Since gardening is often the last thing anybody wants to do in winter, our gardens can quickly become slow and lacklustre during the colder months. So this winter, why not liven up your garden by using it to help conserve our wildlife? The dropping temperatures can be fatal to common wildlife species, and safe, usable places to nest, feed and bathe get harder to find, so your garden could be a life-saver for many species this season. And since only three British mammal groups hibernate[i], your help could be more vital than you realise. It’s so easy for you to make a difference to the vulnerable species of the U.K., so here’s how to attract wildlife to your garden this winter.
How Does Wildlife Survive Winter?
Winter is a tough time for wildlife. Food is scarce, drinkable water is hard to come by, and the dropping temperatures make everyday life harder. All of this leads to lower energy levels and vulnerability to predators. On top of this, just like us, animals are perceptible to the severe conditions from cold winters, including hypothermia and frostbite. As a result, different species usually have one of three responses to protect themselves. These are:
- Migration – Some animals instinctually move somewhere warmer as the seasons’ change, which is known as migration. Taking themselves to a warmer climate provides them with more reliable food and water sources when these things are scarce elsewhere during winter. Some animals that migrate include birds, whales and monarch butterflies.
- Adaptation – Other animals naturally adapt to the dropping temperatures while remaining active. By growing thicker coats, growing different coloured fur, storing food, changing their diet, and finding more sheltered homes, animals can adapt to survive winter. Some animals that adapt include squirrels, beavers and snowshoe hares.
- Hibernation – Hibernation helps animals conserve energy for survival through poor weather conditions and food supplies. The metabolism, heartbeat and breathing slow to save energy levels and help them survive this season-long switch-off. To prepare for this, animals will purposely gain fat which they can use as energy during hibernation. The three British animals that hibernate are hedgehogs, bats and dormice.
Different animals sense the cold setting in at separate times, so they start periodically preparing for their instinctual coping mechanism towards the end of the year. So if your goal this winter is to attract wildlife to your garden, you may see quite a bit more life than you are expecting as these animals look for safe places to stay.
How To Attract Wildlife To Your Garden Throughout Winter
Now you know how different wildlife species survive winter, you can optimise your garden for them to do so there. Since winter can be such a harsh season, making your garden a haven for common wildlife throughout the coldest temperatures can be more of a help than you may realise. And the best news is that it’s super easy!
Make A Wildlife Garden
A wildlife garden – basically a space that has been left to grow – will naturally attract animals because they will perceive it as safe. Turning your garden into a refuge for wildlife that nurtures and protects them couldn’t be simpler, especially in winter, when it’s too cold to do any gardening anyway! Let parts of your garden run wild – overgrown grass will attract a range of beneficial insects, and manicured lawns will give animals that feed on worm’s easier access. Also, weeds like dandelions and nettles are very advantageous to the ecosystem, so try and save at least a part of your garden for them.
Plant wildlife-friendly plants that will attract pollinators and other animals. Of course, this can be harder in winter, but some sturdy winter-flowering seeds and evergreens will be more than suitable. In addition, things like ivy, witch hazel, Sarcococca, lavender, Magnolia grandiflora (bull bay) and yew trees are all perfect for a winter wildlife garden.
Finally, and possibly the most important in a wildlife garden, be wary of what you treat your plants and soil with. Use non-toxic treatments – this means no chemicals and checking what kind of ingredients are in composts and fertilisers. Toxic treatments will drive animals away and potentially harm them, so you should avoid them.
Animals can find shelter in various places, so providing a range of these habitats is more likely to attract them to your garden. In addition, if you leave parts of your garden to grow out naturally, animals are likely to take shelter in whatever form they can there. You can help this process by providing safe places for them to stay and potentially come back to. To attract wildlife to your garden, make sure that you place some of these shelters in your garden:
- Bird boxes – Bird boxes are safe spots for birds since no other animal can get inside. Different species like bird boxes at different heights, so check what species you can expect to see.
- Wood piles – Perfect for chipmunks, mice and hedgehogs, a small woodpile will also grow valuable mosses and fungi.
