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Snowy scene

Is your garden

winter wildlife ready?

Now is the time to get your garden ready for winter, and these 10 easy actions will benefit wildlife during the coldest months – and beyond

Our gardens are increasingly becoming a refuge for all kinds of wildlife – and this is especially true during winter. Bees, butterflies, birds, mammals and amphibians all need places to feed, shelter and sleep. With a few easy actions, your garden could become a winter wildlife haven.

And the good news is that creating wildlife-friendly spaces can often involve less work, not more. Less tidying and less pruning means creatures have places where they can hide and shelter, undisturbed.

So put away those garden shears for now, and try these 10 tips for getting your garden winter wildlife ready!

Leave pruning until spring

Dead plant stems don't necessarily make a garden look untidy – in fact, with a dusting of snow or frost, they can add beauty and form to your winter garden. Leaving the dead stems of perennials and grasses in place helps wildlife – hollow stems provide homes for hibernating insects, such as lacewings and ladybirds, and birds feed on seed heads like teasel, sunflowers and thistles. The stems of some more tender perennials, such as penstemons, protect the plants from frost – so wait until spring before reaching for the shears.

Teasels in snow
comma butterfly

Feed butterflies

Butterflies need a little extra energy before they retire for the winter. If you have over-ripe and unwanted bananas sitting in your fruit bowl, these could be just the sugary boost that butterflies need to see them into hibernation. Put them out in your garden on a sunny day, and look out for butterflies. Red admirals particularly like this treat – and you may also see painted lady and comma butterflies.

You can also buy a butterfly feeding kit from the RSPB, complete with feeding station, nectar food and a packet of wildflower seeds – so you can create your own butterfly haven.

Give birds a fruity feast

Don't be too hasty to tidy up windfall apples. Robins, blackbirds and thrushes love to peck at these fruits. It's also a good idea to leave a few apples on the tree, too – in cold weather you may be lucky enough to see fieldfares, redwings, or even waxwings feeding on these. If you don't have an apple tree, cut apples in half and leave out on a bird table, or on the ground.

Let ivy grow

Ivy is an evergreen climber that's fantastic for wildlife. Avoid cutting it back in autumn – ivy flowers provide vital late-season nectar for bees and butterflies, when few other sources of food are available. Later in the autumn and winter, its black berries provide food for birds. And over-wintering butterflies – not to mention birds, bats and other small mammals – often hunker down in the deep, protective foliage that ivy offers.

Homes for hedgehogs

Many gardeners tidy their lawns by raking up fallen leaves. But rather than putting them on the compost heap, leaves can be piled into a quiet, undisturbed corner of the garden – providing a safe area for hedgehogs to hibernate. You could also add twigs and small branches to the pile – this sort of habitat will help all sorts of wildlife, and it's a much better option than burning garden debris on a bonfire.

Read about more ways to help hedgehogs.

log pile

Create a log pile

Log piles are great for wildlife. Toads will often hide and hibernate in them, and dead and decaying wood is a superb habitat for insects.

The insects will in turn attract insect-feeding birds, such as woodpeckers. Pile logs and large branches in a shady area of your garden, then leave undisturbed.

Chaffinch on feeder
sleeping hedgehog

Feed the birds

Start to put out food for garden birds when the weather turns colder. As winter progresses and natural food sources such as seeds and berries dwindle, birds become increasingly reliant on garden bird feeders. It's important to keep a steady supply of food available once you've started – and the wider range of foods you offer, the more species you will attract to your garden.

Read more about helping garden birds.

Make a rock pile

Create a rock pile with stones, bricks or clay pots. The gaps and crevices provide homes for insects. You could also make a simple bug house with a plastic bottle – cut the bottom off, push in a rolled up piece of corrugated card, and suspend from a tree. Or stuff a plant pot with straw and hang it upside-down in a sheltered spot.

Pile of clay pots

Plant a tree

Tree-planting season falls between November and March, and if you're planning to plant a tree, why not choose a wildlife-friendly variety? Smaller trees that are suitable for gardens – as well as being good for wildlife – include crab apple, hawthorn, hazel and holly. All provide wildlife with a food source of fruits, nuts or berries – and holly and hawthorn offer thickets of vegetation that are great, safe hiding places for birds.

Read more about planting trees.

Holly in snow

Leave lawn edges unmown

When cutting your lawn for the last time before winter sets in, leave some of the edges uncut. These wilder strips of long grass provide refuge for over-wintering insects, and may act as corridors, allowing small creatures to move around safely. Wildflowers such as clover, buttercups, daisies and dandelions often appear in uncut grass too – providing nectar for bees and seeds for birds.

Clover and buttercups in long grass

Little Green Space October 2017