As well as being beautiful to look at, butterflies have an important role to play in the garden as they pollinate flowers. Butterflies and moths are valuable indicators of a healthy environment and healthy ecosystem. Areas rich in butterflies and moths are often rich in other wildlife such as earthworms, spiders, molluscs and snails which all have their place within your gardens eco system. As butterflies react very quickly to change in their environment it makes them an excellent biodiversity indicator and a decline in numbers is an early warning sign for other wildlife loses.
Butterfly numbers have decreased in recent years and Sir David Attenborough is calling upon the public to help reverse butterfly decline by taking part in The Big Butterfly Count, the world’s largest butterfly survey. It was first started in 2010 and fast became the world’s largest survey of butterflies with over 36,000 people taking part in 2016 counting almost 400,000 butterflies and day-flying moths across the UK. This year’s count runs from Friday 14th July to Sunday 6th August.
It is easy to get involved and counts are welcome from anywhere: parks, school grounds, meadows or even your own garden. Each count lasts 15 minutes and can be done from one spot or whilst out on a walk. If you are counting from a fixed position, count the maximum number of each species that you see in a single time (this is to avoid the same butterfly being counted twice by accident). If you are doing your count out on a walk, total up the number of each butterfly species that you saw in the 15 minutes.
To record your butterfly count and to download your free butterfly identification chart visit CLICK HERE.
How to attract more butterflies
To encourage more butterflies into your garden you need to provide a welcoming environment by growing the right type of flowers. Adult butterflies are especially fond of plants with long, tubular flowers that grow in sheltered sunny areas to feed on the nectar. The butterfly season starts in March and runs right through to October/November time when the frosty weather starts.
Some of the best plants for butterflies are as follows:
This is one of the best known plants for attracting butterflies and is commonly referred to as a ‘butterfly bush’ with fragrant and high nectar flowers. There are many varieties of Buddleja davidii to choose from and will grow in most soils as long as it is in a sunny position, they will produce blooms throughout the summer and into the autumn.
This tall perennial has erect, branching stems that grow up to 2meters in height with clusters of small purple flowers from summer to autumn. Verbena Bonariensis can be grown in most soil types as long as it is well drained and works particularly well in flower borders to add height.
Hebes are great evergreen shrubs that attract a wide range of insects including bees and butterflies. These summer and autumn flowering evergreens are suitable for rock gardens, shrub boarders and ground cover with flowers ranging from white and pink to purple and mauve. Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies are particularly drawn to Hebes.
Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’
With dark grey-green leaves and upright racemes full of mauve flowers, this bushy evergreen perennial attracts bees, butterflies and moths from March right through to October. Erysimum can grow in moderately fertile, well drained neutral or alkaline soil in full sun.
You can also attract butterflies to your garden with artificial butterfly feeders which you can buy or make yourself at home.
Why not make your own butterfly feeder!
To do this you will need the following:
- 1 empty clean glass jar with a screw tight lid (make sure it doesn’t leak)
- 1 Kitchen sponge (about ½ inch thick)
- Hammer and nail
- String – x2 pieces 24 inches each
- 3 brightly coloured plastic mesh scourers OR Silk flowers (you will also need glue to secure these to the jar)
Start by making your butterfly food by mixing 10 parts water with one part sugar in a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
Punch a small hole through the centre of your jar lid using the hammer and nail. If needed, ask an adult to help with this to avoid any accidental injury.
Using your scissors cut a strip about ¼ inch wide from the kitchen sponge and trim it down so it is roughly one inch long and ¼ inch wide on all sides.
Carefully poke this one inch piece of sponge through the hole in the lid made by the nail. This is fiddly and has to be done carefully as to not tear the sponge; it should be a snug fit.
Turn your empty jar upside down and tie both pieces of string together around the top of the jar with double knots opposite to each other as shown in the picture.
There should be two knots, one on the left and one on the right, each with two pieces of string off of each. Take the two pieces of string closest to you (one from the left and one from the right) and tie another double knot one third of the way up the jar. Repeat with the other two pieces of sting on the other side.
Repeat the above process with the second lot of knots roughly 1-2cm from the top. Tie all four pieces of string together in a knot at the top to make it secure. After that it should look like the picture below.
Step 4 (optional)
To make your feeder bright and attractive to butterflies you can decorate your jar by placing plastic mesh sponges into your jar before pouring in the sugar solution or by gluing silk flowers to the outside of the jar.
Fill your jar with the cooled sugar solution and screw the lid on tightly so it won’t leak.
Finally, find a sunny sheltered spot in the garden to hang your butterfly feeder and wait for the butterflies!