Nocturnal Pollinators: Gardening for Moths

Butterflies have always been symbolic of death and rebirth. These ephemeral creatures, with an adult lifespan of merely a few weeks, are often the delight of children and adults alike.

But as the sun sinks from the sky, a darker season begins.

Moths have come to play. A common horror motif, moths have long been stigmatized, but these dream-like creatures, often viewed as emissaries from the spirit realm, are an indelible part of the natural world. 

A study from University of Sheffield suggests that moths account for a third of pollinators that visit crops in urban areas. With more than 160,000 species, moths dwarf butterflies in both size and scope, yet these prolific pollinators are often overshadowed by their day-time counterparts. Bees are incredibly important, but moths are just as integral to the environment.

From the fascinating luna moth to the ominous death’s head moth, moths are both beautiful and bizarre (one of the most unusual is the Clymene moth, which features an upside down cross across its wings). 

If you’re already cultivating a butterfly garden, consider making adjustments to attract moths as well. As for anyone else, there are certain steps you can take to make your garden more attractive to those winged wonders.  

Night-time pollinators and moon gardens

Like its name suggests, moon gardens utilize night-blooming flowers that are designed to be enjoyed by moonlight.

Many of these fragrant smelling flowers attract nocturnal pollinators, spurred by the cool breeze after sundown as they flit from plant to plant under the glow of the moon. Dressed all in white, these shimmering flowers court moths on the night shift with their heady nectar. Japanese anemones (Anemone × hybrida) pave the way for showier blossoms like the twining moonflower, creating a tapestry the color of pale moonlight. 

Moon gardens often border a deck or patio, away from a harsh light source. Natural hedges can help divert scents towards seating areas, creating a relaxation space marked by solitude and fragrance. Those with the leanings of a poet can gaze wistfully at the moon, whisper secrets to trickling brooks and eddies, or build a friendly moth trap to observe the secret life of moths. 

Types of flowers for a moth garden

Many night-blooming flowers are laden with copious amounts of nectar – some, like the yucca (pollinated exclusively by the yucca moth), have developed symbiotic relationships with their pollinators.

The autumn-flowering clematis extends your garden into fall; spring-time white tulips adorn your garden with an early spectacle. Planting in clumps can cause plants to aggrandize into a jumble of vines. Raised garden beds can help corral in more unruly plants while trellises buoy forth frothier blooms. 

Choosing suitable plants 

Flowers that attract moths often fall into two categories – white, night-blooming flowers and native plants.

The dietary habits of moths have always been understudied, but like all members of the order Lepidoptera, they have been known to subsist on some pretty shady substances, including blood. Some, like the luna moth, don’t even have a mouth. 


To account for the life cycle of moths, select plants that offer sustenance to both caterpillars and moths. Foxgloves and lady’s bedstraw are two flowering plants that serve as a food source for several moth species; they can be planted in tall swaths to create impressionistic drifts. Many native wildflowers that are popular in butterfly gardens also curry favor with moths: goldenrod, asters, and native viburnums.

Night-blooming flowers 

  • Moonflower 
  • Gardenia
  • Night Phlox 
  • Jasmine 
  • Sacred Datura
  • Birdhouse Gourds (also produces fun gourds) 


  • Evening Primrose 
  • White Campion 
  • Sweet Rocket 
  • Honeysuckle 
  • Phlox
  • Swamp Rose Mallow  

Trees and shrubs

  • Witch Hazel 
  • White Oak 
  • River Birch 
  • Highbush Blueberry 

Incorporate naturalistic hedges to your garden

Hedges, teeming with fey creatures, often figure in folklore as an element to be both feared and revered.

In nature, hedges such as hawthorn, blackthorn, and hazel all serve as havens for wildlife, including a variety of moth species. Mixed native hedges, other than providing structure to a garden even when it’s bare, add to the total biodiversity of the landscape. Birds subsist on the seeds left behind, and beneficial predators lurk in its shadows for a living quarry.

Supply overripe fruit 

A peculiar trait of butterflies and moths is that they will feast on overripe fruit. As it turns out, butterflies are sweets' junkies. Oranges, watermelon, cantaloupe, apples, and other decaying fruits contain minerals that supplement their diets. Instead of tossing away fruit that is past due, lay them outside for butterflies and moths to pick at, making sure they’re sliced open. Leftover kitchen scraps can be synthesized into organic matter using in-ground worm composters

Let moths overwinter

Undisturbed areas in the yard, layered with twigs and debris, provide places for moths to overwinter. Many invertebrates and other soft-bodied organisms root in the leaf litter, emerging in the spring.

In the fall, leave areas of the garden wild for overwintering insects – luna moths often camouflage their chrysalis among the dead bark, so take care not to destroy one of them. Garden cleanup in the spring can be delayed until the apple trees are in bloom or when it’s time to mow the lawn regularly. 

Refrain from using pesticides 

Insecticides can kill directly while nonselective herbicides leave toxic residue that can kill host plants or interfere with the life cycle of the insect at the larval stage. Pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and other grotesque sounding chemicals can pose devastating risks butterflies and moths.

The butterfly effect – a cliche popular in sci-fi circles – becomes salient when the ecological balance of nature is disrupted. Even the extinction of a small subset of species can jeopardize an entire ecosystem.

Conversely, a small positive change, such as the avoidance of chemical controls, can result in a ripple effect that promotes the overall health of the planet. 

1 comment

  • Barb

    Which of the night pollinators is pet friendly

Leave a comment