Caring for wildlife in your garden
As you transform your new garden into your ideal outdoor space, consider all the ways you can attract wildlife, too. Making a wildlife-friendly garden not only helps maintain ecosystems and keeps species safe, it will also help your plants thrive and create a space where you can enjoy the calming effects of nature all around. But where to begin? Here are a few steps you can take to attract local species and bring your garden to life.
The whole hog
Not just exceedingly cute, hedgehogs are also valuable garden guests as they eat worms, slugs and other invertebrates – keeping insect populations under control and giving your prized plants a fighting chance.
- Hedgehogs will make their nests in piles of leaves, sticks and compost so leave such areas available for them. You could also make your own hedgehog box from untreated wood, with an entrance tunnel and a lid that lifts, and fill it with dry leaves or straw. Hedgehogs will also need routes in and out of your garden so make small holes in the fence that they can slip through.
- To encourage hedgehogs into your garden, you can leave out dishes of tinned cat or dog food. Many people leave out bread and milk, however this should be avoided as it’s actually more harmful to the hogs. Remember to clean out food and water bowls regularly.
- Other important hedgehog safety precautions include making sure no litter is left out, checking heaps of garden waste for hedgehogs before you rake them, and avoiding slug pellets and pesticides as these are toxic to hedgehogs – crushed eggshells are a good natural alternative.
Read more about caring for hedgehogs here.
Birds of a feather
- Nesting boxes are a great way to attract birds to your garden. Different varieties include the traditional small-hole boxes which are perfect for smaller species such as blue tits and sparrows, and open-fronted boxes for larger species.
- Different species will be attracted by different feeds, but there’s a number of crowd-pleasers that will always go down well. Mealworms (dried or live), sunflower hearts, niger seeds and peanuts all offer nutrients that will keep birds healthy year-round. Suet balls are also great for providing calories – you can even make your own fat cakes from leftover kitchen scraps. Hang feeders from trees, and leave a ground feeding tray for species such as blackbirds which feed from the ground.
- Leave out a bird bath for drinking and bathing, and clean it regularly to prevent a build-up of dirt which can spread disease.
Want help identifying the birds that are visiting your garden? Click here.
Bugs and grubs
Whether you like them or not, insects are a crucial part of garden ecosystems and will help keep plants healthy by pollinating flowers, feeding on rotting vegetation and serving as food for hedgehogs and some species of birds.
- The handy news is that when it comes to providing homes for insects is that less is more. Creepy crawlies will make their home wherever they can, from piles of leaves to underneath logs, so don’t be too meticulous about clearing these up. Areas of wilder grass and vegetation will allow insects to thrive too, as will a compost heap which has a whole host of benefits – letting you recycle food waste, improving your soil and providing shelter for bugs.
- When it comes to plants, however, more is more. Many invertebrates benefit from densely planted British native plants, while pollinating insects will enjoy a variety of both native and exotic flowers. Buddleia and lavender are favourites among butterflies, aphid-munching ladybirds like yarrow and chive flowers, and delicate lacewings are attracted to dill, angelica and yarrow.
You can learn more about UK insects and why they’re so important here.
Bee our guest
Last but certainly not least, bees are vital pollinators of many garden flowers and are also crucial to our wider ecosystem and food production. Most species of bee in the UK fall into one of three categories: bumblebees, solitary bees and honeybees.
- The best way you can encourage bees into your garden is to provide lots of nectar and pollen-rich plants for them to pollinate. Bluebells, foxgloves, honeysuckle, comfrey, stinking hellebore and lavender are all plants that will set your garden abuzz. Whichever plants you choose, aim for a variety of flower shapes in order to cater for different species of bee, and aim for the longest flowering period you can.
- Finally, you can easily create a house for solitary bees visiting your garden by drilling holes into a block of wood, or packing a wooden box with hollow canes. There’s also a huge range of bee houses available to buy. Place the box in an elevated position in full sunlight, and wait for your buzzy new neighbours to arrive.
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