How to attract pollinators with a butterfly garden

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With the right selection of beautiful plants, you can attract pollinators with a butterfly garden. Here's what you need!

Butterflies dancing among the flowers of a herbaceous border or gorging on the nectar of buddleia conjure perfect images of a summer's day, and attracting them to your garden isn't difficult. And even on the occasional sunny day in a British winter, hibernating adults of species such as the Brimstone and the Peacock may be tempted out to feed.

A butterfly's primary needs are simple: warmth from the sun to generate the energy to fly, and a plentiful supply of butterfly food, normally nectar. Provide this, and butterflies will flock to your garden.

This selection of nectar-rich butterfly plants will provide a year-round food supply for butterflies.

Buddleia - the Butterfly Bush

Buddleia is the top favorite for most common British butterfly species, giving rise to its common name.

Hardy, easy to grow, sweetly scented, and colorful, it's a popular garden shrub in its own right, and different buddleia species will provide a succession of flowers and attract butterflies from May until October. Useful Buddleia species include:

    Buddleia globosa - May/June.
    Buddleia alternifolia - June/July.
    Buddleia davidii - July to October.
    Buddleia fallowiana - July to October.
    Butterfly Flowers for Spring and Early Summer
    Blackberry blossom - particularly attractive to Blues and Skippers
    Flowering currant - ribes
    Forget-me-not
    Late flowering fragrant daffodils
    Mint flowers, especially apple mint
    White Alyssum
    Butterfly Flowers for late Summer and Autumn
    Candytuft
    Heliotrope
    Lavender
    Rosemary
    Scabious
    Sedum spectabile' Autumn Joy.' Other Sedums seem less attractive to butterflies
    Verbena
    Butterfly Flowers for Winter
    Fragrant daffodils, especially varieties with short trumpets
    Lonicera fragrantissima
    Rosemary
    Viburnum bodnandense
    Viburnum tinus

Other Butterfly Plants and Foods

This is by no means an exhaustive list. It's worth studying butterflies' feeding habits and experimenting with new plants to add to your selection.

In general, butterflies find it difficult to get at the nectar in flowers with a long trumpet or corolla, or complex lipped flowers like snapdragons and will avoid them.

The most popular flowers usually have a mass of small miniature florets like scabious or thistle head or a central disc of miniature florets like a daisy.

But butterflies don't only feed on nectar. The juice of overripe and rotting fruit is particularly popular with a number of species, like the Painted Lady and the Red Admiral. Fallen apples, pears, and plums will often attract a large number of butterflies, which will eventually stagger away in an intoxicated state.

Contributing to Butterfly Conservation

Planting a good selection of nectar-rich plants will certainly attract butterflies, but there are several other things you can do to improve the butterfly habitat in your garden and make your garden more butterfly friendly.

Finally, get the children interested in butterfly conservation with an easy butterfly raise and release project.