We’ve decided to have a bit of a change of focus this month. We know that many of you, our valued customers, don’t just love your lawns, you love everything about your garden, particularly the opportunity it gives you to see birds and other creatures up close. So, jump in and find out how you can help the wildlife in your garden over the winter, and what you can do to encourage more to visit.
Help with food
As temperatures drop, birds in particular find it more difficult to find a reliable source of food, with it being especially difficult if it snows. One of the easiest things you can do then to help is to provide feeding stations.
As different birds have different diets, providing a range of foods will help attract and support a variety of birds. Fat blocks are appreciated by all birds and can be fed either on bird tables or on hanging wire feeders. You should avoid plastic net-like feeders, as birds have been known to get caught in these. If you’re feeling very creative, you can make your own feeder using suet and coconut shells.
Other food that is popular with birds include seeds, mealworms and peanuts; again you can choose different types of feeders to appeal to different birds.
You can also help birds by delaying cutting back any fruit-bearing hedges until late into the winter. This provides time for birds to eat the berries and provides them with shelter; prickly shrubs even protect them from predators. Similarly, if you leave ivy in situ on walls or fences, it will provide a place for birds such as tits to forage for insects.
Hedgehogs should hibernate over winter so if you have been feeding them the rest of the year you won’t need to as it gets colder. However, be aware that if you do see a hedgehog in the colder months, particularly if it is very small it may be in trouble and you should consider contacting a local rescue centre for help and advice.
Badgers don’t hibernate, so if you do have any visiting your garden you can leave food such as fruit and nuts out for them – they’re even partial to bit of dog food.
Don’t forget water
You may remember to provide water for wildlife during the summer when there is little rain, but there can also be a shortage in the winter as water sources freeze. Leaving shallow dishes of water around your garden will provide drinking water for many different animals and birds. Don’t forget to change it if it freezes.
If you have a pond (or indeed a water feature) you can melt any frozen ice to allow wildlife to drink from it, as well as to let creatures get in and out of the water. To melt the ice use a pan of hot water and place it on the ice until a hole melts. Trying to crack the ice can harm wildlife. As can pouring boiling water directly into it.
Don’t be tempted to put anti-freeze into water features, as this can be extremely hazardous to the animals that may drink from it.
Checking for hibernating animals
If you’ve stacked garden waste with the intention of having a bonfire, check it thoroughly before lighting for animals such as hedgehogs that may be hibernating, or creatures like frogs which could be sheltering.
You should also be careful if you have composts heaps that you turn. As they are warm, they provide a comfortable home for toads and other animals that could be injured if you are too rough.
We’ve already mentioned that trees and hedges can provide shelter for birds during the winter, but there are other things you can do to give homes to a variety of creatures.
If you’ve followed our advice for getting your lawn winter ready, you’ll already know that it’s important to move fallen leaves and branches off your grass. However rather than getting rid of them altogether you can leave them on borders or flowerbeds where they will provide a space for frogs and invertebrates to overwinter.
Hedgehogs may choose to hibernate in larger piles of leaves, or you can use them to cover specially built hedgehog house. Piles of branches are a good habitat for moss and lichen, which in turn will attract insects. Newts are also attracted to wood piles. While you can buy or build a specific ‘bug hotel’ in practice these discarded branches will do just fine.
Rather than cutting back old dry plant stems, leave them in the ground as some insects will spend the winter in their hollow centre.
Of course, as well as shelter, when you attract insects to your garden, you also improve the food supply for birds and small mammals.
If you have been lucky enough to have had birds using nesting boxes in your garden, take some time now to make sure they are thoroughly cleaned out. To clean any boxes out, remove any old nests and unhatched eggs. Be aware that eggs can only legally be removed between September and January. Once the box is clear, use boiling water to clean it out in order to kill any parasites. You may find that if you put some wood shavings or hay in the box, it is used over the winter as a roosting site, or even as a hibernation spot for smaller mammals.
Planting for wildlife
If you’re keen to attract even more wildlife into your garden, now’s the time to consider planting different types of shrubs to provide both food and shelter. Planting a variety of seasonal shrubs will ensure that there is a year-round supply of nutrients and introducing flowering shrubs will encourage a range of pollinators when spring finally comes around.
There’s still time to plant flowering spring bulbs, which will also attract pollinators, and you could even consider planting some bulbs in an area of your lawn.
Keeping away unwanted visitors
You might welcome some visitors to your garden, but how do you stop the ones you don’t want. The short answer is it is very difficult to prevent creatures such as pigeons, rats or even grey squirrels, which you may be less keen on from taking advantage of your decision to provide food in your garden. There are some things you can do though.
There are a number of specialist bird feeders that are designed to prevent squirrels getting to the food, while others are unsuitable for pigeons due to the way they feed. However, if you are providing food on tables, you may just have to accept that squirrels and pigeons will take some of the food.
Rats are clearly more problematic. If you have a serious rat problem, you may need to seek the advice of an exterminator. You can deter rats again by using feeders that reduce the amount of spilt food, as well as moving feeding stations into the open, as rats are not particularly keen on crossing open spaces. Sweeping up any discarded food from the floor will also reduce the likelihood of rats visiting.
If you are planning to feed badgers, feeding later can also help. Finally getting a cat can discourage rats, although that may be a rather large commitment.
Taking a few small steps can really help wildlife survive the winter, and as some of the birds you help now will feed on pests the rest of the year, you could also be helping you lawn.