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Beneficial insects, birds, reptiles and mammals that prey on garden pests and others which pollinate flowers, all make use of our gardens. Many wildlife habitats are in decline due to pesticide use and other changes in farming methods but gardeners can make a big difference by changing a few of our habits to make our gardens more wildlife friendly.
Even a small water feature is a great way to start attracting animals into your garden. A small pond, a fountain or even just a bird bath will tempt in everything from birds to dragonflies and even the odd frog. You’ve also got the option to add your own fish too.
It’s fairly normal to start cutting back perennials early on in the year, but waiting until at least the spring will be doing the wildlife a big favour. The seed heads provide valuable food to birds and additional foliage can also provide useful shelter for insects, especially those that hibernate.
There really is no better way to attract birds, bees and butterflies than by planting flowers and plants that provide pollen. Try and arrange your garden so that there is always at least one pollinating flower in bloom. You can also plant flowers and plants that grow berries to help feed a wide range of both birds and ground animals.
The chances are that if you’ve got a large garden, you’re going to end up with a bit of deadwood at some point which can be a really invaluable habitat for a whole host of different insects and invertebrates. Set aside a decent pile and you’ll always have plenty of visitors to the garden.
Long grass can be a great habitat for animals such as grasshoppers, beetles and even young amphibians (especially true if you’ve got a water feature installed as well), so if you can bear it, resist cutting back a small part of your lawn. Longer grass is also a great food source for caterpillars.
Where possible, you should try to ensure that your garden is as natural as possible. Use disease resistant varieties of plants where you can and whenever you need pesticides or insecticides, use organic versions. Remember that mulch is an effective and natural way to control weeds. The more organic and natural your garden, the more attractive it will be to animals.
There are few better ways to attract wildlife than to install features designed specifically to help animals. Nesting boxes, bee nests, hedgehog houses and feeders are all sure-fire ways to have wildlife returning to your garden time and again. Natural resources are being removed in the countryside, so animals desperate to find a home will be happy to make one in your garden if it’s got everything they need.
In addition to the manmade habitats above, try and create some natural ones. Climbing plants are a brilliant example, in that they provide everything birds and insects need whilst still making your garden look great. They offer shelter to smaller animals as well as making the perfect landing place for birds in need of a rest. Generally speaking, it’s best to set the trellises around 10cm from the wall or fence, as this will allow ample room for nests underneath.
Compost heaps are an important home for many species, from tiny invertebrates to worms. Once your compost is ready to be used, spread it onto your borders as mulch to help condition the soil and retain moisture. Earthworms will gradually take the mulch down into the soil and many of the insects that were in the compost will find new homes around the garden or become food for birds. Many small invertebrates are voracious predators of garden pests and their eggs so they’re a valuable addition.
Flying insects such as bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths will feed on the nectar from flowers. Site your border in a sunny and sheltered part of the garden where insects can settle easily. Aim for single flowers rather than doubles which can be difficult for insects to feed from and often contain little nectar. Butterflies are attracted to white, blue and purple flowers and bees are also fond of yellow. Light coloured and night scented plants will attract moths. Try to plant species which flower at different times of the year.
Many caterpillars feed on only a few types of wild plants, so you may wish to set aside part of your garden for these to encourage butterflies to lay their eggs near a food source for the caterpillars when they have hatched. Nettles are a good food source for several well-known butterflies including Comma, Peacock, Painted Lady and Red Admiral. Many grasses including Couch and Cocksfoot are also important food sources for Speckled Wood, Wall Brown and Gatekeeper caterpillars.
This is one of the easiest and most effective ways of attracting wildlife to the garden. Birds provide movement and sound as well as being natural predators for many garden pests. Setting up bird feeders is very easy and birds will soon find and flock to them! Niger seed is a favourite of finches and should be fed through a special feeder because it is so fine. As well as seed and peanut feeders, suet balls are a good addition to the bird table during the winter months. Once they are attracted to your garden, birds may nest there and rear young. Remember to leave nests alone and do not prune any nearby plants during the breeding season for fear of exposing the nesting site to predators.