Myth: You must plant nettles in wildlife gardens.
 
Here’s another much repeated myth, and one with the capacity to put people off wildlife gardening if they believe they must grow a plant they heartily dislike.  Four of our most attractive garden butterflies - the closely related small tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock and comma - feed on nettles as caterpillars. But does this mean that by encouraging nettles you will help these butterflies?
 
 
 
 
Not according to the Sheffield BUGS study. For three years the scientists placed healthily growing tubs of nettles in 20 gardens, singly or in groups of four. Through the 60 tub-years of study, only two comma caterpillars were found on one single tub1 .  Perhaps this isn’t too surprising.  Firstly, nettles are appallingly abundant on neglected ground everywhere, so there no shortage of places for female butterflies to lay.  Secondly these four species prefer to lay near the middle of large (4m2) nettle patches in full sun, without overhanging branches from which caterpillar-eating birds can watch2.  Few gardeners are likely to want big patches of nettles filling their sunniest borders.
 
Nettles do support plenty of other insects as well as butterflies, and the BUGS paper above listed two “micro” moths, two flies and two true bugs that used their tubs. Nettles (like other “weeds”) are beneficial for wildlife, but given that they inevitably appear in all gardens, you really don’t need to plant them, and need feel little embarrassment if you remove patches from where you don’t want them.  As Ken Thompson wrote3 :
 
    ”In the biggest relief since Mafeking, wildlife gardeners need feel under no obligation to grow nettles.
 
 
References
 
1.  Gaston, K.J., Smith, R.M., Thompson, K. & Warren, P.H. 2005. Urban domestic gardens (II): experimental tests of methods for increasing biodiversity. Biodiversity and Conservation 14: 395-413.  Available here
 
2.  Miller-Klein, J. 2010. Gardening for Butterflies,Bees and other beneficial insects. Saith Ffynnon Books
 
3.  Thompson, K. (2006) No Nettles Required, the Reassuring Truth about Wildlife Gardening. Eden Books
 
 
Page written by Steve Head: reviewed by Ken Thompson
 
Lovely patches of nettles Urtica dioica to bring joy to the hearts of all gardeners.
 
You may appreciate them more if you read some recipes for how to cook them as soup and risotto.
Myth: You must plant nettles in wildlife gardens.
 
Here’s another much repeated myth, and one with the capacity to put people off wildlife gardening if they believe they must grow a plant they heartily dislike.  Four of our most attractive garden butterflies - the closely related small tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock and comma - feed on nettles as caterpillars. But does this mean that by encouraging nettles you will help these butterflies?
 
 
 
 
 
Lovely patches of nettles Urtica dioica to bring joy to the hearts of all gardeners. You may appreciate them more if you read some recipes for how to cook them as soup and risotto.
 
Not according to the Sheffield BUGS study. For three years the scientists placed healthily growing tubs of nettles in 20 gardens, singly or in groups of four. Through the 60 tub-years of study, only two comma caterpillars were found on one single tub1 .  Perhaps this isn’t too surprising.  Firstly, nettles are appallingly abundant on neglected ground everywhere, so there no shortage of places for female butterflies to lay.  Secondly these four species prefer to lay near the middle of large (4m2) nettle patches in full sun, without overhanging branches from which caterpillar-eating birds can watch2.  Few gardeners are likely to want big patches of nettles filling their sunniest borders.
 
Nettles do support plenty of other insects as well as butterflies, and the BUGS paper above listed two “micro” moths, two flies and two true bugs that used their tubs. Nettles (like other “weeds”) are beneficial for wildlife, but given that they inevitably appear in all gardens, you really don’t need to plant them, and need feel little embarrassment if you remove patches from where you don’t want them.  As Ken Thompson wrote3 :
 
    ”In the biggest relief since Mafeking, wildlife gardeners need feel under no
     obligation to grow nettles." 
 
 
References
 
1.  Gaston, K.J., Smith, R.M., Thompson, K. & Warren, P.H. 2005. Urban domestic gardens (II): experimental tests of methods for increasing biodiversity. Biodiversity and Conservation 14: 395-413.  Available here
 
2.  Miller-Klein, J. 2010. Gardening for Butterflies,Bees and other beneficial insects. Saith Ffynnon Books
 
3.  Thompson, K. (2006) No Nettles Required, the Reassuring Truth about Wildlife Gardening. Eden Books
 
 
Page written by Steve Head: reviewed by Ken Thompson