Preparing your Garden for Wildlife this Winter
As the winter takes hold, our mornings get icy and evenings get darker, let’s spare a thought for the wildlife of our back gardens. There are so many simple things we can do to help them through this perilous season, and none of them needs to be expensive or time-consuming – in fact, some of them will actually save you time!
As the weather gets colder and there is less food available out in the countryside, our gardens become extremely important to birds as a source of food. If you start putting food out for the birds, don’t forget to keep it topped up because they will constantly visit your garden in search of it. It is also vital to keep the feeders and trays clean and get into the habit of regularly sterilising them to prevent the spread of parasites.
People may not realise that feeding birds in the winter affects their breeding success the following year, so keeping them fed and nourished is certainly a helping hand that we owe to nature.
Planting native trees and shrubs that provide berries and fruit into the winter can be very beneficial to all wildlife, particularly birds. Trees such as Malus Evereste (providing crab apples), Cotoneaster cornubia (providing berries), and Sorbus (also proving berries),
will not only look beautiful in the winter and bring colour to the garden, but also provide a feast for the birds!
Don’t forget on those chilly winter days when you are snuggled up on the sofa with a hot-chocolate, the little birds need a drink as well… pop out and check their water bowls and bird baths aren’t frozen up, so they are still able to stop off for refreshments in your garden. Another thing to think about is ponds! When the temperature starts to stay below freezing, ponds ice-over and if this happens, the water beneath can become starved of oxygen. Keep an eye on your pond during the coldest weeks of winter and be sure to break the ice if it does freeze up. It might be worth floating a tennis ball (or something similar) on the pond during winter to help prevent a full freeze-over!
Here’s a bit of good news, (although maybe not if you are a perfectionist…) if you can resist the urge to tidy up the garden too much you are actually doing nature a favour. OK, so we all want our garden to look well-looked after and neatly trimmed, however, leaving any major tidying until the end of winter can be very beneficial to insects and small animals who use the dead plant matter to hibernate and shelter. Leave the leaves! Let them cover the borders and create little hiding places for our garden friends. Don’t chop the old seed heads of your perennials! Not only do insects gather in them to hibernate (they don’t refer to Phlomis russeliana as a ‘ladybird hotel’ for nothing you know!) but they actually look rather elegant structural when caked in frost. We’d all like an excuse to ignore the tidying up… but unfortunately, we can only get away with this one in the garden… sorry!
During winter, whilst the nest boxes are empty, it’s a great time to take them down and check they are all in good shape and not falling to bits. While you are at it, give them a dip in some boiling water to ensure all parasites are killed off so when mummy bird comes back in the spring, her home is clean and tidy and in good repair, ready to start her new family in.
Planning for Spring:
Seeing as the tidying up can be left to the end of winter, now is a good time to assess what needs doing when the spring comes. Try and think of new places to fix nest boxes and bug boxes, or place hedgehog homes. Is there a spare corner where you can create a log pile for next years hibernating wildlife, or an area that’s just perfect for a small wildlife pond to be created? Be inventive and make a list of things you can do to help the wildlife in your garden ready for the spring.
A good thing to consider is whether you can make the plants in your garden more wildlife-friendly. There are lots of native plants that can be very beneficial to insects and animals for various reasons. For example: Bees butterflies and other pollinators love long-flowering plants, such as Sedum, Verbena, Lavender, Salvia (and many more!). Birds need winter-fruiting trees and shrubs to supplement their diet in the winter. As well as those previously mentioned, a few others are Holly (Ilex), Ivy (Hedera), and Viburnum opulus. If you are planting any new hedges, consider native hedgerows, which will be a source of food and shelter that is perfect for much of our native wildlife.
Winter Wildlife Wisdom:
Overall, if you can put off tidying the garden until the end of winter, this will be much more beneficial to the wildlife in your garden, creating habitats for insects and animals of all shapes and sizes. Keep an eye on the pond and the bird bath so you know when they need defrosting. Make sure all bird feeders are kept clean and topped-up so the birds are fed and happy. Fill your garden with homes for creatures, and finally, try your best to incorporate wildlife-friendly planting into your scheme to give year-round food and shelter to our beloved garden friends. Let’s try to help look after nature wherever we possibly can.