Nettles for Butterflies

I was watching the butterflies at Hampton COurt last night and was reminded about how nettles are so vital to butterflies.  I love butteflies but hate nettles (horrible stingy itchy things!!)  It did occur to me though that I do love the flowers and softness of the deadnettle varieties.  Does anyone know if these are as useful to butterflies and wildlife as the stingy horrible kind?  I'll happily let those roam in a patch of my garden if they are.


  • Well some people say they are but according to the Butterfly Conservation they say Stinging nettles

    I grow a couple of patches of the horrible, stinging ones simply because they were there when I moved in so I just keep them under control. One patch is at the back of a shrub and the other at the side of a compost bin so they don't really bother me.

  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892

    Nettles are absolutely essential for the butterflies of our 5 most popular species to raise their caterpillars. These butterflies require stinging nettles because they keep the caterpillars safe from grazing animals.

    Not all butterflies require nettles. The ones that do are - Peacock, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell and Comma. Others, such as cabbage white, will use other plants. If you're happy with cabbage whites, then planting a few cabbages or nasturtiums is an alternative. Personally I prefer Peacocks and Red Admirals

    As far as the gardener is concerned there are two drawbacks to nettles. If touched, even accidentally, they can sting. And they spread easily by means of their invasive shallow roots.

    The solution demonstrated at Hampton Court solved both of these problems. A pot, placed in the centre of the flower bed, removes then from acidental contact, caused by brushing against nettles while walking past the flower bed. And putting them in a pot restricts the root spread.

    Here are two pots I planted up yesterday morning...

    I thought that holding them up while tying them to the canes might be tricky, as you can't tie string wearing gardening gloves. So I did it with bare hands, carefully, and was not stung.

  • Green PGreen P Posts: 2

    Thanks to you both for your replies.  It's a shame deadnettles won't do such a good job but there you go.....  No need to put nettles in a pot in my garden as they seem to crop up everywhere.  I'll just stop butchering a patch in my wooded area quite so much and look forward to the nice butterflies.

  • Hello There

    It was my Garden in question at Hampton Court and growing them in pots is a wonderful idea that really does work.Do place them in a sunny site though and preferably have 2 pots so you can cut a pot back and alternate this practice to encourage the fresh green shoots that butterflies love to lay their eggs on.

    I will also be stocking a yellow leaved form of Stinging nettle this year which works just aswell but looks far more ornamental.

    Hope you get lots of butterflies!

    Paul Allen




  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892

    The main page of Paul's website ( contains a link to a 6-minute BBC video, titled 'Gardening For Butterflies', which shows his garden at Hampton Court.

    That video is really worth seeing. Some highlights -

    • Clover (which so many people try to eliminate from lawns, or cut it preventing it from flowering)
    • Buddleia Buzz (a small but effective buddleia)
    • Stinging nettles in pots, illustrated at 5mins 40secs into the video.
  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892

    On another thread...

    Gary Hobson wrote (see)
    vivian allman wrote (see)
    can you buy nettle plants?

    I'm not aware that you can buy plants, but you can certainly buy seeds, from many stockists of wildflowers.

    It may be sold as Stinging Nettle, or under the botanical name, Urtica dioica. Some examples:
    (listed under Nettle)

  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 24,029

    Don't buy a nettle. Any stalk, (this year's or last year's dead one) can be pulled and a piece of root will come with it.

  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892
    nutcutlet wrote (see)

    Don't buy a nettle. Any stalk, (this year's or last year's dead one) can be pulled and a piece of root will come with it.

    Nettles are easy to propagate IF you already have some. Unfortunately many people don't, hence the reason for asking how they can get some seeds or plants. Trying to buy nettles isn't easy. I don't know anywhere that will send out bits of root - perhaps a job for the seed sharing thread.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 42,760
    Paul Allen wrote (see)

    .... preferably have 2 pots so you can cut a pot back and alternate this practice to encourage the fresh green shoots that butterflies love to lay their eggs on.


    Not quite sure how this would work image you run the risk of cutting down the plants with the eggs or larvae on them image


    A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in - Greek proverb 
  • Gary HobsonGary Hobson Posts: 1,892

    Most wildlife experts do recommend cutting the nettles...

    "Butterfly caterpillars are very fussy about what plants they will eat. So you will need to provide the right host plants. The stinging nettle will attract five colourful species of butterfly. Stinging nettles need nutrient-rich soil and should be cut back in June or July, to stimulate new shoots to grow, providing more food for caterpillars. Check there are no caterpillars on the stems you remove. Growing flowers in an existing nettle bed is a simple way to create a butterfly border."


  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 24,029

    I'd leave the nettles in the countryside and waste ground. There's plenty of them out there. I have nettles but if I had a small urban garden I wouldn't consider them. Supposing you did have all those lovely dangly black caterpillars on your nettle. Where would they go when they'd eaten that one? A good crop of caterpillars can eat more than one tub of nettles.

  • flowering roseflowering rose Posts: 1,632

    here we use to have a abundance of butterflies  they use to fill the buddleia s and were here for many years in numbers,but now i am lucky if I see one.Since gardens have become tidier and less and they built on the playing fields the decrease in numbers has been dramatic.What ever the reason ,I have tried growing all butterfly loving plants and nettles(they are useful),the numbers have never recovered.

  • nutcutletnutcutlet Posts: 24,029

    The wider habitat has been lost flowering rose. I grow lots of stuff and I do have butterflies but not in number. Anything I do is limited by living surrounded by an agricultural desert with everything except the crop of the moment srayed to extinction. Sprays for insects, sprays for slugs, sprays for god knows what. The sprayer was out there twice in the last week. 

    Gardens should create wildlife corridors but they are, as you say, too tidy for that

  • Matty2Matty2 Posts: 4,820

    I have aclump of nettles behind GH. I also have aclover lawn, year before last the quantity of bees was amazing, last year very fewimage It could well have been the weather

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