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How to Attract Butterflies to Your Garden

Posted in Garden Advice on September 29, 2016


Adult butterflies are naturally attracted to flower colours that indicate the flowers are good sources of nectar. Nectar is the sweet liquid flowers produce as a 'reward' to insects that visit the flowers and thus carry pollen from flower to flower.

So to attract butterflies plant nectar-producing flowers such as:

  • Tickseed
  • Cosmos Sunflower
  • Hound's Tongue
  • Fox Glove
  • Livingstone Daisy
  • Viper's Bugloss
  • Californian Poppy
  • Fineflower Gilia
  • Godetia, Satin Flower, Farewell to Spring
  • Baby's Breath
  • Dame's Rocket, Damask Violet, etc.
  • Candytuft
  • Tree Mallow
  • Toad Flax
  • Blue Flax
  • Flowering Flax, Red Flax
  • Baby Blue Eyes
  • Love in a Mist
  • Evening Primrose
  • Shirley Poppy
  • Flanders Poppy
  • Lacey Phacelia, Blue Tansy

Of course, butterflies are the adult form, and their larvae are caterpillars. Caterpillars have very different feeding habits to their adult butterfly form.

Nectar is so named after the 'wine of the gods' and provides the adult butterflies with the energy they need to fly, mate and lay eggs. They do not need food for growth as their growth phase is almost exclusively in the caterpillar stage.

Caterpillars are voracious feeders on the foliage of plants. These may or may not be wanted in your garden. E.g. Cabbage white caterpillars can do great damage to the Brassica crops in your vegetable garden.

Butterfly caterpillars are often very selective in the plants on which they will feed. E.g. Monarch caterpillars are feeders on milkweed and swan plants, so if you want monarch butterflies in your garden plant swan plants; but expect them to be heavily eaten by the monarch caterpillars.


So to encourage butterflies in your garden you can also plant caterpillar host plants that provide food for the caterpillars of the butterflies you want.

Butterfly caterpillar host plants:

  • Red and Yellow Admiral - stinging nettles
  • Long-tailed and Southern Blue - legumes (pea family) including clovers, trefoil and medics
  • Rauparaha's and Coastal Copper - Wire Vine (pohuehue) and creeping pohuehue
  • Glade Copper - Large leafed pohuehue
  • Monarch - Swan plant

Other things to consider in making your garden suitable for butterflies are:

  • Plant the nectar plants in sunny locations sheltered from the wind.
  • Provide a moist sand or mud area where the butterflies can drink and obtain salts and other nutrients.
  • Provide flat light coloured rocks in sunny locations where the butterflies can bask and warm themselves in the sun.
  • Avoid using insecticides on or around flowers or other surfaces where butterflies would land.
  • Control wasps. Wasps are predators of butterflies and their increase may be one reason for the decline of butterflies in NZ.

Enjoy watching butterflies flitting from flower to flower in your garden. Blooming easy!

David Brittain

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