Prepare your garden for plenty of butterflies this year

Prepare your garden for plenty of butterflies this year

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Recent years seem to have brought nothing but bad news for butterflies - news stories have reported how climate change has been having a negative impact on their survival, while their numbers observed in our gardens have frequently been disappointing.

However, all that might be about to change following a period of favourable conditions for many species, particularly the rarer types. 

According to Butterfly Conservation, the current cold spell combined with warm weather last summer could combine to enable Scarce Tortoiseshells to survive their winter dormant period in this country for the first time in around 300 years.

There were more than 20 sightings in 2014, despite the species having been scarce for the past 60 years, so this could really boost their numbers in Britain.

Meanwhile, the charity hopes the Continental Swallowtail and Clouded Yellow will also survive the winter, as a cold snap ahead of warm weather in spring would suit them.

Head of monitoring at Butterfly Conservation Dr Tom Brereton told the Daily Telegraph: "The emergence and immigration of Continental Swallowtails and scarce Tortoiseshells has made 2014 a truly remarkable butterfly year and, with a bit of luck, 2015 could shape up to be even more memorable."

There have also been reports that the internationally threatened Marsh Fritillary has been making a comeback in woodland in Lincolnshire.

Getting your garden ready for butterflies

It may only be early yet, but there are things you can do to ensure your garden will be a haven for butterflies in the spring and common, whether they're rarer types or the more typical varieties like Peacocks.

Even if your garden's small, designing it with the insects in mind will raise your chances of spotting plenty once the warmer weather arrives. Here are some of our top tips, which you can make a start on now.

Preparing the soil

You may not be able to get going on this if your garden is still under a blanket of snow and ice, but as soon as it disappears you can start to give the soil some TLC. The plants your butterflies will feed on grow best when organic matter is mixed in, so add three inches of peat-free compost to the topsoil for plenty of nutrients.

Start sowing seeds

If you're itching to make a start, you can always get hold of some propagating trays for your greenhouse, cold frame or windowsills and sow some seeds and tubers now. Plants such as Lobelia, Antirrhinums, Sweet Peas, Begonia Tubers and Dahlia tubers can all be established indoors now, so check their packaging for heat and soil requirements and ensure plentiful plants in a few months' time.

Plan your design

If the weather's still poor you can do this on paper, but otherwise, go out and take a look at the space available to plan a basic planting design. Aim to have nectar-rich flowering plants like Verbena Bonariensis, Lavender and Marjoram in clusters, and butterflies tend to like varying heights in which to shelter. You should also try to ensure that you'll be getting flowers from spring right through to autumn.

Don't forget that not all butterflies like full sun; some prefer shade and so you might benefit from planting a few shrubs and woody plants that create a woodland-type environment.

Don't use pesticides

This is more of a tip for once winter is over and your butterfly garden is already getting established, but avoid insecticides and pesticides wherever possible. They can kill butterflies and lots of other insects too. Instead, use mulch around your plants to control weeds, which has the added benefit of conserving moisture in the soil when it gets hot.

Add some accessories

You can add certain accessories to your garden that will encourage butterflies to stay, including basking stones and fruit feeders, while special butterfly and bee boxes will offer them somewhere to shelter during bad weather.

Check out more tips on butterfly gardening in this helpful book and see if you can pack your green space with butterflies in 2015. If you don't already receive our catalogue, sign up here to receive the new edition as soon as it becomes available.  The next issue will include full details of our spring collection of wildlife friendly plants, including many that are attractive to butterflies.