Butterfly Conservation report that in the UK, long-term trends show that 80% of our butterfly species have decreased in abundance or distribution – or both – since the 1970s. Do you see many butterflies and moths in your garden? I hope to inspire everyone to help butterflies and moths. Please don’t allow any pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides to be used on your garden, allotment, or indeed on any area in your locality, as these products obliterate our bees, butterflies, and moths.
Do you have any caterpillar food plants growing in your garden? Caterpillar food plants are just as important as the nectar-rich flowering plants for adult insects, as without caterpillars there won’t be any butterflies or moths!
Gardeners often worry unnecessarily about the risk of caterpillars devouring their prized garden plants, when in most situations there is absolutely no risk of this happening, as each species of butterfly and moth has their own species-specific food plants which they can’t survive without. For example, Peacock Butterfly caterpillars only eat nettles and hops (Humulus lupulus), and Humming-bird Hawk-moth caterpillars feed only on Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), Hedge Bedstraw (Galium album), and Wild Madder (Rubia peregrina). If you observe a group of caterpillars munching nettles in your garden it won’t matter how proud you are of your lush lettuce leaves or how close the plants are, the caterpillars will remain focussed on feasting on nettles. Nettles and caterpillar food plants grown in sunny locations will be visited more frequently by butterflies and will therefore be more likely to host a brood of caterpillars.
It’s more advantageous to grow a larger group of the same food plants together than to space your plants out sparsely or too far apart, as a large enough quantity of plants are needed to satisfy the female butterflies’ desire to find sufficient food to feed their offspring. If plants are few and far between or too shaded, they’re unlikely to be tempted.
Grasses are vital food plants for a wide range of butterfly and moth caterpillars. If you leave grassy tussocks unmown until October, you’ll be providing food for caterpillars. The best grasses for butterfly and moth caterpillars include Fescues (Festuca), meadow-grasses (Poa), Bents (Agrostis), Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata), and Common Couch (Elytrigia repens).
Our native Honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum is the food plant for the White Admiral Butterfly. Lonicera periclymenum is a total superstar of a plant! This gorgeous climber produces divinely scented flowers that enhance summer evenings with their luxuriously sweet and heady perfume. Honeysuckle’s gorgeous white flowers attract bees, moths, and butterflies. The blooms change colour from white to golden cream after pollination; as the flowers fade, they eventually mature to form berries that sustain Blackbirds, Thrushes, and other birds through autumn and wintertime. Honeysuckle is drought tolerant. The plant is self-clinging and very obliging, it requires minimal effort in terms of tying in and training and is easily grown from cuttings at this time of year. For more information about growing Honeysuckle, please click here.
Caterpillars are a major food source for birds, hedgehogs and other wildlife. To find out more about hedgehogs, please click here.
For more articles about gardening for bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects, please click here.