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Moths and butterflies in your garden

Moths and butterflies in your garden
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Moths and butterflies in your garden

Anyone with a garden, no matter what its size, can help our butterflies and moths. In doing so, we also help ourselves. These species are among our most beautiful insects. All butterflies and many moths fly by day and visit gardens in search of flower nectar, and also warmth and shelter. Some species may find suitable food plants in gardens where they can lay their eggs. Some of these plants may be wild, while others, such as honesty, act as alternative non-native host plants. Very few species cause damage to flowers or vegetables. On the other hand, butterflies and moths are important pollinators and good indicators of a healthy environment.

What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly?

Butterflies all fly by day (and a few also at night, when they will fly towards light) and have distinctive clubbed antennae. Most, but not all moths fly by night and have either wiry or feathered antennae. Most butterflies rest with their wings upright, perpendicular to their back (the only exceptions are some of the rather moth-like skippers). Only a few moths do this. The distinguishing feature shared by all butterflies and moths is their coloured wings.

Why moths and butterflies visit gardens

Most butterflies and moths feed on nectar, which they suck from flowers using their long proboscis-like a straw. The sugar-rich drink provides them with the instant energy needed for flight. Butterflies seem to be particularly attracted to blue or pink flowers. Many moths like pale flowers that reflect the light and are strongly scented at dusk. Most gardens will have some food plants for moths and butterflies, whether they are ‘weeds’ such as dandelions, or trees like birch and willow – not to mention cabbages and currant bushes. The more food plants there are, the more species a garden will potentially support. Another great advantage of gardens is that they are sheltered. Often, too, they are sunny and offer a variety of small scale habitats that butterflies and moths can use.

Which plants are the most beneficial

In general, the flowers that butterflies and moths like are the traditional cottage kinds that most closely resemble their wild counterparts. Buddleja or ‘the butterfly bush is famous for attracting butterflies, especially when in a warm spot by a brick wall. Other butterfly favourites include ice plant, lavender, wallflowers, verbena, and, as an end-of-the-season treat, Michaelmas daisy. Moths are lured by a good scent. Evening-scented flowers like privet, sweet rocket, night-flowering stock and evening primrose attract many species including hawk-moths.

Unwanted visitors

Very few butterflies and moths are a real nuisance in today’s gardens. The main ones are the two ‘cabbage white’ butterflies – largely white and small white – and the less well-known cabbage moth, whose caterpillar bores into the heart of the vegetable. Their numbers can be kept down by interplanting nasturtiums or marigolds among the cabbages. Nasturtium acts as a decoy, marigold as a repellant.