Protecting our Pollinators

Protecting our Pollinators

We all love butterflies in the garden, but this year numbers are dwindling and monarchs (in fact all butterflies) need our help more than ever. Jacqui Knight from the Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust shares some advice to help encourage and protect these beautiful pollinators.

Unfortunately, in most parts of NZ, we are seeing very few monarchs this season. Normally the population would be booming – but we are estimating that numbers are down generally all over the country by about 75%, which is huge.

Monarchs and other butterflies belong to the insect order Lepidoptera and play an important role as pollinators of many plants. Sadly, they are becoming increasingly scarce worldwide, mainly due to the destruction of their habitat. Human preference for removing what we consider to be unsightly plants from our environment, overuse of pesticides, a reduction of wild spaces and a conversion to mown lawn and tidy spaces is having a huge effect on our insect friends. Where once there were 20 or so butterflies common in our neighbourhoods, now you only see a few. 

No matter the garden size, we can all play a small part in providing more nectar plants and larval food plants to help butterflies (and other pollinators along the way). Ideally, you will need a variety of nectar plants for the adult butterfly, and the correct larval plants for butterflies to lay eggs and feed growing caterpillars. 

Top tips for your garden:


  • Sun is important not only for plants but also for butterflies to warm their wings to be able to fly. A north-facing location for your butterfly garden is ideal.
  • Shelter from shrubs, trees or a fence will help a butterfly when it tries to land and will block breezes from cooling the butterflies. 
  • Include a warm perch on which the butterfly can land to warm itself like rocks, evergreens, etc.
  • Rid your garden of pesticides that kill butterflies
  • Prepare the soil well before planting both nectar and swan plants. They will also respond to applications of Daltons Garden Time range of fertilisers throughout the growing period.
  • Plant host plants (swan plants etc) in groups to give caterpillars more cover to keep them safe from predators and parasites.
  • Butterflies need places to hide; plant nectar plants in clumps as opposed to single specimens. 
Nectar Plants:

Butterflies, the final stage of the insect’s metamorphosis, need nectar to survive. The following plants grow in most parts of New Zealand:

  • Ageratum, Candytuft, Cleome, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Dianthus, Dimorphotheca, Echinacea, Marigold (Calendula and Tagetes), Blue Salvia, Sunflowers, Wallflowers and Zinnias. 
  • The Monarda family, Primula and spring bulbs. 
  • Conifers, bottlebrushes, cabbage trees, poinsettia, rhododendrons and camellia.
  • Fruiting trees and ornamental blossoms like flowering cherries and mock orange blossom.  
It’s not too late to help

Every monarch that we can get to maturity now will help build up the numbers again. 
Anyone who has raised monarchs before knows their caterpillars are ferocious eaters. Planting multiple swan plants throughout the year helps build up stocks. Ideally, let plants grow large to provide food for caterpillars in the coming season. 
If you haven’t got any swan plants in your garden yet, it’s not too late. We’ve just launched Click the tick! at garden centres around the country. When you see the “tick” it means the store will only sell swan plants that are pesticide-free. Click here for a list of these garden centres, then scroll down for some advice on growing swan plants and raising butterflies in our Tips to raise more magnificent monarchs.

Did you know: Caterpillars shed their skin five times (each growth stage is called an instar). Do not disturb them when they are moulting - observe the life cycle but minimise handling them – they’ve done it for millions of years without us! 

To learn more about Monarch and other NZ moths and butterflies and how you can help, visit:

Photo : The NZ Moth and Butterfly Trust’s stand won a Silver Award in the Resene Upcycling category at the recent NZ Flower and Garden Show. The stand demonstrated ways in which people could use recycling ideas to enhance their butterfly garden.

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