Get gardening for wildlife! The last 50 years have been witness to huge declines in pollinators such as bees and other native wildlife species – but 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 and making these a little more wildlife-friendly can help ensure their existence for the future.
Be untidy, be tidy, nature doesn’t mind! The more things you have in your garden to attract wildlife the more will come. Grow wildflowers on your windowsill, pop in a mini-pond, plant a tree, build an insect hotel, add a bird-feeder, grow flowers and fruit! Adding any of these things can really help turn your garden, balcony or window box into a mini wildlife reserve!!
Here are a few LITTLE things we can do when gardening for wildlife that can have a MASSIVE impact:
Any flowers we grow can help feed the bees, this includes blossoming trees too. Choose single petal structured blooms rather than doubles, which make it difficult for insects to reach the nectar. Mix it up with different varieties, as many bees have adapted over the years to pollinate specific flower-shapes.
Think about the whole year
Bees are busiest in summertime but new queen bumblebees emerge in early spring, so planting bulbs and spring flowers like Primroses and Forget-me-nots can help fill in those gaps. Late-flowering plants, like Ivy, if allowed to bloom provide a fantastic autumn source of nectar attracting the Ivy bee.
Let one your vegetable plants, such as a carrot or broccoli flower and you will be amazed how many insects will come and visit the bloom. These garden-friendly pollinators will be giving you next years supply of seeds for free too! Collect them up once dry and store in a paper envelope or bag clearly labelled.
No Mow May (more info)
When gardening for wildlife, leaving your lawn uncut for just one month can allow enough flowers to grow to provide nectar for ten times the amount of bees and other pollinators than a regularly cut lawn.
Native species of wildflower provide food for butterfly and moth caterpillars and nectar for many different types of pollinators from bees to hoverflies. 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. Remember perennial wildflowers will die back below ground over winter and spring back into life the following season. Biennials like Wild Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) will only produce leaves in their first year and flower the second. Annuals like poppies only live for a year but should happily self-seed around the parent plant.
Wildflower patches can be left over winter, the stems provide shelter for insects. If you prefer it tidy and do cut back in the autumn shake or collect any seeds, otherwise wait until early spring to clear dead stems away and make way for new growth.
Some Bee-Friendly Flowers
Grape Hyacinth, Echiums, Lavender, Borage, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Foxglove, Red Clover, Viper’s Bugloss and 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 for wildlife is a great way to help in the garden, be it a bird-bath, small pond or saucer of fresh water put out in the evening for hedgehogs, badgers or foxes.
Putting in a water butt and collecting rain water is a great sustainable way to increase your water supply for the garden, from topping up a pond to watering your plants. Water butts can be placed underneath the down-pipe from any roof, when it rains, the run-off will collect in the container.
Invest in a metal watering can, they last much longer and are much better for the environment than plastic ones. Using a watering can also wastes less water than using a hose.
Insect Watering Station
Place small stones, marbles or even a sponge in a saucer of clean water to create an insect drinking station. Small insects need something to balance on whilst they take a drink. We used our old collection of heart shaped stones, think about what you could repurpose as an insect watering station.
Pop in a pond, any 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 edge for small mammals and amphibians to crawl out, should they accidentally fall in.
To make a bath for birds all you need is a shallow container, or a large bowl (we’ve used a dustbin lid), keep it filled with clean water, rain water from your water butt is perfect and watch the birds enjoying a splash. See how many different species you can identify visiting for a bathe.
A mixed native hedge is wonderful for wildlife and provide a natural barrier to a garden, far less prone to blowing away or being damaged in a storm. Hedges can provide food for caterpillars, nectar for bees and shelter for small mammals and nesting sites and berries for birds.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) and Holly (Ilex) are all great choices for hedging. All have berries in the autumn and blossom in the spring or summer. Most also have specific species that use them as a food source, Purging buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), for example, is the food source of the Brimstone butterfly caterpillar.
Remember to allow enough space between young plants for them to grow, you will be amazed how quickly hedges fill out. Buying dormant bare-root hedge or tree stock for planting between November and early March is a much cheaper option too and readily available online at specialist hedging or tree suppliers such as: The Woodland Trust.
Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus), which are on the Red List as an endangered species like to nest and hibernate underneath hedges. Let the grass beneath grow longer and leave fallen leaves until the weather warms up in spring, this way you won’t disturb any sheltering wildlife. Always check long grass before strimming too, 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! Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) not only looks gorgeous but it smells wonderful too, the heady scent attracts night-flying moths which bats like to feed on.
Mulching helps protect garden soil over the colder months, keeping in nutrients that would otherwise be leached out with the increased rainfall and providing a sheltering ground for some insects to pupate or hibernate below the surface frosts.
Leaf-mould is formed from decaying leaves and produces an invaluable conditioner that improves soil structure when added as a mulch. It’s super easy to make, either gather up autumn leaves and pop in large bags with holes or create a wire cage as somewhere to store your autumn leaves. Let them rot down and after about a year it 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’.
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 which needs rotting wood for the larvae to feed on. We have three types of Stag beetle in the UK the rarest is the large antlered (Lucanus cervus).
The Rhinoceros and Longhorn beetles are also wood borers and need dead wood to feed their larvae. A log pile or log pyramid will also encourage other beetles like the Snail Hunter (Cychrus caraboides), which lives under rotting wood 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 nettles 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 winter night 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. Try to establish a regular time for topping up your feeders, as often birds visit at set times on 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. Encourage garden-friendly predators like ladybirds and lacewings to gobble up aphids; toads and ground beetles to chomp on slugs and unwanted weeds and pests can be removed by hand. Birds such as thrushes eat snails and if things get too troublesome hand-pick off pests or make natural pest-control sprays using garlic and chilli.
No Garden? No problem.
A pot of wildflowers on a windowsill will still feed pollinators.