In yesterday’s post we looked at how to feed the creatures in your garden. Now it’s time to learn how to make them comfortable by creating habitats.
A wildlife garden doesn’t need to be a large nettle patch and a messy log pile. You can create hugely stylish wildlife gardens. As you saw in yesterday’s post, many utterly beautiful flowers and shrubs are magnets for wildlife, and a beautiful garden can be too. Here are some top habitats to create.
If you can do this, one of the best ways to attract wildlife is to install some sort of pond in your garden. It doesn’t need to be a large pond: in fact, you can create some lovely miniature ponds in containers, but the benefits for insects, amphibians, birds and mammals are huge.
For a container pond, find a large pot (porous pots such as those made of terracotta will need an plastic liner so they do not leach the water), an old sink, a bathtub or other suitable planter and plug any holes.
Larger ponds will need maintaining in the autumn, which is the least disruptive time for wildlife. If you have space to create a bog garden at the margins, then even better.
Whatever size your pond or container pool, try to create some exit points. In a pond, this can be one side that gradually slopes upwards to create a shallow area. In smaller containers, a long flat stick or length of wood will help insects and amphibians to crawl to safety.
Planting: restrict this to natives, partly to maximise the attraction to fauna, but also to prevent a problem with invasive plants. Include some of the following:
Oxygenating plants: These are planted at the base of the pond and keep the water healthy and full of oxygen. They include Lagarosiphon major, Callitriche palustris, Ceratophyllum demersum, Hottonia palustris, and Isolepis cernua (this is perfect for container ponds).
Surface plants: These include Nymphaea alba (waterlily), Stratiotes aloides (Water soldier), Aponogeton distachyos (Water hawthorn).
Pond plants: These are planted in the shallowest areas and in the boggy parts if you have them and include Acorus calamus (Sweet flag), Butomus umbellatus (Flowering rush), Caltha pallustris (Marsh marigold), Iris pseudacorus (Yellow Flag Iris), Lythrum salicaria (Loosestrife).
Can you fit some water into your garden? It doesn’t need to be a large pond: even a container pond will attract wildlife. Plan a pot with a pond in it today.
If you have no room at all, even for a container pond, do create a bird bath for birds to wash in and drink from.
Include as many of these key shelters as you can in your garden:
1. A key habitat to create is a log pile. If you have a shady space between the shrubs or tall plants at the back of your flower border and the hedge or fence, then stack as many logs (untreated) as you can. These will provide a hiding place for insects, especially beneficial ground beetles. They will also gradually rot down, providing food.
2. Stone walls also provide plenty of crevices for creatures to hide and shelter from unpleasant weather.
3. Your compost heap is a perfect shelter for hundreds of different insects and if it is in a sunny place (which it should be for the sake of the composting process), then you may attract slowworms, which are hugely helpful in the garden, eating slugs.
4. Piles of leaves and twigs, hidden behind or at the base of shrubs where no-one need see them will shelter hibernating ladybirds. If the piles are large enough, hedgehogs will also hibernate in them – which is why you should always disturb your bonfire vigorously before lighting it, in case one has crawled in for a sleep.
5. Hollow stems such as sunflowers and bamboo (homegrown) provide homes for lacewings and other beneficial insects.
You can assemble most of the habitats above into a smart ‘bug hotel’ which will provide shelter for insects. The one pictured below is a huge example from the Chelsea Flower Show, but you can make a much smaller, better-looking one yourself.
Stack planks of wood between old bricks to around six storeys and fill each gap between the bricks with different materials, from rolled-up newspapers to logs, twigs, dead leaves, hollow stems and broken pottery.
Bug hotels come in all shapes and sizes. Make one or buy one and install it in your garden in the next month.
Buy or make as many nesting boxes as you can and place them out of reach from predators such as cats. Birds will not use your nestboxes if they are being watched by a large furry beast.
There are different types of nesting boxes to attract different birds:
The standard box, with a round hole at the front, attracts different species of tit.
An open box has a wide window across the top half of the front panel and attracts robins, wagtails and redstarts. Owl boxes are huge and specially built for owls. Woven nesting pouches are used by wrens to nest and to shelter from harsh winter weather. Round pottery nests are designed for swallows and house martins.
Take your boxes down each autumn and give them a clean to prevent the build up of pests and diseases that can harm birds.
As well as providing nest boxes, you should provide plenty of nesting materials for birds. Tie up balls of moss raked from your lawn, cotton wool, wool snippets and feathers from old pillows.
Install at least one nestbox in your garden this weekend.
That’s it for today’s post. Tomorrow we’ll be tackling another awkward subject: the lawn. Don’t forget to subscribe to our better gardener emails to get the next post delivered straight to your inbox.