Have you ever wondered how to make a wildlife garden? Becky Searle, a freelance gardening writer and kitchen gardener has created some simple advice to follow so you can encourage birds, bees, hedgehogs and more into your garden!
What is wildlife gardening?
Wildlife gardening aims to create spaces that are great for us and our wildlife. We aim to make space for nature, encourage wildlife and provide habitat and food for a diversity of plants, animals, and insects.
A wildlife-friendly garden will be a buzzing and chattering place, full of colour and life. It is a place where we can connect with nature, relax, and enjoy our plants.
What are the benefits of gardening for wildlife?
There are numerous benefits of gardening for wildlife. When we garden with nature in mind, we feel more connected with the living organisms in our gardens, and we start to notice the thousands of tiny lives around us. This joy works wonders for how we feel about our gardens and ourselves. Other benefits of wildlife gardening include:
- Fewer pests.
- Safer for us, our children and our pets.
- It helps contribute to local biodiversity.
- Makes a more sustainable garden.
- Can improve yields from crops.
- Improves your mental health.
Top tips for creating a wildlife-friendly garden
Creating a wildlife-friendly garden is fun and easy. To make a wildlife-friendly garden, you must consider providing a range of habitats and foods for your garden visitors. The key is ensuring that you are catering to and not disturbing the wildlife you already have whilst encouraging more. You can do as much or as little as you like.
Creating areas in your garden for wildlife and choosing wildlife-friendly plants and maintenance schedules are critical. As we head towards spring, we can make several minor adjustments in our gardens that make a big difference for our wildlife. Follow this simple advice on how to make a wildlife garden:
1. Let plants and grass grow wild.
You don’t need to let your lawn turn into an overgrown jungle for it to be beneficial. You can still have a healthy-looking lawn and provide for your wildlife. Setting aside a small area of your garden and letting the grass grow can have a substantial positive effect. Wild places offer cover for tiny organisms, seeds for birds and wildflowers for insects.
You may also want to partake in “No Mow May”. This involves simply not mowing your grass for the entire month of May. This is a period when pollinators are desperately seeking food, and by not mowing your lawn, you can help provide it. In addition, this will bring in many more insects to your garden, supporting the presence of other garden wildlife.
2. Create a compost heap
Creating a compost heap in your garden can help to reduce your garden waste and produce organic matter for your plants. In addition, compost heaps are home to many billions of tiny organisms. These help support your plants’ health and contribute to soil biodiversity.
Compost heaps are also great places for beetles, frogs, toads, slow worms, and small mammals to take refuge. They are also valuable feeding grounds for these animals and birds.
3. Provide Freshwater
The wildlife in your garden needs access to fresh water to survive. So, when you are creating a wildlife friendly garden, this must be a consideration. If you can build a natural pond, this is best for wildlife. It will encourage frogs and toads to take up residence in your garden. These are great at controlling pest populations as they can feed on slugs and woodlice. A pond will also make your garden more attractive for Hedgehogs and birds, voracious garden predators.
Small amounts of fresh water are also suitable for birds, so if you don’t have space for a pond, consider a bird bath or simply a tray of water somewhere sheltered. A simple tub of standing water will also be attractive to hoverflies, who lay their eggs in stagnant water. Hoverflies are a predator of aphids and whitefly. They are also excellent pollinators.
4. Delay pruning Hedges
Hedges can provide food and cover for birds, small mammals, insects, and other garden wildlife. In spring, hedges provide precious nesting spaces for birds; in autumn, they may bear fruits and seeds. These fruits and seeds can be invaluable for animals going into hibernation or fattening up before the long, cold winter.
By simply delaying when you prune your hedges, you can help to provide more space and food for your garden wildlife. Try planting a few different species of hedgerow plants to offer a range of food and shelter for your garden birds and wildlife.
How to attract birds to your garden
Birds are often one of the first garden visitors we can hope to see whilst establishing a new wildlife garden. They are inquisitive, intrepid, and easily attracted by food, particularly in winter. Birds are significant garden predators and help keep pest populations in check. They also help to distribute seeds and help to clear fallen fruit. If they take up residence in your garden, they are also a vital indicator of a healthy ecosystem.
Identifying some can help improve your enjoyment of your garden wildlife. Watching birds chatting from your hedgerow or feeding on your bird feeders is relaxing and great for your mental health. Here are some more ways to attract birds to your garden:
1. Provide somewhere to nest
If you want the birds to stay in your garden, providing them with a safe habitat to shelter and nest is crucial. Hedges make excellent spaces for birds, especially when designed and maintained with birds in mind. Hanging bird boxes can also help species such as bluetits, great tits, and sparrows.
