Get gardening for wildlife!
The last 50 years have been witness to huge declines in native wildlife species.
Together we can really do something to reverse this.
British gardens combined, cover more land than all our nature reserves put together! Estimated at a whopping 10 million acres.
Making our gardens a little more wildlife-friendly can help ensure the survival of beloved birds and bees and offer hope for hedgehogs and bats.
Be untidy, be tidy, nature doesn’t mind!
The more you do in your garden to attract wildlife the more will come.
Whether it is growing a few wildflowers on your windowsill, popping in a mini-pond or planting a tree any or all of these things can help. Build an insect hotel, add a bird-feeder, let the lawn grow and you will be amazed what creatures you can attract.
Adding just one or two of these suggestions can really help turn your garden, balcony or window box into a miniature nature reserve or wildlife haven!!
Here are few LITTLE things that can have a MASSIVE beneficial impact:
Any flowers you grow will help feed the bees, this includes blossoming trees too. Choose single-petal structured blooms with easy to reach nectar, rather than doubles. Mix it up with flower shapes as bee species have adapted to pollinate certain flower-shapes. The more variety you have the more species you will cater for.
Think about the whole year
Bees are busiest in summertime but new queen bumblebees emerge in early spring. Planting bulbs and spring flowers like Primroses and Forget-me-nots can help fill in those hungry gaps. Late-flowering plants, like Ivy, if allowed to bloom provide a fantastic autumn source of nectar and attracts the Ivy bee.
Let a veggie bloom!
Leave a vegetable like carrot or kale to complete its lifecycle by setting seed. You will be amazed how many insects come and visit the flower.
These pollinators will give you next years supply of seed. Collect them up and once dry store in a paper envelope or bag clearly labelled and you will have free seeds for the next growing season!
No Mow May (more info)
Leaving your lawn uncut for just one month can provide nectar for ten times more bees than a regularly cut lawn.
Wildflowers provide nectar for many different pollinators, from bees to hoverflies. Native plants also provide food for the caterpillars of some favourite butterfly and moth species.
You can scatter seed balls until the first frosts. Some wildflowers benefit from Autumn sowing, such as Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) and Common Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) which need a cold spell to aid germination.
A little light weeding to remove unwanted grass or dominant weeds amongst your wildflowers should be all that is needed.
Perennial wildflowers die back below the ground over winter and spring back into life the following season.
Biennials like Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) will only produce leaves in their first year and flower the second.
Annuals like Poppy only live for a year but should happily self-seed around the parent plant.
Leave stems and stalks in place overwinter to provide shelter for insects. If you prefer a tidy look, you can cut back in the autumn remembering to shake or collect any seeds. Bundle dry stalks up and make an insect hotel and chop any smaller bits to add to the compost heap. Or, if you can, wait until early spring when it is warm enough for insects to emerge before clearing dead stems making way for new growth.
Some Bee-Friendly Flowers
Grape Hyacinth, Echiums, Lavender, Borage, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Foxglove, Red Clover, Viper’s Bugloss, Wild Marjoram, Chamomile, Cornflower, Corn marigold, Night-flowering catchfly, Love-in-a-mist, Aquilegia, Wallflowers, Geraniums, Cosmos, Verbena bonarensis, Budleja, Cornflowers, Echinachea, Eupatorium, Oxeye daisy, Rudbeckia, Sunflower, Verbascum, Penstemon, Teasel, Honeysuckle, Scabious, Valerian, Crocus, Mallow, Bistort, herbs and lawn flowers.
Providing a source of water is a great way to help wildlife in the garden. A bird-bath, small pond or simple saucer of water put out in the evening for nocturnal mammals like hedgehogs.
Fitting a water butt to collect rain water is a great sustainable way to increase your water supply for the garden. Place under a down pipe to collect run-off and use it for topping up ponds and watering the plants.
Invest in a metal watering can, they last much longer and are much better for the environment than plastic. Did you know using a watering can wastes less water than using a hose.
Insect Watering Station
Insects need water too, create an insect drinking station by placing small stones, marbles or even a sponge in a saucer of clean water. Insects need something to balance on whilst they take a drink. We used a collection of heart-shaped stones… What could you repurpose as an insect watering station?
A body of water in your space will encourage wildlife, from a full sized pond to a mini tub. Add marginal plants and stones or pebbles for insects to rest on and always make sure there is a shallow bank for wildlife to escape, should they accidentally fall in.
All you need is a shallow container, we’ve used a dustbin lid, filled with clean water. Rain-water from the water butt is perfect, place it somewhere in view from indoors and you can enjoy watching the birds having a dip. Why not see how many different species you can identify taking a bathe.
