The Winter Wildlife Garden

January is by any measure a tricky month to garden.

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If the cold spell that we experienced in December continues the ground will be like iron making any cultivation almost impossible. During freezing weather, it is best to keep off the lawn and not to prune or plant.

If its difficult for us spare a thought for wildlife! Birds particularly suffer in freezing weather and in the absence of berries (the unfortunate result of some wildlife hedges being cut too regularly and thereby removing a valuable food source) it is essential to put out food. We can encourage a diversity of birds and enjoy watching their antics with foods that are energy rich. Fat balls, coconut shells filled with fat, mealworms, and peanuts. Suet pellets are great and can be used to fill hanging feeders. Seeds and fruit are beneficial too. Some bargain stores sell a good range which can be bought in bulk (better than buying small expensive packets). Don’t forget to put out a bowl or two of fresh water on a regular basis too.

The wildlife garden isn’t tidy! If we are to make room for hibernating animals, it is particularly important to leave them spaces in our gardens. Try not to rake up all the fallen leaves but use them instead as a mulch – in this way we both improve the soil and provide habitat for insects, as well as a place for foraging for Blackbirds and Thrushes. If you keep tidying to the minimum those unwanted pots and old bricks may become inhabited by newts and frogs. If you can spare a few logs from that tree, you recently cut up then let them rot away and provide more habitat for insects such as lacewings, or ladybirds. If you drill some holes in the logs you can create bug hotels.

Even if the ground is unfrozen it is more valuable for insect life if you don’t dig. Many insect larvae including moths overwinter in the soil. Increasingly people are recognising the environmental benefits of no dig permaculture techniques. Its probably good for your back as well!

As important is the design of our gardens to help wildlife. The scale of habitat loss is a call for all gardeners to think how we can best serve the environment. However modest our gardens are we can all make a difference. I think one of the easiest ways we can help is to plant shrubs that actually feed wildlife in the winter, and then provide us with beautiful flowers in the spring and summer. The range of berried trees and shrubs (both native and non-native) is extensive. Firm favourites in the native camp would be Hawthorn, Rowan and Guelder Rose, to name a few, and Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, Berberis as non-native choices.

With untidiness still in mind don’t cut back the ivy and leave your hedges longer. They provide valuable shelter and habitat. On the same theme herbaceous perennials are preferably cut back in the spring. Hollow stems can look dramatic (especially when frosted) and provide sanctuary for useful insects, ladybirds being one of them. Less tidying up is the secret to providing for nature in our gardens. It also allows us as gardeners to observe nature and plan for the busiest time of year – Spring! It will soon be upon us. As always happy gardening.

DAVID FLETCHER
Author: DAVID FLETCHER

David Fletcher MCIHort is a fully qualified member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, and has been a gardener most of his life, both as a professional and an amateur.

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