Autumn is a crucial time for the creatures who depend on our gardens. They need to make ensure they have enough to eat and safe places to shelter throughout the colder months, and even the smallest garden can be a lifeline if we take a few simple steps.
Feel like the garden needs a tidy? Sit on your hands!
It’s so tempting to cut everything back in the autumn and create a nice blank canvas, but when we tidy up too enthusiastically, wildlife struggles.
Plus a wilder garden in winter can be beautiful, as stems and seed heads make interesting shapes, sparkle with ice, or draped with spider webs.
- If you only try one tip from this list, make it this one: Leave the ivy in your garden alone to do its thing. Its flowers are an essential late nectar source for honeybees and queen bumblebees getting ready for the winter, the berries are a lifesaver for birds, and it provides lots of helpful shelter when the trees are bare.
- Leave seed heads for the birds to eat, including any lovely sunflowers you have grown.
- Leave tall hollow stems for insects to shelter inside over winter.
- Leave dead plants in your beds and borders as the slight warmth as they decay is really helpful for small creatures over the colder months.
- Don’t prune things back too hard, especially down near ground level, as this reduces habitat for insects.
- Leave prunings and raked up leaves in a pile in the corner to create a warm, damp shelter for invertebrates, frogs, toads, newts and hedgehogs. You can also tie branches and sticks into bundles and leave them in cool shady corners to provide a welcome home for creeping and crawling things.
- Collect up fallen leaves and spread them over your beds – birds like blackbirds who forager on the ground will thank you for attracting so many worms to this leaf litter layer for them!
Do some bird admin
Get down all your feeders and give them a good clean with hot soapy water and stock up on the right kind of food for your garden visitors. Buying larger bags of bird feed saves money and cuts down on plastic, and look for fat balls that come loose in a cardboard box.
If possible, choose bird feed that meets the ‘Fair to Nature’ standard; this feed is grown by farmers who manage at least 10% of their farmed land for wildlife, ensuring that we’re not inadvertently supporting bird-harming agricultural practices to support the birds in our gardens.
The scheme isn’t just a boost for birds: a University of Reading study found that butterfly and plant diversity was up to 20 per cent higher on farms working under Fair to Nature protocols than on conventional ones.
However, Fair to Nature products tend to be pricier. If they’re out of your price range then look for a company with strong environmental standards and specific commitments to supporting wildlife. Vine House Farm is a good place to start.
Finally, make cleaning your feeders a weekly routine to help keep garden birds healthy.
Which areas of the garden could be improved for wildlife over the autumn and winter ready for next year? Could you…
Plant a native tree or shrub that will grow berries for the birds, such as mountain ash, spindle or hawthorn? Or a food source for bees, such as crab apple, honey suckle, or mahonia? Here’s a guide to bee friendly plants for every season, and the RSPB have a great section on plants for wildlife.
Ad bee-friendly wildflower plugs to your lawn? Choose a peat-free nursery such as Plant Wild.
Make a mini pond? It’s easier than many people think and even a very small pond will attract lots of wildlife. Take a look at this tutorial from the WWT.
Here in the Green Squirrel garden we’ll be building a couple of hedgehog houses as we rescued three small hoglets who had lost their mum earlier in August, and they’ll be returning here once the rehabilitation centre feels they are strong enough. We’ll be leaving our ivy, sunflowers, teasels and some of our docks, and planting a native edible hedge to share with the birds! We’ll be thinking too about what our own two colonies of honeybees will need and putting in some more plants for early nectar.
What are you planning?
We would be really happy to hear about it, and if you feel like making a video tour of your wildlife-friendly garden we’d love to feature it here on the journal – please do get in touch!
And if you’re looking for more ways to care for the natural world, you might be interesting in The Something Club. Launching on November 6th 2021, membership gives you access to a monthly programme of online events and workshops, as well as a friendly community space, to support you in taking action on the climate and nature emergency. Sign up using the form below to get your first month free when The Something Club launches, and for a little taster you can join us for free at our next online Grow-Along on October 13th.