A mixed native hedge is wonderful for wildlife and provides a natural barrier to a garden. Hedges are far less prone to blowing away or being damaged in a storm than fences. They can provide food for caterpillars, nectar for bees and berries for birds. The also provide shelter for small mammals and nesting sites.
Some native hedging plants that are great for wildlife:
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Purging buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) and Holly (Ilex) all have berries in the autumn and blossom in the spring or summer.
Did you know? Most native plants have a particular wildlife species that uses them as a food source. Purging buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), for example, is used by the Brimstone butterfly caterpillar.
Planting A Hedge
Remember to allow enough space between young plants for them to grow, you will be amazed how quickly a hedge fills out. Buying bare-root stock for planting between November and early March is a cheap option, often readily available at specialist hedging or tree suppliers such as: The Woodland Trust.
Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus)
These beloved prickly mammals are on the Red List as an Endangered species and like to nest or hibernate beneath hedges.
Let the grass under hedges grow longer and leave autumn fallen leaves until spring, this way you won’t disturb any sheltering or hibernating wildlife.
Always check long grass before strimming, lots of hedgehog injuries could be avoided this way.
Why not train a native climber through your hedge, not only do they look pretty they are beneficial to wildlife. Dog Rose (Rosa canina) is loved by the Rose Chafer beetle (Cetonia aurata) which in turn makes a tasty hedgehog treat, they especially love their grubs!
Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) not only looks gorgeous but it smells wonderful too, the heady scent attracts moths which bats can feed on.
Mulching helps protect garden soil over the colder months, keeping in nutrients that would otherwise be leached out with the increased rainfall. It helps provide a sheltering site for many insects that pupate or hibernate just below the surface away from the harmful frosts.
Leaf-mould is formed from decaying leaves and produces an invaluable soil conditioner that really helps improve structure.
It’s super easy to make, gather up autumn leaves and pop in large bags with holes or create a wire cage to collect and store them.
Let the leaves rot down for about a year and it magically becomes leaf-mould ready to add to the garden for free.
Making your own compost not only provides you with a natural peat-free growing medium but good garden compost is full of nutrients and revered by gardeners as ‘black gold’.
How To Make Compost
Use a mixture of BROWN material – dry woody things like stems and sticks chopped up or shredded newspaper and cardboard,
To GREEN material – like grass clippings and old vegetable stalks and peelings.
Always try to use an equal amount of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ material to create a good compost.
Leave it to rest and rot down and over time your compost can provide a home to many living organisms, insects, slow-worms, even grass snakes or hibernating queen bumblebees!
*If you are buying compost for your Autumn mulch, always make sure it is peat-free.
Logs and Nettles
A log pile, old stump or log pyramid left to rot down is a fantastic way to help the rare Stag Beetle whose young larvae feed on rotting wood.
In the UK we have three types of Stag Beetle, the rarest being the large antlered (Lucanus cervus).
The Rhinoceros and Longhorn beetle are also wood-borers and search out dead-wood for their larvae to exist within.
A log pile or log pyramid will also encourage other beetles like the Snail Hunter (Cychrus caraboides), which lives underneath logs and, you guessed it, eats snails!
A patch of nettles left to grow in the sunshine at the back of your garden or allotment will provide a home for several British butterflies. The Red Admiral, Comma and Peacock all lay their eggs on Common Nettle as a food source for their hungry caterpillars.
A single clump of nettles can support at least 40 different types of insect. Ladybirds love to pupate and lay their eggs on nettles too.
Feed The Birds
Birds need high-fat foods to survive severe winters and night-time frosts. Suet balls or blocks with seeds and mealworms can be added to feeders or bird tables with a supply of fresh water.
Keep feeding stations clean by removing any old uneaten food and wash regularly with diluted disinfectant.
Try to establish a regular time for topping up your feeders, (often birds will visit at set times as part of their daily route).
Stop using pesticides
Go pesticide free, there is no reason to use pesticides EVER.
Don’t put poison in the garden where water runs, food grows and wildlife goes. Attracting natural pest-controllers to your garden should negate the use of pesticides.
Growing wildflowers encourages garden-friendly predators like ladybirds and lacewings which will gobble up aphids in no time.
Toads and Ground beetles attracted by water and log piles will chomp on slugs for you.
Birds such as thrushes eat snails so if things get too troublesome hand-pick off pests or make natural pest-control sprays using garlic or chilli.
No Garden? No problem.
A pot of wildflowers on a windowsill will still feed pollinators like bees and butterflies, you’ll be amazed how many different species you see visiting juts a single flower. We hope you enjoy gardening for wildlife and if you have any of your own great tips to share we’d love to hear from you.