Bring wildlife to your garden
Wildlife always seems to bring a garden to life. From the buzzing of bees and hover-flies around flowers to the swooping and diving of birds overhead. However, it can be difficult to know where to start when trying to attract wildlife to your garden. Whilst it may seem straight forward to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hover flies with flowers. Or maybe you wish to encourage more birds into your garden by putting out a bird feeder. If you don’t have a balance of habitat and food then wildlife will struggle to thrive.
Many ornamental flowers that you can buy are actually not as good for wildlife as suggested. Over the years, these flowers have been cross pollinated to produce more attractive blooms for longer. Consequently, they produce very little nectar and pollen which is needed by many insects for food. With declining insect numbers across the world, it has never been more important to do your bit for nature. Even the birds that rely on insects as a source of food have suffered. Fear not though, we have put together some simple tips to help you do your bit for wildlife.
Sources of food
When thinking about what you wish to plant in your garden, it is best to consider how to provide food for all seasons. Not only will a cascade of different flowers from month to month provide you with an attractive display, it will also provide wildlife with a steady source of food. It is important to also consider evergreens when selecting plants. Although they are not known for attractive flowers, they can still provide food in the form of honeydew. Some evergreens will excrete this sweet liquid to attract insects whilst others will play host to aphids. The aphids will feed on the sap of the plants and excrete excess sugars in the form of honeydew. This provides food for bees, ants and sometimes butterflies. The aphids themselves will often be prey to wasps and ladybirds.
What Flowers to plant
When picking out flowers for your garden, its best to have a good selection suited to provide for a wide variety of general feeding insects. Flowers that are open and accessible are ideal for most insects. These don’t require a long or specialised proboscis (insect tongue). The open bloom allows insects to get in and feed from the nectaries. Large trumpet type flowers such as nasturtiums are also a good choice. Their large size allows insects to get deep into the flower and can even provide shelter during poor weather.
There are also many insects which have evolved to become specialised feeders. These insects, such as long-tongued bumble bees, feed from more specialist blooms which other insects can’t access. These insects thrive on the flowers that others can’t access, such as the tubular flowers of foxgloves and honeysuckle. Its not just bees bees which thrive with an abundance of flowers, many other insects also benefit. The humming bird hawk moth is a specialist feeder which is partial to the vibrant blooms of Valerian. This moth gets its name from its ability to hover in front of a flower whilst feeding. It quickly flits from flower to flower extending its proboscis with great accuracy to feed from each one whilst on the wing.
Whilst it may seem that all flowers are beneficial to wildlife, unfortunately, that is not the case. In the quest for bigger, brighter and longer lasting blooms, we have bred many varieties of flower that are of no benefit. These are often plants with highly complex blooms which prevent insects from accessing the nectaries. Or varieties which have been selected to produce very little nectar and pollen to prolong flowering. Unfortunately, these plants are often not well labelled so it falls to the buyer to identify plants which are not suitable for pollinators. Plants which have large, complex flowers such as ornate roses are often good ones to avoid, in addition to double headed blooms.
It often seems that all the concentration is on flowering plants, however, non-flowering plants and ever-greens have a lot to offer wildlife. Non-flowering plants, such as hazel, often produce large quantities of pollen which bees and others insects will collect. Sometimes, they will also secrete a sweet liquid similar to nectar which many insects will feed on. Evergreen plants will often be home to aphids which provide food for wasps and secrete honey dew which is fed on by ants and bees. These plants will also provide shelter through the winter and during windy days.
When thinking about your garden, its important to consider where wildlife is going to live. Small animals such as insects, spiders and other invertebrates, will take up residence near a good food supply and in an area of security. Compost heaps, leaf litter and rocky area will provide habitat for many species which feed upon detritus, such as woodlice and millipedes. Others will use rotting wood and holes in the ground to provide a secure home. Moths and butterflies often use temporary homes on plants and under leaves whilst travelling from place to place. Colony forming insects, such as bumble bees and ants, will use underground cavities or tree hollows to set up homes.
Larger animal such as birds and small mammals will often follow their food source around. In most cases, this will be insects and other invertebrates. By feeding on invertebrates, these animals prevent their population becoming to high and too much of a strain on the plant life that supports them. There will often be competition for below ground and above ground cavities, such as bird boxes, between these larger animals and colony forming insects. Its not unusual to find that a bumblebee colony has moved into a bird box. This is not something of concern, as next year it may well be occupied by birds again.
In your garden, its worth giving some thought to where your wildlife will live. Don’t be to hasty to tidy away the leaf litter on your flower beds, why not let it become leaf mulch? If a rotting log is not in the way, why not let it stay and provide a home and food for invertebrates?
Where does it come from
One of the last considerations when gardening for wildlife, is the wider impact of your gardening. Whilst we are in a world where things are moved around the globe and it can feel impossible to discover their origin, trying to buy products and plants from a local source is important. By transporting goods over shorter distances, we can reduce our impact on the world. Although this is not always possible, every little helps.
Another consideration is the products that we use and their impact on the environment. Peat based compost has always been popular due to its versatility and structure. However, its use is highly damaging to the environment. There are now many peat free composts available on the market which make fantastic alternatives. The same goes for plastic pots, whilst there are some that are sturdy enough to last again and again, many are single use and often end up in landfill. By buying sturdy pots for repeated use or sourcing biodegradable pots, you can greatly reduce your plastic waste.