Gardening and wildlife make perfect partners!
So many people are now are discovering by choosing the right plants for nectar and fruit, providing some shelter and safety and providing water, any garden can be bought to life. And this is true of any size space. You can help with gardening for wildlife in the smallest back yard or even a window box.
Wildlife gardens are wonderful for well-being too. All gardeners are very proud of their songbirds and the happiness of seeing bees and butterflies on a sunny day. Providing a pond, no matter how small, and the effect is nothing short of miraculous. In no time at all there will be pond skaters, damselflies and frogs to watch and enjoy.
There is an important difference however between relaxed wildlife gardening and untidy neglect. A good place to start is with an undisturbed corner of the garden left for long grass, nettles and decay, a stock of logs or a pile of autumn leaves behind a flower border.
Most importantly gardening with wildlife makes a very positive difference. Our gardens are one little patch of land where we can start to turn the tide on the seemingly endless news of climate change, polluted seas and declining wildlife numbers.
Just think how big the area would be if we added up our gardens together with public parks, school grounds and the space around public buildings and businesses. The way we all garden could make a huge difference.
Helping garden wildlife through the winter
Here’s some ideas from the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) newsletter on helping garden wildlife through winter.
By putting out additional food gardeners can help support garden wildlife over winter. It is also a great way to watch wildlife even in the smallest of gardens and often at very close quarters.
Feed birds with fat balls and fat blocks in wire cages. Balls in plastic nets are not recommended as birds can get caught in them.
Put out other fats such as finely chopped bacon rind or grated cheese for small birds such as wrens.
Grains and nuts are also important to birds for a balanced diet. Use feeders to attract sparrows, finches and nuthatches.
Thrushes and blackbirds love fruit such as over-ripe apples and pears, raisins and sultanas
Trees and shrubs with winter berries will help birds survive the cold days such as holly, crab apple, cotoneaster and pyracantha
Put out water and float a small ball in the bird bath to help keep it from freezing over
To avoid rats being attracted to fallen bird food move feeding stations around the garden and only put out enough food that is likely to be eaten.
Looking after other creatures
Check bonfires before they are lit as they are shelter for hibernating animals such as hedgehogs, toads and frogs
Be careful turning compost heaps. As these are often warm, they can be the winter home for frogs, toads and other animals
Make an insect or bug hotel for over wintering ladybirds and lacewings. Having a log pile or log wall will provide a cosy winter home for beetles and bugs
Do not be too tidy and leave winter stems, herbaceous plants, piles of leaves and areas of long grass through the winter for over-wintering insects and invertebrates and small mammals.
In late winter clean out bird boxes so they are ready for new nests in the spring
Give your mower a rest
Mowing your lawn less and letting parts of it grow long, saves you time and helps give nature a home.
Why not leave your lawn to grow naturally for one month in May or June to give it chance to throw up some flowers for the insects.
Or perhaps allow an area of your lawn to grow naturally and be managed like a summer meadow. Leave it until August or September before mowing. If you mow a border around the long grass, or mow a path through the middle it can look really smart!
You can try planting extra wild flower plug plants into the longer grass such as bird's-foot trefoil, black knapweed and field scabious. Or why not scatter some yellow rattle seed across the lawn in autumn; it taps into the grass roots, reducing their vigour, allowing other flowers to better thrive. You can help the yellow rattle germinate by raking the lawn first so that there are bits of soil visible.
You can remove and add grass cuttings to your compost heap with a mix of dryer woody material to create a really good compost.
Never use artificial fertilisers and harmful chemicals in your garden.
Let's celebrate the daisies and clover!
Create a wildlife pond
A wildlife pond is one of the single best features for attracting new wildlife to the garden. Creating a wildlife pond only takes a weekend, yet can deliver results very quickly.
Ponds will attract a whole host of wildlife visitors including frogs and toads, damselflies and dragonflies and birds.
There are lots of options although where small children are at risk a little fountain or birdbath is a safer option.
One crucial feature is to try and incorporate one side of the pod with a long, shallow slope. This allows easy access for wildlife and, when water levels fluctuate, creates a damp habitat vital for many beetles, bugs and flies.
The can adapt a steep sided pond for wildlife by placing a wooden or stone ramp in one corner.
Wildlife ponds are best located in a sunny position although shade over part of the pond helps reduce problems with algae. If an existing pond is shaded try to cut back overhanging vegetation to let in more sunlight.
Plant a wildlife hedge
A hedge is an excellent natural shelter. It can be a flourishing home and habitat for nature.
Some hedges provide food for birds and nectar for insects, most provide shelter for birds. Planting a mixed hedge is best for wildlife as it helps extend flowering or fruiting times. Good for wildlife include beech, Yew, Hawthrone, Pyracantha and Rosa rugosa.
It’s also really important to avoid trimming hedgerows between 1 March and 31 July which is the main nesting season for birds.
Build a bug hotel
Bug hotels can provide a safe hideaway for insects, bees and beetles, ladybirds, spiders woodlice and even toads and hedgehogs!
You can build one at any time of year and it provides the opportunity to get inventive and recycle things that are lying around including old pallets, planks of wood, bricks, garden canes, prunings, old roof tiles, moss, dry leaves, pine cones, logs, and whatever else you can find!
Create a Hedgehog Highway
Hedgehogs are probably the UK’s most-loved garden visitor. Sadly there is a downward trend of hedgehogs disappearing from our gardens and countryside.
