Saturday, 7 January 2017

Start planning your 2017 butterfly garden now

The Small Copper butterfly

Last year was a pretty miserable one for garden butterflies. How many butterflies did you see fluttering around? The Big Butterfly Count results revealed the Gatekeeper, Comma and Small Copper were down 40%, 46% and 30% respectively compared to 2015. This is a devastating reduction in numbers. It is tragic that the next generation of children might never have the healing experience of butterflies and Summer days that we once took for granted. We need to give it back.

These common species will all visit gardens to feed on nectar. Some species are declining in the South and are attempting to spread North. You can help them recover this year by making sure your garden offers sustenance throughout the butterfly season.

Winter is a great time to draw up planting plans for your flowerbeds but even adding a pot of pollinator-friendly flowers can make a difference. The Butterfly Conservation Society's Secret Gardener blog publishes monthly tips and for January suggests some of the following easy ways to start turning over a new leaf in your garden in 2017.

Add some more nectar plants
Aim to provide a food source for butterflies and moths from at least spring to autumn. It can be a simple as planting the evergreen Perennial Wallflower Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ which can have purple flowers all year round and is attractive to the Small Tortoiseshell and Large and Small Whites.

Having plants in flower during the winter is useful for any butterflies coming out of hibernation early on warm days.  Witch Hazel, Hamamelis,  provides both colour and nectar in January.

For moths chose something scented or white or with tubular flowers. Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum 'Scentsation' is a climber which flowers from mid-summer to mid-autumn.

Add some more foodplants
Encourage butterflies and moths to breed by leaving a small patch of grass to grow unchecked. A wild patch provides vital foodplants for caterpillars.

If you don’t have much room you can still cater for the Mint Moth Pyrausta aurata with a pot of Mint.  Bowles (Apple) Mint Mentha x villosa alopecuroides grows to 75cm with pretty flowers and can also be used for your mint sauce. A container of Nasturtiums will attract white butterflies, providing a useful distraction from your Brassica vegetables.

The Butterfly Bush (Buddleia) –  The cone shaped flowers have a rich fragrance that attracts butterflies and bees.  If you don’t have room for one of the older varieties such as “Black Knight” or “Royal Red” there are new dwarf variants such as the “Nanho” or “Pixie” types.

Potentilla fruticosa – There are a range of varieties with different coloured flowers through summer. ‘Lovely Pink’ and ‘Goldfinger’ are examples of small shrubs that will attract butterflies and bees.

Creeping Thistle
The Lancashire Wildlife Trust tell us that Buddleia and Nettles (!) are ideal plants for Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral butterflies, while Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) supports Painted Lady butterflies. Jack-by-the-hedge and Cuckooflower attract breeding Orange Tip butterflies, whose caterpillars feed on these plants. A sheltered garden or an enclosed suntrap will help to create the best conditions.

Watch out for the wildlife
Keep an eye on the butterflies and moths in your garden and see which plants are popular nectar or food sources, so you can grow more of them if you have space.

Plan to take part in Butterfly surveys. Make a note in your diary of the dates of the Big Butterfly Count (14 July to 6 August) and aim to have some plants in flower providing nectar during this period.

Moth Night this year runs from 12 to 14 October with the main theme of Ivy so you could plant one now in readiness.

If you have more time available then why not keep a record of the butterflies you find in your garden all year round with the Garden Butterfly Survey. 

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