Winter can be a tough time for much of our garden wildlife. There are a few things we can do to help now, but there’s also a lot we should leave until warmer weather arrives. So don’t feel guilty about leaving your garden a little overgrown and untidy over winter, you’ll be providing more places for creatures to hide, shelter and hibernate.
It’s a good idea to leave seed heads well alone, as the remaining seeds will provide a welcome meal to birds, and teasel, cornflour, sunflower and thistle are a few favourites. Whether there is natural food in your garden or not, extra food on your bird table and feeders can be a lifeline for hungry birds in the winter. See our guide to feeding the birds for more information on what to feed, or watch our video guide here.
If you haven’t already, put up bird boxes now. Birds love to have a good nosy around before deciding where to live, checking which houses have the best views, quietest neighbours and proximity to the best schools. Some bird boxes can actually be dangerous for birds, but check out our video tutorial to find out what to look for in nest boxes, or better still get your saws and hammers out and make your own. If you already have bird boxes, now is a good time to clean them out and make any repairs which may be needed, so they are ready for the next feathered residents.
It’s vital to make sure your bird bath is checked daily for ice so that birds and other wildlife have a constant supply of fresh water. Put a rubber ball into the bird bath: as it bobs around it should slow down the formation of ice. It’s also important to try and keep your pond ice free because a layer of ice can reduce oxygenation in the water, particularly if there is a lot of dead vegetation, so try putting a rubber ball in there too. Any frogs hibernating in your pond will thank you for it!
If you see a hedgehog up and about between November and March, the chances are it has woken from hibernation and is looking for a meal. You could provide a lifeline to the prickly creatures by providing some food and fresh water. Hungry hedgehogs aren’t fussy, but cat food made with chicken or turkey is better for them than fish, tripe or beef. They also enjoy nuts and cheese, but keep it simple with plain cheese and unsalted, unroasted nuts and reserve the dry roasted peanuts and stilton with cranberries for your human dinner guests. For more information on what and how to feed hedgehogs, watch our video here. Remember not to clear those leaf piles as you may be disturbing the hibernation of a hedgehog, other small mammal or even a toad.
Plants and shrubs
If we have some mild weather, you can plant trees and shrubs or create a mixed shrub hedgerow. These will provide shelter as well as winter berries for the birds.
To tidy or not to tidy
Many insects and mammals will be overwintering or hibernating under the soil, in hollow stems, amongst trees and shrubs and in other nooks and crannies. Because of this it is very important to think about what you could be disturbing if you dig up your soil, chop down trees, or remove dead vegetation. Some of these jobs are best left until the weather warms up a bit to give your garden wildlife a fighting chance. Plus, this leaves you more time for sitting inside with a cup of tea and a mince pie in front of yet another Christmas film starring Tim Allen.