have in your garden.

Don’t forget the moths…

We have 59 species of butterfly in Britain, but an incredible 2,500 species of moth – amazing eh?

Moths tend to fly more at night, so we don’t notice them as much. But there are quite a few that fly during the daytime too, and they have some stunning colours and unusual names.

Take a look at our list of common moths you might see in your garden at the end of this article. The night-flying moths tend to like white flowers because they are easier to see in the dark.

How to Make a Butterfly Garden?

How to Make a Butterfly Garden?

You can plant a border in your garden with all the flowers that butterflies and moths love. Or if you have less space, then plant a butterfly pot or window box.

Where to Put Plants for Butterflies?

First, you should choose a sunny, sheltered position – butterflies are attracted to flowers in the sun. Sowing or planting against a south-facing wall is ideal. If you are planning to have a butterfly pot or window box, choose a sunny shelf or spot on the patio.

Which Plants Do Butterflies Like?

This is the fun bit – choosing the flowers. A lot of the old cottage garden flowers are excellent choices. Crammed in together, they will provide masses of flowers for butterflies to feed on. Read on for my list of top flowers for butterflies. I’ve included my favourites in the list below, and choosing plants from each group means you will have something in flower for butterflies in the spring, summer and autumn.

Best Plants to Attract Butterflies

Spring Flowering:

  • Honesty
  • Cowslips
  • Forget-me-nots
  • Bugle
  • Primroses
  • Bluebells
  • Sweet Williams
  • Cuckoo Flower
  • Violets

Summer Flowering:

  • Lavender
  • Chives
  • Aubretia
  • Bird’ s-foot trefoil
  • Catmint
  • Thyme
  • Red valerian
  • Knapweed
  • Buddleia
  • Lilac
  • Honeysuckle
  • Yarrow
  • Sedum (ice plants)
  • Marjoram
  • Sage
  • Poached eggplants
  • Cornflowers
  • French marigolds
  • Hemp agrimony
  • Scabious
  • Purple loosestrife

Autumn Flowering:

  • Lavender
  • Asters
  • Michaelmas daisies
  • Ivy
  • Sedum (ice plants)
  • Hebe
  • Buddleia
  • Verbena

Top Tips for Planting a Butterfly Garden

  • Plant flowers in groups of threes or fives to provide lots of colour and scent. Groups of flowers are more likely to attract butterflies.
  • Plants such as buddleia, lilac and sedum have lots of small flowers packed tightly together. Each of these flowers contains nectar, so butterflies can collect lots of food from just one plant.
  • Choose flowers that are easy to land on – daisy-shaped flowers, for example. They have a central ‘landing pad’! Michaelmas daisies, asters and marigolds are all good choices.
  • By choosing plants that flower at different times of the year, you will make sure you are offering a constant supply of food for butterflies in your garden.

How to Make a Butterfly Border in Your Garden?

What you’ll need:

  • A sunny spot about 3m x 1m (10ft x 3ft) – a south-facing wall is perfect
  • Garden spade and fork
  • Peat-free compost or your own green waste compost

A selection of plants butterflies love – see list above.

  1. Break up the soil with a fork. Dig in plenty of compost and remove any weeds or roots before you plant your new border.
  2. It’s a good idea to think about different heights and shapes of plants when you make your butterfly garden. Place your plants (still in their pots) where you think they will go best, to get an idea of layout before you put them in the ground.
  3. You might want to choose two or three larger shrubs (buddleia, holly, lilac), a climber (ivy or honeysuckle to grow up a wall), some tall flowers for the back of the border (red valerian, sedum, verbena), some for the middle (marigolds, lavender, scabious, sage) and some that are shorter for the front (thyme, marjoram, forget-me-nots, bird’ s-foot trefoil, primroses).
  4. Dig holes twice the size of your plant pots. Place plants in the holes and fill in with soil enriched with the compost. Firm the plants in well.
  5. Water well and wait for your butterfly garden to come to life.

How to Make a Butterfly Pot for Your Garden?

What you’ll need:

  • A container at least 1ft deep x 3ft long is good to give plants plenty of space
  • Old broken pots or pieces of polystyrene for drainage
  • Multi-purpose peat-free compost
  • Hand trowel or fork

Plants that butterflies love, such as:

  1. 1 x Buddleia
  2. 3 x Sedum (ice plants)
  3. 3 x Red valerian
  4. 2 x Evening primrose
  5. 2 x Thrift
  6. Line the base of the pot with the drainage material to about 5cm/2 inches deep.
  7. Add 15cm/6 inches of compost on top.
  8.  Arrange your plants on top of the soil and fill the container up with more compost.
  9. Firm the plants in.
  10. Water and wait for the butterflies and moths to arrive.

How to Make a Butterfly Window Box?

What you’ll need:

  • A window box with plenty of drainage holes
  • Multi-purpose peat-free compost
  • Hand trowel or fork

Plants that will grow well in window boxes such as:

  1. Thyme
  2. Forget-me-nots
  3. Marjoram
  4. French marigolds
  5. Nasturtiums
  6. Mint
  7. Chives
  8. Fill your windowbox half full of compost.
  9. Choose three plants from the list above per box, to give them plenty of space to grow.
  10. A good combination is a trailing nasturtium with herbs such as marjoram or thyme.
  11. Place your plants on top of the compost, fill up with more compost and firm in.
  12. Water well and wait for your butterflies to arrive.

Which Butterflies and Moths Will I Get in My Garden?

See how many different butterflies and moths you can spot in your garden. If you grow plants they love, they will come.

9 Garden Butterflies

  1. Holly blue
  2. Peacock
  3. Red admiral
  4. Common blue
  5. Brimstone
  6. Large white
  7. Comma
  8. Painted lady
  9. Orange-tip

9 Garden Moths

  1. Cinnabar – flies during the day
  2. Garden tiger – flies during the day
  3. Burnished brass
  4. Elephant hawk-moth
  5. Hummingbird hawk-moth
  6. Six-spot burnet – flies during the day
  7. Angle shades
  8. Peppered moth
  9. Large yellow underwing

Think About Caterpillars Too

To get butterflies coming to your garden, it can help if you grow the plants that their caterpillars love.

These are sometimes different from the plants the full-grown butterflies collect nectar from. And sometimes, the caterpillars of butterflies will only feed on one type of plant.

Have a look at what different butterflies like below:

  • Common blue butterfly caterpillars only like bird’ s-foot trefoil
  • A patch of nettles and thistles is ideal for the caterpillars of the peacock, red admiral, comma, painted lady and small tortoiseshell butterflies
  • The orange-tip butterfly likes lady’s smock for laying eggs on
  • The holly blue butterfly lays eggs on holly and ivy
  • Nasturtiums and garlic mustard are attractive to large white and small white butterflies. These are often known as cabbage white butterflies because they also like cabbages!

Feeling inspired? Get started making your butterfly garden today.

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Amit Kumar