Top Ten Wildlife Gardening Tips
Nature is in serious trouble. From huge declines in insects, including pollinators such as bees and butterflies, to birds and mammals. Even once common animals, such as the much-loved hedgehog has suffered catastrophic reductions in populations. We've lost 97% of our wild flower meadows, countless ancient woodlands and thousands of miles of hedgerows - habitats that wildlife depend upon to survive.
Every one of us can help by planting for wildlife. You don't need a big garden. Even a windowbox full of bee-friendly flowers is a great step in the right direction. All green spaces, including gardens have so much potential to make a positive difference.
Once you start to think of your garden as a habitat for nature (which of course it already is), then gardening for wildlife becomes an instinctive part of everything you do – from choosing plants to how often we cut the lawn. Encouraging wildlife is not only fascinating to watch but your garden will reap the benefits too.
Here's how you can help:
1. Plant for pollinators
As a general guide, simple, daisy-like flowers such as asters, cosmos and rudbeckia are more attractive to pollinating insects than flowers with double heads.
I’ll be posting more detailed plant lists in the future, but look out for ‘bee-friendly’ plant labels when buying. Plants such as cosmos are very easy to grow from seed: sow in late spring in prepared ground and they’ll happily flower for the rest of the year until the first frosts.
Verbena bonariensis (pictured right) is a very useful plant for beds, borders, and even containers.
2. Grow plants for every season
Try to grow different plants that flower at different times of year, in all seasons.
Besides giving you all-year-round colour this will also help provide important nectar and pollen in the leaner times of the year.
Grow winter-flowering heather and hellebore for blossom even in the coldest months; plant crocus, pulmonaria and primroses for early spring-time flowers, followed by hardy geranium, salvias, penstemons, foxgloves and sedums.
3. Plant wildlife-friendly shrubs
Not only attractive for the garden but shrubs create a vital refuge space. In fact, birds, insects and mammals rely on shrubs for protection from predators and the elements.
Provide year-round shelter and sustenance for wildlife with shrubs such as daphne, flowering currant, viburnum, wild privet, mahonia and berberis, ceonothus, and hardy fuchsia.
4. Plant up borders densely
Don't be afraid to plant closely together. Fill your beds and borders with plants and allow them to grow into each other.
Not only does this create lots of hiding places and protective cover for all kinds of wildlife but also has the added benefit of reducing the amount of weeding you will need to do!
5. Make a pond
Probably one of the single most effective things you can do to encourage wildlife in your garden. And it really can be as simple and easy as you like.
It doesn’t have to be huge – a small pond, or even a bucket or bowl can be a haven for a host of insects and amphibians as well as a great source of food for birds.
6. Build a bug house
Sustaining insects is a key foundation to any wildlife garden.
A simple, small stack of logs, interspersed with hollow canes, pine cones, pieces of bark and dead leaves will create a superb habitat for ladybirds, beetles and woodlice.
The one pictured right was made from old pallets, stacked on top of each other and filled with logs, twigs and bricks to create a perfect bug hotel.
7. Put up nest boxes
Try to use different types of nest boxes, but avoid the overly ornate or novelty-designed ones as they can quickly become deadly heat traps.
Simple, well-constructed wooden boxes are the best choice. Try to position a distance from bird feeders to avoid disturbance.
Open-fronted boxes are great for robins and wrens but place them so that they are hidden from view and covered by shrub or climber foliage.
8. Plant climbers and wall shrubs
Besides creating much-needed shelter, climbers such as clematis, ivy, climbing hydrangea, and wall shrubs such as pyracantha, provide superb nesting opportunities for blackbirds, robins and wrens.
9. Let the grass grow
If you can leave a section of the lawn a little longer, you’ll not only enjoy an array of different wild flowers (which will appear quite naturally in a surprisingly short space of time), but you will also be creating a habitat for butterflies such as the Meadow Brown.
If you only have a very small lawn leaving a section may not be practical so instead just cut a little less frequently: fortnightly instead of weekly, or every 3 weeks if you currently mow fortnightly, etc.
Letting the grass grow just that little bit longer will allow bee-friendly wild flowers like clover to flourish.
Don’t be in a hurry to cut plants down as soon as they die back in the autumn and instead postpone this task until the spring. The dead growth and seed heads will provide welcome winter shelter and home for many different types of insects, which will in turn provide much-needed food for birds, frogs and mammals in the spring.
Similarly, leave a few piles of leaves and broken twigs lying around as they’ll make useful winter refuges. Taking a more relaxed approach to your gardening by resisting the urge to ‘clear up’ and you’ll be giving nature a helping hand as well as saving some hard work!