Gardening for Moths Too

Kathy’s post about Gardening for the Bees was interesting – particularly because I love honey! But it made me want to encourage a similar interest in Moths. There are at least 2,500 species of moths in Britain and very few will eat your clothes!

Joe and I have been monitoring moths for the Garden Moth Scheme since 2013 when we were invited to enter a raffle for a moth trap. We think we were tricked! One of our fellow Volunteer Rangers at Jesmond Dene in Newcastle is a GMS Regional Coordinator and he was looking for new recruits! We didn’t win the raffle but he lent us a trap and a book and, as they say, the rest is history. We transferred to the South East Branch when we moved south and now we even continue through the Winter Moth Scheme…

The moth trap is a simple box with a light above it. The light attracts the moths and they end up in the box below with lots of egg trays to rest in. They are not harmed. In the morning, we open the box and identify and count the different species, taking photos of unusual ones. How different are our moth records here and in the North? For the last full year we were in Newcastle (2018), we recorded 290 moths of 61 species. Last year here, we recorded 844 moths of 143 species. Moths that hadn’t reached the North at that time were the Jersey Tiger and Box Tree Moths and we get more migrants here – some moths fly over the Channel!

The talk that Kathy mentions and provides a link to does mention the full range of pollinators, including butterflies and moths but doesn’t highlight them. Moths are more significant pollinators than butterflies because they are much more numerous. Like butterflies, they pollinate flowers when pollen attaches to their bodies as they drink nectar. When they visit other plants, pollen is transferred and, if the flowers are of the same species, cross-pollination occurs. Although the majority of moth species fly exclusively at night, there are a few day-flying moths.

We have done several courses on identifying moths and they often refer to plants that are said to encourage moths. These are similar to those mentioned for other pollinators, single flowers being better than “horticultural bling” for instance. Most ‘moth flowers’ are white or pale coloured, so that moths can see them at dusk. Some flowers open at night or in the evening, such as night-flowering catchfly (Silene noctiflora). They are usually scented, and often the scent becomes stronger in the evening. And the flowers often have long tubes, to accommodate the moths’ long tongues and exclude other insects. Plants often mentioned include Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber); Common Valerian and Marsh Valerian (Valeriana officinalis and V. dioeca); Wild Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum); Evening Primroses (Oenothera biennis, O. glazoviana, O. stricta); Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana affinis); Verbena (Verbena bonariensis); Knapweeds (Centaurea nigra, C. scabiosa and close relatives); Lamb’s Ear (Stachys lanata), and many wildflowers.

I’m afraid our garden here is still a work in progress but we hope to continue to include more moth-friendly plants and to increase the range of moth ‘visitors’ to our garden. Unfortunately, we also know that we are attracting moths that like our apple trees (Light Brown Apple Moths, Codling Moths, etc) and with moths come caterpillars, including leaf-miners – so we also need to attract birds to eat some of them up! We’ll count the rest…

Lynda F

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