Gardening for butterflies

Attracting butterflies to your garden is easy when you know how.

An Orange-tip Butterfly perched on top of a flower.

By picking the right nectar plants and growing them in sunny conditions, you can make your garden a butterfly-friendly haven. 

Estimated time: 3-4 hours Season: Autumn, Summer, Spring Skill level: Easy


Choose your plants for butterflies

We have some recommendations for each season here:

Spring flowers:

  • Bugle (Ajuga reptans) – a ground-cover woodland perennial plant, with low spikes of purple flower
  • Erysimum (Erysimum bicolor) ‘Bowles’s mauve’ – a perennial wallflower with mauve flowers
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea) – a shrubby tree, which can grow to 15 m tall, so it needs space and shouldn't be planted near houses because of its vigorous root
  • Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis) – a delightful, slender plant with pink flowers for moist soils
A purple flowering Erysimum in amongst green leaves.

Summer Plants:

  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – a lovely perennial for the flower border, with large flowers with a central spiky cone surrounded by pink petals
  • English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – the familiar Mediterranean herb, a short-lived subshrub that likes poor, dry soil
  • Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) – a British native perennial, sending up lots of metre-tall leafy stems topped with fluffy pink flowerheads
  • Marjoram (Orieganum vulgare) - a British native of downs and grassland, about 30cm tall with lots of small pink flowers
  • Verbena Bonariensis – a trendy plant that is so dainty its tall stems topped with purple flowers can be slotted in among your existing border plants.

Autumn flowers:

  • Bugbane (Actaea simplex) – A tall, upright spike with white flowers along it
  • Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) – a native wet meadow and downland flower with little lilac pompom flowers
  • Iceplant (Sedum spectabile) – fleshy leaves and pink flat heads of flowers
  • Ivy (Hedera helix) – the familiar climber, but allow it to get its head into the sun in order to flower
  • Michaelmas Daisy (Aster novae-angliae) – a perennial for the flower border with familiar pink and purple daisy flowers.
A small Tortoiseshell Butterfly perched on lavender in a flower meadow.

Plan where to put your plants

Look for sunny, sheltered spots – this is where your butterfly plants will produce the most nectar. Plant a nice mix of nectar plants in a cluster, so butterflies can flit from one to the next. A bit like a buffet!

Want a free wildlife-friendly gardening guide?

Our guide is full of ideas for welcoming nature into your outdoor space. Put a few of our tips into action and your garden will be buzzing with wildlife in no time. 

Download The Free Guide 

Partnering with

The RSPB is a member of BirdLife International.More