2. Set up bird feeders
Birds’ primary motivation for visiting your garden will be food. So, providing and maintaining bird feeders should be your first step when considering how to attract birds to your garden. Try and place your bird feeders somewhere the birds will have space to access them, but with cover nearby, so they can shelter from predators if needed.
Try to provide some choice when filling your bird feeders. Some great options to encourage birds are:
- Mealworms; are popular with robins, blackbirds, magpies, and starlings.
- Suet balls; are perfect for getting birds through the cold winter months. It’s also easy and fun to make your own.
- Peanuts; are most likely to attract tits, finches and siskin; peanuts are a high protein and high-fat feed excellent for building fat for winter.
- Sunflower hearts; are high energy and rich in protein. These are very popular with sparrows, robins and finches.
3. Add bird-friendly plants
Many hedgerow plants will bear fruits or seeds, providing excellent cover for nesting birds. Hedges and trees will also help your birds feel safe while using your bird feeders. There are many bird-friendly plants you can grow in your garden. Some great choices are ivy, honeysuckle, holly, hawthorn, blackthorn and pyracantha. Other garden plants that produce fruits or seeds will also be valuable for your garden birds.
How to attract hedgehogs to your garden
Hedgehogs are one of our nation’s best-loved garden visitors. Their curious and gentle nature and appetite for garden pests make them welcome guests. Therefore, unsurprisingly, one of the first questions many ask when creating a wildlife-friendly garden is how to attract hedgehogs. By taking a few simple steps in your garden, you can make it more accessible and attractive to hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs are most active during summer and hibernate through winter. Therefore, if you want to have hedgehogs in your garden, you must ensure there is food and access for them in the summer and shelter for them in the winter.
1. Provide Shelter
Hedgehogs need places to hide and sleep during the day. They will use log piles, compost heaps, piles of leaves and hedgehog houses for this, providing they are not regularly disturbed. Ensure that your hedgehog house is somewhere quiet and far from where children and pets will play.
2. Link your fence
Unlike birds, hedgehogs cannot hop or fly over fences, so if there are no gaps in your fence big enough for a hedgehog, they won’t be able to come in. On the other hand, a hole 13cm by 13cm is large enough for a hedgehog to squeeze through and create a “hedgehog highway”. Therefore, if making a hole through a metal fence, you may wish to put a piece of pipe through to protect the hedgehog from getting scratched and hurt.
3. Create a Wildlife Corner
A wildlife corner is an area of your garden designated for wildlife. It should be as undisturbed as possible. This will create suitable habitat for hedgehogs, which are shy creatures. If you can put your hedgehog shelter and highway in or near this area, that will also help. Providing fresh water and habitat, such as long grass for them to forage in, will also help hedgehogs to feel at home in your garden. If you have a pond, create an escape route for hedgehogs, who are known to fall into ponds and drown if they can’t get out.
4. Deal with litter
Litter can be deadly to hedgehogs and other small mammals. Ensure your garden is free from rubbish that could harm your visiting hedgehogs. They can easily become tangled in old chicken wire or stuck in empty tins. They can also develop digestive problems from eating some food types, so keep your garden free from potentially dangerous items.
How to Attract Bees into your garden
Bees and other pollinators are a vital part of any garden ecosystem. They pollinate our flowers, helping them to create fruits and seeds, they provide food for birds and other small creatures, and they can help control pest populations too.
Bees are active from around February to November in most parts of the UK. During this time, they need to consume a lot of nectar. This means that you will need to provide them with flowers for as many months of the year as possible.
1. Grow pollinator-friendly plants
Bees and other pollinators need to feed on nectar from flowers for energy. Some plants are better at providing nectar than others, and some flowers’ nectar is accessible to some pollinators and not others. The key to planting bee-friendly plants is to provide diversity. Growing a mixture of annuals, perennials, fruits, and herbs will give a good selection for your bees.
