Plants for moths

A recent post by a fellow blogger (Sasha – LondnPlantology) got me thinking about Moths and plants that we could all grow to help out. The original post was about Seedball and their Bat mix – not a friend to many moths I hear you say? That much is certain I am sure but there is a food chain and these are both part of it. We hear a lot about Bees and there current plight (dire indeed if we do not act soon) as well as some other insects but Moths don’t seem to get too many features – at least that I see. With the inspiration from Sasha’s blog and wanting to spread a little love for Moths I thought I would come up with a short list of plants that can give these insects a bit of help.

A few little bits of information I have learnt in looking at this subject:

1 – There are over 2500 species that have been found in the UK compared to less than 70 butterfly.

2 – Along with butterflies they form the Lepidoptera order of insects – Lepidoptera means ‘scaly-winged’

3 – The largest resident moth is the Privet-Hawk – wingspan up to 12cm.

4 – Moth populations have dropped by up to 40% since 1968, some species by as much as 99%

5 – The Bee Hawk moth has evolved to look like a bee – to put off predators.

Onto the plants now – there are several you can grow to help moths covering two main areas – Nectar and Food plants (for the caterpillars). Native species are the preferred option as you would expect as these are what moths evolved alongside but it is not essential. Single flowered varieties are also much better as a source of nectar by being more accessible. Both of these simple things can help point you in the right direction. I will pick out four plants from each of the two areas to get things started and hopefully this will inspire you to try these or look at alternatives.

1 – The first nectar plant I will go for is the Wood Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis Sylvatica) a plant I am sure we have all heard of and maybe already grow – a good start if you do. You get a beautiful blue flower from around April to June, that will sit well at the front of a border in either full sun or partial shade. They are a hardy biennial that is described as ‘freely self seeding’ so once you start they will take care of themselves year on year (or take over if you are not careful).

2 – Honeysuckle comes next – Lonicera Periclymenum which has a good strong scent into the evening. Important when thinking about moths as they are active day or night depending on the species. You need to be careful to get the correct Honeysuckle, some introduced species won’t give the effect we are looking for here. Crocus.co.uk have a variety named ‘Heaven Scent’ which gives a yellow flower with its strong scent – growing up to 7 metres making it great for a pergola or wall with support.

3 – Wild Primrose – Primula Vulgaris, this is a plant I think of when you talk about native species and early flowering, a welcome bit of colour after winters potential gloom. A smaller plant than the first two so you can get several in the garden, preferring a spot with some shade so perhaps a bit of under planting. They can be divided after flowering when they get large, so that means free plants as well once established.

4 – Buddleia (Buddleja) – Davidii – before anybody shouts at me, yes it is not native but there are always exceptions and this is a good one. Everybody knows the Buddleia don’t they? – or butterfly bush and as the name suggests it is good for those but also for this list it’s a friend to moths as well. This is a sun lover and sandy soil won’t be much of a problem – which for me is quite handy. They can be pruned hard to keep them under a bit of control in March. I have the ‘Black Knight’ cultivar in my garden – loved the name and it has a nice deep purple colour which along with blue are my favourites.

5 – The first of the plants as a food source for moths – Blackthorn – Prunus Spinosa also known as the Sloe. I have this already, love Sloe Gin so it was a given for me to try growing some of these. It can be grown as a tree but is often found in hedgerows – certainly true for my area where there are a few if you know where to look. As an added bonus it flowers early in the season so we get the nice blooms and pollinators get access to a food source.

(Blackthorn is the row just behind the Hazel)

6 – Ivy – Hedera Helix, not really one I call a favourite as it can be very dominating and hard to keep in check. That said its value for wildlife is significant, firstly as a source of food which it ticks on three counts – flowers for nectar, berries for birds and the leaves for caterpillars. It also provides a good place to hide or nest for a range of insects, birds and mammals including bats and dormouse. It would be hard to recommend buying this unless you have a lot of space. But tolerating it if it is in your garden is very much worth doing – the biodiversity it can bring is well worth it.

7 – The Foxglove – Digitalis Purpurea – a bit of a classic for most gardens in my mind and a firm favourite in cottage gardens. This is the only food source for the caterpillar of the ‘Foxglove Pug’ but can also be eaten by a number of others. Generally considered a biennial which ‘freely’ self seeds, so once you have a few growing its fair to say they will keep coming back. I would like to be able to fit more of these in my own garden but space is limited in my flower beds – that said I will find space for a few.

(Foxglove from my garden but not 100% that it is Purpurea)

8 – Hazel – Corylus Avellana – a plant with quite the range of uses for both wildlife and us humans. For me the primary use will be coppicing when it grows large enough to provide canes for my veg to grow up. But it provides nuts which are great for us and wildlife including again the dormouse. Importantly (for the purpose of my post) the leaves are a food source for several moth caterpillars, which gives you the best chance of attracting some to your garden. Hazel can be left to grow as a tree but when coppiced it will have a much longer life and offer more advantages to wildlife and us.

Ok, so that is my eight plants for moths, all of which offer these insects a helping hand in the fight for survival. They all add value to more than just moths so will help the general biodiversity of the garden – including many beneficial insects to predate on less welcome pests. A key feature to help not only moths but wildlife in general as mentioned above is to grow native species. I don’t think we should get too militant about this – there is room for non-natives as well and many of these add rather than detract from a garden and its appeal to both wildlife and us. Sympathetic planting for native species of insects and other wildlife gives benefits for everybody so I would encourage you all to give this some thought when you buy new plants.

A few links that helped me when looking into this post are:

www.ukmoths.org.uk

www.mothscount.org.uk

www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

I would recommend checking out the following website for local independent nurseries if you are looking to source any of the plants above, or any other native (or not) plants – http://independentplantnurseriesguide.uk/

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