Saturday, 19 March 2016

Planting For Pollinators

Over the last three years we have been working to create a wildlife-friendly garden. Changing the plants we grow has changed the way the garden works. We get a huge range of wildlife living in the garden as well as passing through it- I know this because I keep a note of everything I see and the change in three years is remarkable.

A few of you have asked recently about plants for pollinators, so I thought a post on the subject might be useful.

Many more people are aware of the need to provide nectar for insects now than ten years ago, which is great, but I suspect folks still overlook the need to provide breeding and over-wintering habitat and larval foodplants. They are as important as the adult nectar source, because you won't get adults unless the babies survive :o)

As an illustration, and because everyone loves a butterfly (hopefully) here are some of the UKs commonest butterflies along with a list of the larval food plant (FP) that their caterpillars need and good nectar sources (NS) for the adults. You'll notice that the food sources are much more precise than the nectar ones.There is a full list of nectar sources at the end.

FP: nettles, hops, elm, currants, willow
NS: wide variety

FP: common nettle
NS: buddleia, hemp acrimony, teasle and others.

Small Tortoiseshell.
FP: Common nettle, small nettle, hop
NS: wide variety

Painted Lady.
FP: thistles
NS: wide variety

Red Admiral.
FP: common nettle
NS: wide variety
Large, Small & Essex Skippers
FP: areas of mixed grasses left long over winter, especially Cock's foot and Yorkshire fog.
NS: field scabious, red clover, bramble, red Campion, thistles

Small Copper:
FP: common and sheep's sorrel
NS: wide variety

Dark Green Fritillary
FP: violets
NS: knapweed, red clover, purple and mauve flowers

Common Blue
FP: bird's foot trefoil, white clover, black medick
NS: wide variety

Holly Blue
FP: Holly (1st brood early spring), ivy (2nd brood late summer)
NS: bramble, forget-me-nots, holly

Orange Tip
FP: lady's smock (also called cuckoo flower), garlic mustard, jack in the hedge, bittercress
NS: bugle, cruisers, honesty

Speckled Wood
FP: grasses
NS: aphid honeydew on oak, ash and birch

FP: grasses
NS: bramble, fleabane, ragworts

Meadow Brown
FP: grasses
NS: thistles and wide variety of meadow flowers

FP: grasses

NS: Bramble and others

Good Nectar Sources For Pollinators (the list isn't exhaustive so please do add to it in the comments section)


Red Valerian
Hemp Agrimony
Orange-Ball Buddleia (bees adore it) B. globosa
Globe Thistle
Caryopteris (autumn nectar)
Ox eye daisy
Michaelmas daisy (late nectar source)
Marjoram (one of the best all round nectar sources for a great many insects)

Borage (beloved of bees)
Fuchsia (hawkmoths)
Star Jasmine (hawkmoths)
Willowherbs (FP for Elephant hawkmoth)
Nepeta (top nectar source)
Astrantia (masterwort)
Verbena bonsariensis (top nectar source for flutters)
runner bean flowers
Everlasting sweet pea (brimstone butterflies esp)
stonecrop (autumn nectar)
Red clover

Viper's bugloss

lithodora (early nectar)
Crocus (early nectar)
pulmonaria (early nectar)
pulsatilla (early nectar)
Dog rose


Green alkanet (early nectar)

Ivy (v important late nectar over winter)
Winter jasmine (as above)
Snow berry
Tagetes (be careful of the variety- disco is a good one)
Night scented stock (moths)
Nicotiana (moths)
Poached egg plant
Snap dragons (bees)
A long list but hopefully enough there for everyone to find something they can grow :o)

Hope that was useful? This year I am also planting my hanging baskets as pollinator-friendly too.

Happy gardening!

CT :o)


  1. Scabrous should read scabious - blooming auto-correct! Afraid there are a couple of others that have come out altered too. I'll try and correct them later as out of time now.

  2. Great post, thanks CT. I think we forget how important nettles and wild areas of the garden are to the larval stage of butterflies. This was a very timely reminder not to weed out everything.

  3. thanks for the lists, I have made a copy of them, very useful.

  4. A very useful list. I'd like to do more for moths in my garden this year, so I'm interested to see what you've suggested for them. I'd especially love to see some hawkmoths. I didn't see any last year. I wish we had the Dark Green Fritillary here, but I'm fairly sure it isn't around.

  5. Good timing as I have been trying to get more plants in the garden for bees, planted five trays of Cosmos seeds to day and new Buddleia tree has gone in, making 4, hope to take some cuttings too for next year.
    Will make my way through the list...thanks
    Amanda xx

  6. This makes me feel so much better about all the nettles at the bottom of the garden! Very useful list, thank you. xx

  7. An excellent list CT which I have already copied and pasted for further reference in the ongoing project that is my own very small garden. Thankyou for sharing m'dear.

  8. What a lovely glorious list of plants... All serving an important role!
    Well done to you for encouraging the important circle of life!
    We have a cottage garden here down with Australian natives... Attracts birds and insects and is drought tolerant! Win win!

    Hope your slowing down is working and you are feeling positive and refreshed?


  9. Very useful indeed! I can probably manage the dandelions and nettles at the moment! There are lots of lovely things in that list though. Thanks x

  10. A great list, useful and really interesting. Amazing that something is able to eat holly - even without the prickles it's a really tough plant. I see how important nettles are as well. I know far less about which plants are good sources of food for the larva, I'm taking notes! CJ xx

  11. Great list of plants CT. We get a lot of Holly Blues in the garden and I am sure its due to all the holly and ivy we have and there's a large nettle patch at the top of the garden. Here I find the top plants for pollinators are lavender, red valerian, buddleia, golden rod, cosmos and echinops. I planted loads of herbs last year and thyme and marjoram flowers were very popular - had lots of Gatekeepers on the latter.

    Butterfly Conservation is running a campaign to encourage people to plant pots for pollinators. Have tried to do this over the last few years here and also grow wild flowers such as campion,forget me not and wild carrot in two big pots.

  12. I have a large plot of land and except for a small yard for The Square Ones and me it is all native wild. I do plant rosemary and have a small grove of citrus for the native Arizona Bees and all the birds.

    cheers, parsnip

  13. Such a good list, I've got a couple of boxes of mixed wildlife seeds & some cowslips to plant out xx

  14. Such a great informative post. I so enjoy seeing my little pollinators coming to my back yard. I put in some BeeBalm two years and the honey bees love this plant. I enjoy so much to sit on my deck or in my yard and watch all the busy pollinators hard at work. It truly is a beautiful site. Thank you for this most informative post. Well written dear.


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x