Wildlife Friendly Gardening
Sunny weather always makes us want to get outside in our gardens. No matter what size outdoor space you have – even a courtyard or window box – there are lots of things you can do to garden in a wildlife friendly way. Here are top tips for increasing biodiversity in your garden and helping the wider environment.
Mow less – No Mow May is a campaign to encourage us to put away our mowers for a whole month and let the grass grow. This will allow wildflowers in your lawn to bloom and provide vital food for pollinators, as well as habitat for all kinds of creatures. The advice from Plantlife is to try to include areas with different length grass to maximise the benefits for wildlife. For example, I mow my main lawn once a month, have an area I never mow, and an area I mow once a year. It’s really interesting to see what flowers pop up – and you can record your findings with Every Flower Counts.
Weed less – In the same vein as mowing less, weeding less allows weeds (a.k.a. wildflowers) to bloom, benefiting insects, birds and bats. If you learn to love your weeds, you’ll enjoy the colour they add to your garden. Pretty weeds we leave to grow include dandelions, forget-me-nots, herb Robert and daisies. To prevent weeds getting out of control, you may choose to deadhead them after flowering. Alternatively, if you let them go to seed, your garden birds will appreciate it. Jane’s front bank which she leaves long for wildlife is currently covered in dandelion clocks and today it was also covered with goldfinches happily feeding – turns out they eat dandelion seed!
Embrace the mess – You may have noticed a bit of a theme here… generally the less we do to keep our gardens tidy, the better it is for wildlife. Don’t worry about having an immaculate lawn or weed free borders. If you have space, have wild patches of long grass or nettles. Wait to cut back flowers and shrubs until after the winter, to let birds feed on seeds and berries, and provide habitat for hibernating creatures. Leave piles of leaves, prunings, logs, rocks or whatever you have, to provide shelter.
Plant for pollinators – when choosing new plants, try to include ones that are popular with pollinators. Generally this means choosing plants with single rather than double flowers, so insects can access them. The broader the mix of flowers you have, the wider the variety of insects (including bees and butterflies), birds and bats that will be attracted to your garden. Try to have something flowering in every season. Our favourites include foxgloves, pulmonaria, honeysuckle, marjoram, lavender, fennel, evening primrose and buddleia. There are lots more ideas here.
Provide homes – as well as providing natural nesting sites for wildlife, such as hedges and trees, consider giving nature a helping hand by adding specially built homes to your garden. For example, you could buy or make bat and bird boxes, a bug hotel or a hedgehog house.
Help hedgehogs – hedgehogs are a favourite British animal, but sadly they are in trouble and their numbers have plummeted dramatically in recent years. To help them out, communities are coming together to create hedgehog highways. This basically involves making a hedgehog sized hole in your boundary fence to enable hedgehogs to move between gardens. The more of your neighbours you can get doing this the better! Here are more ways to help hedgehogs.
Avoid chemicals – as we explain in our post why pesticides should be banned from gardens, there are so many reasons to garden without chemicals. By chemicals we mean everything from weedkiller and fertiliser to insecticide and slug pellets. Any chemical will have a knock-on effect on the wildlife in your garden and it’s so much better to work with nature rather than against it.
Use peat-free compost – garden centres have been slow to stop selling compost containing peat, but peat-free alternatives are beginning to be more widely available from places like B&Q. You can read about why we need to stop using peat here. If your local garden centre or supermarket doesn’t stock peat-free compost, please speak to them about it and create a demand. I’ve had success over the last couple of years making my own seed and potting compost, from various mixes of leafmould, homemade compost and soil.
Provide water – If you can provide water, more wildlife will come to your garden to drink, bathe and breed. I made a pond from an old bath tub, which attracted frogs, newts and grass snakes. Even if you have limited space, try to make room for a bird bath, barrel pond or even an old plastic washing up bowl sunk in the ground. Here’s more info on making a wildlife pond.
Making a wildlife friendly garden is easy, especially as a lot of our tips encourage you to do less! You can find more ideas from the Wildlife Trusts and the Wildlife Gardening website has useful month by month guides. By encouraging wildlife, the more enjoyable your outside space will become and you can benefit from creating a pleasant place to relax and watch the wildlife go by.