No one can deny that butterflies are beautiful, mystifying and elegant insects to see flying around the garden. But there are fewer and fewer of them about. And that’s why we’ve put together this ultimate guide on how to attract butterflies. So, how do you do that?
To attract butterflies, you firstly need to start growing butterfly-friendly plants such as buddleja, salvia, coneflower and lavender. You then need to start encouraging caterpillars and also allow your garden to grow a little wilder.
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that. And that’s why we’ve put together a full guide for you to go through. By the end of it, you’ll know exactly how to go about attracting butterflies to your garden:
Why Should You Attract Butterflies?
There are three main reasons why you would want to attract butterflies to your garden and why they are important:
Firstly, butterflies are pollinators. When most people think about pollinators, they instantly jump to bees. But butterflies are also pollinators.
When a butterfly lands on a flower to grab some nectar, it will also collect pollen on its body. When it flies to another flower head, it will begin the pollination process. Although butterflies are not quite as important as bees when it comes to pollination, they are still pollinators.
Secondly, seeing butterflies in your garden is an instant sign that you’re doing something right. If there are butterflies then you are likely to have hoverflies and bees too. You’re also probably going to have other beneficial bugs such as ladybirds, lacewings and moths.
Finally, and rather selfishly, you should attract butterflies because they are a real natural marvel. There’s no creature quite as majestic as a butterfly – especially one that you can see on a regular basis in your own garden!
How to Attract Butterflies
Now it’s time to start doing all you can to encourage butterflies to come into your garden. We’ve covered everything you could possibly need to do to successfully entice butterflies into your garden:
11 Plants that Attract Butterflies
The most obvious place to start is with your planting. If your garden is full of flowerless shrubs, ornamental plants and bedding plants lacking in nectar then you’re not going to attract butterflies.
Instead, work your way through this list and make sure you include a few of these in your garden:
Buddleja – There’s a reason why buddleja is also referred to as butterfly bush! They love the stuff! Each long spike is actually made up of lots and lots of tiny flowers, each containing a little morsel of nectar for a butterfly to collect.
A butterfly can land on one flower head and enjoy a bountiful supply of nectar without having to hop from flower to flower.
Cornflower – Cornflowers are a native wildflower that you can get away with growing in a small garden without it looking like a weed which is often the problem with many wildflowers.
The good news is that they’re very easy to grow. There’s no need to buy them as plants, just pick up a cheap packet of seeds, sprinkle them on the ground and then rake the seed in lightly so it’s in contact with the soil.
Marigolds – As they’re bright and strong-smelling, butterflies are easily attracted to marigolds. You can learn more about their love for marigolds here.
If you want to attract as many butterflies as possible, make sure you sow clumps of marigolds and not just individual flowers. It’s also important to dead-head as often as possible to encourage further blooms to be produced.
Yarrow – As it only needs a small area to grow, yarrow is actually one of the most highly concentrated sources of nectar for butterflies who can easily land on its flat flower heads.
Yarrow won’t just draw in butterflies but will attract a huge range of wildlife including bees, moths, birds and hoverflies.
Salvia – Many salvia plants will draw in butterflies (and other pollinators) but none more so than the aptly named Blue Butterfly salvia. As you can gather from its name, it is particularly good at attracting butterflies with its nectar-rich flowers.
Nepeta – Nepeta, or catmint, might best be known for sending cats into a bit of trance but it’s not just cats that love the stuff. Butterflies, and other pollinators, love nepeta as it’s loaded with nectar.
Verbena Bonariensis – There’s nothing quite as peaceful as seeing a delicate butterfly balance atop a lollipop of Verbena Bonariensis. The flat landing area makes it easy for a butterfly to get positioned to grab as much nectar from the verbena as possible.
Sunflowers – Sunflowers are hugely attractive to butterflies. Not only are the bright flowers loaded with nectar but the foliage also makes great food for caterpillars which is why butterflies will often lay their eggs on sunflowers.
Globe Thistle – Seeing the word thistle might put you off planting them in your garden but don’t panic just yet. Not all thistles are the same. Just look at the photo below to see both how stunning they are and to also see how much butterflies love them:
Lavender – We all know lavender as being hugely beneficial to bees but it will also draw in butterflies who can easily grab hold of the spikes of blue and purple flowers to extract nectar.
Coneflower – Also known as echinacea, coneflowers are stunning flowers with open flower heads that make accessing nectar super easy for butterflies. It’s almost as if the nectar protrudes out enticing butterflies and other pollinators in.
Avoid Killing Caterpillars
As a gardener, you probably won’t go a single growing season without cursing caterpillars who happily munch their way through cabbages, brassicas, salvias and… Well, anything!
The problem is, we all have a bit of a love-hate relationship with caterpillars. No one wants to see caterpillars taking over their garden. The problem is that we all love the sight of butterflies in the garden. We also all know that you cannot have butterflies without caterpillars. Caterpillars are baby butterflies after all.
So, if you want to attract butterflies to your garden then you need to avoid killing caterpillars. Those caterpillars will eventually become stunning butterflies. As frustrating as a caterpillar infestation can be, try to leave them be.
Our 14 Fun Facts About Butterflies
Leave Fallen Fruit on the Ground
In late summer, butterflies need to collect as much sugar as possible which they can then store for the cooler months. They can do this from rotten fruit.
Fresh fruit that’s still on the tree (or that has just fallen) is too hard for butterflies to consume. They don’t have teeth or a normal mouth. Instead, the fruit needs to have rotted and become much softer so that butterflies can easily extract the sugar.
If you want to attract any form of wildlife then it’s time to put the pesticides to one side and go the organic route. There simply is no excuse for using pesticides.
That aphid infestation might be driving you insane. Those thrips could be ruining your roses. But spraying pesticides won’t just target these pests, it will also harm beneficial bugs… Butterflies included!
Pesticides and insecticides are not going to discriminate. They won’t just target the insects you want to get rid of. Instead, they’ll harm anything and everything they come into contact with. Think this is just an anti-pesticide rant from a hippy? Then check these resources out for further evidence:
- Washington State University
- Natural Resources Defence Council
- Royal Society Publishing – Biology Letters
Allow Things to Go Wild
Whether it’s dandelions growing on your lawn (which butterflies love!), weeds in your flower beds or shrubs becoming overgrown, leaving things to grow a little wilder than you’re used to is a great way to attract butterflies.
Butterflies, like most wildlife, don’t care for a pristine formal garden. Instead, they need shelter. They need food. They need nectar. They need other creepy crawlies. By allowing your garden to become a little more wild (and natural!) you’ll instantly attract more wildlife, including butterflies.
Butterflies love the scent of strong-smelling flowers. Flowers smell like this to draw in pollinators to then encourage pollination. Ultimately, butterflies want to smell nectar!
There is no one flower that attracts butterflies the most. Instead, you need to plant flowers that provide nectar over a long period of time. Plants such as buddleja (or butterfly bush), glove thistles and lavender all do this particularly well.