How to attract butterflies to your garden

How to attract butterflies to your garden

Provide food for caterpillars and choose nectar-rich plants for butterflies and you’ll have a colourful, fluttering display in your garden for many months.
Illustrated butterfly lineup

While just about any flower with nectar can be a treat for butterflies, it is a slightly different story for caterpillar food or 'host' plants. In fact, most butterfly species have just a short list of host plants. Often this is because caterpillars need particular chemicals from that plant to bring out their warning colouration as butterflies.

Some butterflies and caterpillars overwinter, so shelter in the garden, such as thick growths of ivy, is also important.

 Plants for butterflies


Host plant


Stinging nettle, hop, currants

Common blue


Dingy skipper

bird’s-foot-trefoil, horseshoe vetch

Green-veined white

Hedge mustard, cuckooflower, nasturtium

Holly blue

Holly, ivy 

Large skipper

Cock's-foot, false brome

Large white

Cultivated varieties of Brassica oleracea, such as cabbage and brussel-sprouts, nasturtium, wild mignonette 

Meadow brown

Grasses: fescues, meadow-grasses and bents


Cuckooflower, garlic mustard, honesty

Painted lady

Thistles, stinging nettle


Stinging nettle

Red admiral

Stinging nettle, hop


Cock's-foot, false brome, tufted hair-grass, common couch

Small copper

Common sorrel, sheep's sorrel

Small skipper


Small tortoiseshell

Stinging nettle, small nettle

Small white

Cultivated varieties of Brassica oleracea, such as cabbage, nasturtium, wild mignonette, hedge mustard, garlic mustard

Wall brown

Cock's-foot, false brome, Yorkshire-fog, wavy hair-grass 


Nettle and red admiral illustration

Growing host plants for caterpillars in the garden is not necessarily guaranteed to attract the relevant butterflies, but butterflies do breed in gardens, so it is worth experimenting with different host plants to see which species might find your garden suitable.

wild about gardens butterfly