Here are some great plants to grow that will help bees have access to nectar for their entire active period:
|January||Snowdrops, Dandelions, Hellebores, Mahonia, Winter Aconites, Viburnum tinus|
|February||Crocus, Daffodil, Primrose, Hellebores, Camellia, Winter Wallflowers|
|March||Anemone, Tulip, Daffodil, White deadnettle, Winter honeysuckle|
|April||Fruit trees, Broad beans, Pulmonaria, Anemones, Muscari|
|May||Currants, Fruit trees, Aquilegia, Calendula, Phacelia, Allium|
|June||Nasturtiums, Knapweed, Fleabane, Salvias, Valerian, Bramble|
|July||Rosemary, Phalecia, Borage, Sunflowers, Verbena, Antirrhinum, Scabious|
|August||Golden rod, Echinacea, Helenium, Mint, Oregano|
|September||Rudbekia, Asters, Cosmos, Dahlias|
|October||Crysanthemums, Osteospermum, Salvia, Sedum|
2. Avoid Pesticides
Using pesticides in your garden can seriously damage your bee populations. If you are growing flowers, attracting bees into your garden, and using pesticides, you could be doing more harm than good. Watch out for plants grown using systemic pesticides. These are pesticides taken up by the roots of plants and are long-lasting and damaging to pollinators.
3. Make bee nests
Some species of bee will need small holes in wood or brickwork within which to nest. You can provide this by making or buying a bee hotel. This provides a safe space for the bees to lay eggs and raise their young. This is a great way to make your garden more attractive to bees and help support bee populations.
4. Relax on weeding
Weeds can be a critical food source for bees and other pollinators, particularly early in the year. Dandelions are one of the first flowers many people have in their gardens and an essential food source for bees waking up from hibernation. It is vital that they can find food quickly for their survival, so the simple act of allowing your dandelions to flower can make a massive difference to your bees.
How to attract frogs to your garden
Frogs are also an important part of the garden ecosystem and are easy to attract to your garden. They eat woodlice, small slugs and insects, helping balance your garden environment. Frogs are also fantastic for getting children into wildlife watching. If you have a pond, you may be lucky enough to have frogspawn or frog eggs. Watching them hatch from their jelly-like eggs into tadpoles, grow legs, and turn into frogs is a joy for all ages. Follow these simple steps to attract frogs into your garden.
1. Add a pond to your garden.
Frogs need water to breed and overwinter. If you don’t have a pond in your garden, you will not be able to attract frogs, although they may pass through from time to time. To make your pond appealing to frogs, it will need plenty of plants to create well-oxygenated water. It will also need to be surrounded by plants, rocks, wood or other hiding places.
2. Provide shelter.
Frogs and other amphibians, unlike reptiles, do not need to bask in the sun. They prefer cool, damp places. They are often found sheltering in holes in rockeries or overturned terracotta pots. Creating small caves in rock piles or log piles or making little entrance holes in overturned pots all work well. Plants also make excellent shelters for frogs, providing that they grow close to the ground. Providing shelter will help frogs feel safe in your garden and encourage them to stay.
3. Avoid chemicals
Frogs are susceptible to garden chemicals. As they eat insects and slugs, pesticides can accumulate in frogs and quickly become deadly. Some garden chemicals also cause deformities in young frogs and can severely affect their growth. Additionally, using chemicals in your garden can reduce the amount of food that is available to frogs in your garden.
Best hedging for attracting wildlife
All hedging can benefit wildlife and help attract wildlife into your garden if they are managed correctly. Native hedging is particularly valuable, as it will establish well in our climate. Additionally, some species will be more inclined to feed from and shelter in native species. Our RSPB-approved bird-friendly hedging packs are the ideal choice for attracting birds. Other good options for birds and other garden wildlife are:
Blackthorn flowers quite early in the season, and the little white flowers are attractive to pollinators, including moths. Later in the year, they produce fruit called Sloes. These are a great energy source for many types of wildlife in late autumn as they prepare for winter. The dense, thorny thickets are valuable nesting spots for birds, and larger patches of blackthorn can even provide shelter for Deer to have their young.
With their profusion of small flowers, brightly coloured berries and thick, thorny growth, pyracantha make perfect hedging plants. They are also excellent for birds, insects and small mammals. They provide nectar, fruits, seeds and shelter. Pyracanthas are easy to grow and train and have striking autumn colours.
Like Blackthorn and Pyracantha, Holly provides shelter for birds and other animals with their dense, thorny growth. Birds are attracted by the beautiful red berries that bring colour and food in the cold winter. Holly is also evergreen, meaning it will provide shelter all year round.
If you want to attract wildlife into your garden, providing food, shelter, and water is essential. Choosing the right plants, leaving some untidy spots, and designating areas for wildlife will help enormously. Hedging plants can be valuable for many species in your garden, from insects to birds and small mammals. For more gardening advice and information, be sure to follow our blog.