Hedgehogs can travel up to 2k each night between March and November and this is where gardeners can have a real impact by providing access through cutting holes in boundary walls and fences. Always talk to your neighbours first.
If you see a hedgehog during the day and have doubts about its wellbeing contact Tiggywinkles or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Both websites have lots of information about helping hedgehogs in trouble.
How you can help hedgehogs
- Plant a hedge, it’s the perfect garden habitat for hogs
- Cut a hole in the bottom of your boundary fence 12cm x 12cm
- Make ponds safe by ensuring they have a sloping side or make a hedgehog ladder with stones and logs at one end
- Check before mowing or strimming long grass
- Never use slug pellets
- Leave out extra food – you can buy hedgehog food or use meat-based cat or dog food. However not bread or milk
- Retain twigs and leaves in a quiet corner at the back of a border
- Check bonfires. Either dismantle and rebuild the fire just before lighting or light it the same day as you build it.
- Buy or build a hedgehog house
Plants for bugs
Read about the RHS Science project 'Plants for bugs' which gives advice on the best ways to support
- Pollinating insects such as hoverflies and bumblebees
- Plant dwelling invertebrates such as caterpillars and ladybirds
- Ground-active invertebrates such as beetles and woodlice
Visit the RHS website and discover plants for bugs
Plants for bees and butterflies
Wild bees and other pollinators are in decline. One way gardeners can help is by planting garden flowers that provide forage for a wide variety of pollinating insects
There are lots of great plants for bees and butterflies and here’s a list of some of the best known and easiest to grow.
- Red valerian
- Flowering cherry and currant
- Hardy geranium
- Sun flowers
Tips for gardening for wildlife
- Do not use chemicals, herbicides and slug pellets
- Feed the birds and put a collar and bell on cats that go hunting
- Include some plants for pollinators
- Put out specialist food for hedgehogs
- Have water in your garden even if it’s only a birdbath
- In march which is the start of the main breeding season for birds leave out materials such as wool, fresh straw and pet hair to help them build nests
- Create a bug hotel and put up bird and bat boxes
- Avoid tree and hedge cutting during March to August as this is the main breeding season for nesting birds
- Build a log pile
- Do not be too tidy! Leave some standing stems in the autumn to give insects and birds shelter and food through the winter months
- Have a compost heap
- Take part in wildlife surveys such at the big bird watch and big butterfly count
- Choose peat-free or soil based composts
- Leave areas of grass to grow long
- Have a nettle patch
- Allow leaves to accumulate in a corner of your garden or at the back of a border
- Visit RHS Wild About Gardens
Six ways to use less plastic in your garden
- Reuse plastic pots that you already have for as long as possible
- Buy plants grown in biodegradable pots and order bare root trees and shrubs in the autumn and winter
- Make your own pots for seedlings from newspaper, card, loo roll etc
- Take your own cuttings and divide plants rather than buying new ones and swap with friends and neighbours
- Use wooded trays and seed labels rather than plastic ones
- Make your own compost
Push for peat free
Gardeners, garden experts and environmental groups are trying to persuade more people to switch to peat-free garden composts.
Peat mostly comes from lowland peat bogs which are an increasingly rare habitat for flora and fauna and they are also really important carbon sinks. Destroying peat bogs for compost is bad for nature and bad for climate change.
Many bags of potting compost on sale in garden centres still contain at least some peat.
We therefore ask that everyone starts to check the labels on the bags of compost carefully and you always ask for peat-free.
Or you can try to make your own growing media from well-rotted homemade compost mixed with leafmould and loam or sand.
Rainwater harvesting and rain garden ideas
As our climate continues to change, making best use of rainwater in our gardens is increasingly important.
As well as spells of drought we now often experience sudden heavy rainfall. Runoff from roofs, paving and tarmac can cause local garden flooding.
There are features you can include in your garden that harvest rainwater temporarily in times of plenty making it available for plants to use more gradually when needed.
Why not think about introducing water butts, a large planter (dipping pond) a green roof for a shed or bin/log store or a border with plants that thrive in wet conditions.
Intercepting rainwater in downpipes leading to storage is the easiest way to help reduce flooding problems in gardens. You can buy all sorts of shapes and sizes of water butt and rainwater is much better for plants than watering with tap water.
A simple green roof using sedum plants is great for wildlife, looks great and helps reduce run off from the roof.
If you connect a shed roof to a home-made stormwater planter it help support pollinators and increases plant diversity in your garden.
Planted areas rather than hard surfaces will always help and slow rainwater run-off.
Helping hedgehogs in the autumn
Before a hedgehog goes into hibernation they need lots of food in order to store fat, this is why it’s important to carry on providing a shallow dish of food and water for hogs in your garden. You can buy hedgehog food or use meat-based cat or dog food. However not bread or milk.
Also at this time of year is very important to check bonfires. Either dismantle and rebuild the fire just before lighting or light it the same day as you build it.
Try not to be too tidy in your garden and retain twigs and leaves in a quiet corner at the back of a border. Check for hedgehogs before using strimmers or mowers, particularly under hedges where animals may rest. Check compost heaps for nesting hogs before forking over.
Why not buy or build a hedgehog house. This five star hedgehog accommodation was built by Emma Gilbert from Newark.
If you see a hedgehog during the day and have doubts about its wellbeing contact Tiggywinkles or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. Both websites have lots of information about helping hedgehogs in trouble
The RHS Greening Great Britain is a programme that supports community groups to transform unloved spaces.
It you are a local volunteer or community group with a greening project in mind we might be able to help with funding.