Jobs For March In Your Wild Space

The Secret Gardener

At the time of writing, I have yet to see any butterflies or moths this year, but by the end of March I know that it’s very likely I will have. The warmer temperatures will first wake up the colourful butterflies that you’re likely to see in your Wild Space, like Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell, which will have tucked themselves away somewhere dark and cool for the winter. Some moths will have over-wintered as adults too, like The Chestnut.

Now March is a time where I feel like it’s my job to make sure I have something for them to drink nectar from. Nectar is easy-access fuel for butterflies and moths, almost like an energy drink that keeps them going. Most of the first butterflies we see won’t have had any nectar for up to six months when they last flew in late summer so it’s essential that they feed up quickly before they can go about trying to mate and lay eggs.

Some of the most reliable early sources of nectar are early-flowering heathers. Even if we get a severe frost in March or April they will keep on blooming. When planted in the ground they can spread to become medium-sized shrubs festooned with pink or white flowers. If you live in an area with chalky soil or have a smaller Wild Space like a patio, balcony or terrace, you’ll probably need to grow them in pots and planters as they prefer neutral or acidic soil. This should be no problem though as they are quite tolerant of short periods without watering.

Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) is another reliable nectar plant for me. I’ve had limited success with them planted into lawns as they struggle to compete with grass, but they do well in flower borders and pots. You can buy them as dormant bulbs now or buy them in flower. Either way they will come back year after year and provide lots of nectar for early-flying insects.

One of our native wildflowers which flowers earliest is the Dandelion. Researchers looking at flowers in urban areas found that Dandelions were the most important sources of nectar for insects early in the year, producing far more than all other plants tested at this time – even non-native garden plants and other native plants. Dandelion flowers are accessible to lots of different sizes of insects too, from the smallest bees with a short proboscis (a tongue-like tube used to suck up food) to the largest butterflies with an extremely long proboscis.

Dandelion leaves are also good food for caterpillars of moths like Yellow-shell, Large Yellow Underwing and Ruby Tiger. So, if ever a plant earned a space in your Wild Space in spring, I would have to say it was the humble, beautiful, Dandelion. And if you get complaints from your neighbours who dislike Dandelions, now you can tell them all about the wonderful things these plants do for our native pollinators!

To find out what else to plant in your Wild Space click here.