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!