Wild in the garden - May

Posted on: 16 May 2014 by 50connect editorial

Sue Tatman, Conservation officer at Cheshire Wildlife Trust, offers tips for making your garden a haven for butterfiles this May.

butterfly perched on Verbena

Butterflies are some of the most visible and attractive insects in the garden. In the summer these “living flowers” are a delight to the eye. Adult butterflies feed on nectar, the sugary liquid produced by flowers to attract pollinating insects. The easiest way to make your garden butterfly-friendly is to have an array of nectar rich flowers in bloom from early spring to late autumn.

Which flowers are best?

Butterflies feed by standing on flowers and probing for nectar with their long proboscis. They like flat flowers they can easily stand on, such as members of the daisy family, or flowers made up of many tiny florets, such as buddleia. They cannot reach the nectar in deep bell-shaped flowers such as foxgloves, although the latter are still worth planting as bumble bees find them irresistible.

AlyssumSome flowers have more nectar than others: many modern hybrid varieties produce little or no nectar, or have many extra petals, which make it difficult for insects to reach any nectar produced. But you can get around this by being a bit more selective when choosing what you are going to plant.

May is a wonderful time to plant-out annual bedding plants, colourful in their own right, they also provide a wonderful way to attract butterflies into your garden. Nectar-rich varieties such as Alyssum, Nicotiana and Cosmos are particularly attractive to butterflies.

Butterfly’s favourite spring plants include:

  • Aubretia (Aubretia deltoidea)
  • Honesty (Lunaria annua)
  • Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
  • Sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
  • Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri)


Meadow flowersButterfly SOS

Butterflies need our help; continued habitat loss has contributed to a decline in the number of British species recorded each year. Modern farming methods have reduced flower-rich meadows which butterflies depend on for nectar. A reduction in wild-flowers along field margins and at the bases of hedgerows has also contributed to a loss of rural butterfly-friendly habitats.

While gardens can never replace the countryside, they can provide a vital feeding point for butterflies.

Looking after a butterfly border

Planting a butterfly border will provide butterflies with a regular source of food and give the garden a vibrant appearance. To get the best out of your butterfly border avoid using chemical pesticides which might kill the butterflies you have put effort into attracting. Organic gardening will greatly benefit butterflies, and by creating a varied ecosystem with many predator species pest damage is minimised, although it can never be totally eliminated.

DeadheadingWildlife friendly tips for the garden in May

  • Bare gaps between plants will encourage weeds, why not fill any gaps with colourful, nectar-rich annuals.

  • Regular dead-heading will extend the flowering season of many annuals and perennials.

  • In dry weather water well, to ensure a plentiful supply of nectar.

  • Be observant. On a sunny day spend time in your garden - or a friends, or even a public park - and see which flowers butterflies spend most time on.

For further information please contact:
Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Bickley Hall Farm, Bickley Lane, Malpas, Cheshire, Sy14 8EF.
Telephone: 01948 820728


By Sue Tatman, Cheshire Wildlife Trust Conservation Officer

Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Cheshire Wildlife Trust has been safeguarding local wildlife since 1962. Now regarded as the region's leading environmental conservation organisation, the Trust covers Cheshire, Warrington, Halton, Tameside, Trafford, Stockport and Wirral. One of the major areas of the Trust's work is managing nature reserves. The Trust owns or manages over 45 nature reserves covering more than 470 ha. These include woodland, meadow, heathland, wetland and coastal dune wildlife areas.

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