Updated: Mar 1, 2021
As Autumn kicks in, thoughts are turning to tidying gardens ready for winter, but if you want to encourage wildlife there are a few things to consider.
What wildlife needs is shelter, food and water throughout the winter, whilst hibernators need places of safety. These can be catered for by making adjustments to how the garden is prepared for winter. Some things involve doing nothing, others involve construction, maintenance or repair.
Gardening for wildlife doesn’t mean you have to leave it looking messy but can add interest, spectacle and excitement whilst the plants are dormant.
Seeds and berries can be left to provide food
Here are some tidying jobs that, if delayed until the end of winter will to provide more food and shelter by leaving:
- Seedheads – these provide food for birds and other animals during the winter months. They can also be beautiful structures in your garden, particularly when covered in frost or snow.
- Bushes - it might be tempting, but avoid cutting back bushes, hedges and ivy as their seeds and berries are very important food sources.
- Leaves - dead leaves, sticks and larger wood can be made into piles in the corner of the garden. These will provide great habitats for hibernating including frogs and hedgehogs. Leaves can also be spread over flowerbeds to create a mulch and provide foraging for wildlife.
- Dead plant stems - ladybirds and beetles gather inside dead plant stems in large clusters to hibernate over winter. If you can wait until Spring to cut all or some of your dead plant stems and then leave them in a stack till May for hibernating insects to emerge.
Leaves and twigs left on soil or in piles provide shelter and forage
Also, not disturbing:
- Soil - if possible, wait until spring to dig over your beds. Spider eggs, moth pupae and other animals will live in the soil over winter and digging over can disturb and damage them.
- Compost - don’t disturb your compost over winter as the warmth it provides will have attracted many creatures to hibernate in it.
Construction, maintenance and repair activities to think about doing now are:
- Cleaning and repairing bird boxes – they may be used by wrens and other small birds for shelter in winter and now is a good time to check if they are still watertight or need replacing.
Chewed’ birdbox with a leaky roof in need of repair
- Hedgehog boxes – if you are considering having one if the garden, now is a good time before their hibernation begins.
- Pond maintenance – now is a good time for cleaning ponds, but taking care not to remove the animals. Leaving plant material on the bank for a couple of days gives any animals still within it a chance to get back in the water.
- Repairing or installing bat boxes - we often forget about bats as we don’t see them during the day. To boost the population over winter, consider installing a bat box.
If you want to find out more there is plenty of information available online.
Eliza Naismith and Iain Naismith
Watlington Environment Group