Set up a nectar café

Set up a nectar café

Invite a cloud of beautiful insects into your gardens by providing a source of nectar

Many of our prettiest insects are nectar feeders that need flowers for their survival. Butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies all need sources of nectar and pollen to thrive. As they travel from flower to flower they also pollinate them and enable them to set seed or bear fruit.

Setting up a nectar café is of benefit to your plants as well as allowing you to enjoy the flitting of beautiful butterflies from the comfort of your garden!

Know your soil

When planting an area for wildlife, it is important to know your soil type. Not all the plants listed below will be suitable for all soil types, and may not grow properly or die completely.

pH test

A simple test to find out if your soil is acid, alkaline or neutral can be carried out using a soil testing kit from your local garden centre, which uses colour as an indicator. 

The solution will turn yellow-orange for acid soil, green for neutral and dark green for alkaline soil. Most plants prefer a pH of 6.5 to 7 – the point where nutrients are most easily available.

Water retention

Clay and peat soils hold water better than sandy and chalk soils. This test will show if your soil will become waterlogged in wet weather, or dry out quickly in summer. 

To test the water retention of your soil: 

Fold a piece of kitchen paper into a funnel and place in a jar, then fill a small measuring jug with a recorded amount of water. Place a tablespoon of your dry soil in the funnel and add water to the centre of the soil. Stop adding water when the first drop falls into jar, noting how much water you have added. Wait until soil has drained. Measure the volume of drained water: if over half of the added water is recovered, your soil is well drained.

Soil test

Designing your nectar café

  • Choose a sheltered sunny spot
  • Place each plant in groups or drifts so that the colour and scent are easy to detect
  • Prolong the flowering season – select plants so that you have a show of flowers from early spring to late autumn
  • Flowers with a simple (often flat) structure, like old cottage varieties, are easiest for insects to feed from
  • Remember to provide a night-time feast for moths; plant some night-scented flowers
  • Many herbs are highly attractive to insects, so add them into the mix, or design a dedicated herb garden
Wildlife Garden

Elephant hawkmoth - Tom Marshall

Planting your nectar café

Take a look at our suggestions for plants and flowers through the seasons, or take a look at the RHS 'Plants for Pollinators' download below.

RHS Plants for Pollinators

Plants by season

Choose a mixture of seasonal flowering plants, shrubs and trees to ensure a year round food source in your garden.

Early season

Mid season

Late season

Plants for butterflies

Growing host plants in the garden is not necessarily guaranteed to attract the relevant butterflies, but it's worth experimenting to see which species find your garden most suitable. 

Breeding butterfly host plants

Species Host plant
Comma Common nettle, hop, currant, gooseberry
Common blue Common bird’s foot trefoil, other small legumes
Dingy skipper

Common bird’s foot trefoil, horseshoe vetch

Green-veined white Cabbage family, cuckoo flower, charlock, nasturtium
Holly blue Holly, ivy
Large skipper Cock’s foot, false brome
Large white Cabbage family, nasturtium, wild mignonette
Meadow brown

Grasses: Fescue species, meadow-grass, bents

Orange tip Cuckoo flower, garlic mustard
Painted lady Thistles, common nettle
Peacock Common nettle
Red admiral Common nettle
Ringlet Cock’s foot False brome, tufted hair-grass, common couch
Small copper Common sorrel, sheep’s sorrel
Small skipper Yorkshire fog
Small tortoiseshell Common nettle
Small white Cabbage family, nasturtium, hedge mustard, garlic mustard
Wall False brome, cock’s foot, Yorkshire fog, wavy hair grass