With many of us spending more time on our gardens, allotments and window-boxes at the moment, it’s the perfect opportunity to make a few changes to help our local wildlife as well.
WILDLIFE GARDEN IDEAS
Here the National Trust’s Plant Specialist, Simon Toomer, shares his four top tips for wildlife garden ideas. From building mini ponds to providing hedgehogs with homes and growing plants for pollinators, there’s a whole range of things you can try – whether you’ve got a large garden or you’re working with a smaller space.
1. GROW PLANTS THAT PROVIDE A GOOD SOURCE OF NECTAR FOR POLLINATORS
Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, hoverflies and moths rely on flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen for food. As they move from flower to flower they help to spread pollen and fertilise your plants, so it’s well worth looking after them.
To give them best chance, you can grow different types of pollinator-friendly plants so that there’s something in bloom for them all year round – take a look at the suggestions below for inspiration. You can even get a head start with no effort by simply leaving the mower in the shed until the end of June, or at least reducing the frequency of mowing to once every four weeks. This will allow all sorts of flowers such as red and white clovers, daisy, self-heal and dandelion to spring up in your lawn, which the bees and butterflies will love.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that bees can see the colour purple more clearly than any other colour, so they are often attracted to purple or blue flowers. The shape of the flower matters too – many pollinators struggle with extravagant multi-petalled flowers, so go for simple ‘single’ flowers. Tube-shaped flowers such as foxgloves are ideal for long-tongued bees such as the garden bumblebee.
2. PROVIDE SPACES FOR CREATURES TO HIDE AND NEST
One of the best ways to attract wildlife to your garden is to provide safe spaces where they can hide, nest and overwinter. This can range from simply leaving a pile of logs in a quiet corner or the garden to building your own bespoke bug, bee or bird house. Why not try some of the tips below?
There are many kinds of bugs that can help you keep pests at bay in the garden – such as ladybirds which eat aphids, and centipedes that prey on soil-dwelling pests such as mites, baby snails, and slugs.
Building a bug hotel will provide them with plenty of hidey holes, and it’s a great way to use up materials you might have lying around. An old wooden pallet makes a great base, and you can then fill it with various materials such as cardboard tubes, old flowerpots, straw, pinecones, bits of bark and bundles of twigs. Top it off with old rooftiles, turf, logs or a pile of leaves.
You might think of bees as living in hives in large colonies, serving a queen and producing honey – but actually only about 10% of the UK’s bee species do this. The other 90% are solitary bees and don’t produce honey, although they are still very important as pollinators.
You can give solitary bees a hand by installing a bee house in your garden – which is where the females will lay their eggs and then ‘plug’ the ends of the tubes with mud, plant hairs or leaves (depending on the species of bee).
Garden birds are great at slug and snail control, plus there’s nothing more relaxing than sitting outside on a sunny day and listening to a chorus of birdsong.
Bird feeders are a great way to encourage birds into your garden, and they also provide them with vital support over winter when food is scarcer. If you’re feeling crafty, why not make an upcycled bird feeder from materials you probably have lying around at home?
If you have the room, you could also install a bird box to give your local feathered friends somewhere to raise their young. Bird boxes are best installed in late February before the nesting season gets going, but you could always put one up now for next year.
Hedgehogs love to hibernate under piles of logs or leaves – which is why it’s so important to check your Guy Fawkes Night bonfire before you light it.
You could encourage hedgehogs into your garden by building a bespoke house using an old wooden crate. Simply turn the crate upside-down and cut an entrance hole in one side, then use some more pieces of scrap wood to create a hedgehog-sized tunnel leading into the crate. Fill it with dry leaves, hay or straw to make a cosy nest, then place it in a quiet corner of the garden and cover with leaves or logs so it blends in.
Ensuring that hedgehogs can roam freely in search of food is also a great way to help them. If your garden is surrounded by fencing, why not chat to your neighbours and see if they’d be happy for you to cut a small hole in the fencing for hedgehogs to pass through? You could also dig channels under stone walls.
3. PROVIDE A SOURCE OF DRINKING WATER – OR EVEN A POND
It’s easy to forget, but access to water is vital for all sorts of wildlife from bees to birds to mammals.
Leaving out a tray of water that you refresh regularly will be of great help to local wildlife – especially if you put some pebbles in it to give insects like bees a dry place to perch while they drink.
You could even go the extra mile and create a pond in your garden which can be both a drinking source, and a place for invertebrates and amphibians to live. It doesn’t have to be huge either – you could use an old sink, a bucket or washing-up bowl buried into the ground or even an old paddling pool. Don’t forget to create some ramps made of logs or stones so that wildlife can get in and out easily, and add some native pond plants to oxygenate the water.
Looking for more wildlife garden ideas? See Five-minute gardening tips from the National Trust
4. AVOID USING CHEMICAL PESTICIDES
Although pesticides are very effective at protecting your plants from unwanted pests, they can also have an unintended negative effect on the other wildlife in your garden.
The number one threat to pollinators are neonicotinoids – a type of pesticide which is highly toxic to bees, butterflies and other insects. When applied they spread throughout the entire plant – including to the pollen and nectar, and they can also persist in soil for years. Using pesticides to get rid of insects can also have a knock-on effect on birds and other wildlife, which rely on these for food.
Here are a few alternative methods of pest control:
Although somewhat tedious, removing infestations by hand is a simple and effective method of pest control. Although not always practical where you have hundreds of tiny pests (like aphids), it works well for larger insects, slugs and snails. Unfortunately you’ll need to dispatch the pests after removing them, otherwise they’ll soon be back eating your plants.
This involves growing plants close together where one or both have beneficial effects on the other. For example, French marigolds emit a strong odor that deters whitefly and blackfly, so can be used to keep these bugs away from your tomato plants. Garlic, chives and alliums have a similar effect on aphids, so pop a few in among your roses to keep them safe.
Create habitats for garden wildlife and they’ll often repay the favour by preying on pests. Birds, frogs, toads, slow worms, and hedgehogs will all make a meal out of your local slug population, while insects like ladybirds and hoverflies will take care of the likes of aphids, mites and mealybugs.
National Trust, nationaltrust.org.uk