- Compost heaps – As well as a feeding area for many animals, a compost heap can become home to hedgehogs, toads, wood mice, shrews and squirrels.
- Bat boxes – Since bats hibernate, giving these vulnerable animals a safe place to do so is vital to their conservation.
- Bug/Bee hotels – Don’t neglect the insects! You can attract ladybirds, spiders, woodlice, bees and even butterflies to a bug hotel.
- Logs/Trunks – Drilling holes in logs and tree trunks will encourage animals to use them as shelter.
- Hedgehog homes – Easy to make or buy, hedgehog homes are safe for these vulnerable species.
- Frog/Toad shelters – Best set up by bodies of water, frog or toad shelters will help protect our amphibians from their range of predators.
Supply The Right Food
Leaving out reliable food supplies will keep animals coming back to your garden, and you can be providing them with the sustenance they may otherwise have had to travel miles to find. However, leaving some of these foods out can attract other unwanted animals, so make sure that you put food in a sheltered area out of reach of predators to protect the animals you do want to attract. Common foodstuffs to leave out for wildlife are:
|Birds||Seeds, fruit, peanuts, suet balls|
|Hedgehogs||Beetles, caterpillars, earthworms|
|Foxes||Cooked or raw meats|
|Frogs||Living insects or worms|
|Badgers||Wet cat or dog food, nuts|
|Squirrels||Nuts, seeds, fruit|
|Rabbits||Seeds, fruits, leafy green vegetables|
Leave Out Fresh Water
Fresh water provides a place to drink and bathe for a range of animals and insects. This is especially important since many animals don’t hibernate through winter in the U.K. and will need the water to help regulate their internal temperature, increase energy production and up their nutrient intake. Setting up a birdbath to provide our feathered friends with a safe place to stop off and recharge away from predators will help them through the winter, and placing a saucer of water on the floor will allow all animals to hydrate and clean themselves. Make sure to regularly clean and top up your bath or saucer and rid it of ice on the colder days.
Plant Late-Flowering Seeds
Nectar and pollen are in short supply throughout the winter, but both are important to the ecosystem and a healthy garden. Pollen is an essential part of plant reproduction, attaching itself to a pollinator animal from a flower and hitching a ride to another flower to begin fertilisation. Fertilised flowers can then produce fruit and seeds. Nectar is a liquid that attracts the animals to the flower for pollination to begin. Some good winter-flowering plants are:
- Michaelmas daisies
- Native trees
- Wild roses
- Hawthorn trees
Pollinating animals that will be drawn to these plants include fruit-eating bats, hummingbirds, sunbirds, insects, beetles and birds.
Build A Wildlife Pond
Wildlife ponds are a magnet for a range of garden wildlife. Frogs and toads will happily settle there, birds and mammals will stop to drink and bathe, and dragonflies will pop up later in the year to lay their eggs. And winter is the best time to start a wildlife pond since it will get established much quicker this season! Of course, building a pond doesn’t have to mean sacrificing a ton of garden space – if you’re lucky enough to have a large garden, then, by all means, install a large pond, but there are plenty of container ponds you can make or buy that will still give the same results.
Ward Off Predators
Now you’ve taken all that time to set up your garden for wildlife, it’s crucial to ensure that predators can’t follow them in. Some successful ways to ward predators away from your garden are:
- Add A Fence – Adding a fence with holes just big enough for small mammals to fit through will mean that healthy wildlife can approach your garden without being followed.
- Store–Bought Repellents – If you’ve seen specific predators sniffing about, spray repellents should do the trick.
- Plant Repellents – Catnip, mint, and thistle will keep predators out, but these may also drive away healthy wildlife.
- Natural Repellents – Things like coffee grounds, castor oil, hot pepper extract and garlic will deter predators.
Help Save Britain’s Wildlife
The conservation of wildlife is critical, and being able to do so in our back garden means we can play a massive part in saving some of our most treasured species. So get ready for a garden bustling with life – winter’s going to be your new favourite gardening season!
What species are you most excited to see in your garden this winter? Let us know in the comments below.
Angela Waxler is an ex florist, a professional gardener and has been working in the industry for well over 25 years. Angela has worked with brands all over the world during her career.