Attracting butterflies into your garden

Suffolk Wildlife Trust

Comma butterfly by Steve Aylward

Butterflies will be attracted into any garden that offers shelter from the wind and a supply of nectar from flowering plants. There are more than 30 different species of butterfly in Suffolk, though many are becoming rarer due to losses of wildflower meadows, hedgerows and woodlands.

Butterflies need a supply of sugar-rich nectar from flowers, which come from a variety of native flowering shrubs and wildflowers. By planting a good selection of garden flowers or herbs, it is possible to provide an ample supply of nectar from March to September, when butterflies are on the wing.

What plants are best for butterflies?

It’s not just flowers that can sustain butterflies, over-ripe or rotting fruit can provide an autumn feast for late garden visitors. Here are some of the bushes, garden flowers, herbs and wildflowers that can help make your garden a one-stop shop for Suffolk’s species.

  Spring Summer Autumn
Bushes and climbers

Pussy Willow

Native Privet (not trimmed)

Over-ripe fruit
Ivy blossom
Garden flowers Aubretia
Sweet rocket
Red valerian
Sedum spectabile
Michaelmas daisy
Sweet scabious
Verbena bonariensis
Herbs   Lavender
Wildflowers Dandelion
Bird's foot
Red clover
Field scabious
Viper's bugloss
Devil's-bit scabious
Hemp agrimony

Two particular plants deserve special mention when it comes to attracting butterflies into gardens and encouraging them to stay and breed.


Perhaps the easiest type of butterfly to tempt over the garden fence are the nettle feeders. Stinging nettles planted in an old tub buried in the ground (to prevent them spreading and becoming a nuisance) in a sunny sheltered position will soon attract species such as red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell and comma. Small tortoiseshells prefer young nettle growth, so it is a good idea to cut down part of your nettles in late June or July (removing any caterpillars first) to allow the next generation of butterflies to benefit from the re-growth.


Even more popular than nettle, is grass, the host plant for no less than ten of our butterflies. The entire family of "Browns" and three of the Skippers require grassland to breed. Simply by leaving wide strips of un-mown grass around the margins of your land, you can have meadow browns, gatekeepers, large and small skippers breeding at home.

Caterpillars need the protection of tussocks, they come up the stem to feed, mainly at night, and get right down in the clump to over winter. Let wildflowers grow in the margin too, as the extra nectar will help; if you have space, you could even establish a wildflower meadow.

Suffolk's butterflies

English name Status Foodplant
Small Skipper Common Grasses
Essex Skipper Common Grasses
Large Skipper Common Grasses
Dingy Skipper Suffolk BAP Bird's-foot trefoil
Clouded yellow Migrant Clover & Lucerne
Brimstone Common Buckthorn
Large White Common Brassicas
Small White Common Brassicas
Green-veined White Common Cruciferae
Orange Tip Common Garlic mustard
Green Hairstreak Local Gorse, Broom
Purple Hairstreak Local Oak
White-letter Hairstreak Rare Elm
Small Copper Common Sorrel
Brown Argus Common Rock-rose
Common Blue Common Trefoils
Holly Blue Common Holly, Ivy
Silver-studded Blue BAP Heather, gorse
White Admiral Woodland Honeysuckle
Red Admiral Common Nettle
Painted Lady Migrant Thistle
Small Tortoiseshell Common Nettle
Peacock Common Nettle
Comma Common Hops, Nettle
Speckled Wood Common Grasses
Wall Local Grasses
Grayling Heathland Grasses
Gatekeeper Common Grasses
Meadow Brown Common Grasses
Ringlet Common Grasses
Small Heath Common Grasses