Winter is drawing nearer, the nights are getting darker and the creatures in our gardens are preparing themselves for the cold winter ahead. At this time of year many animals will benefit from a little help, so read on for a few ideas on how you can make the winter a little less hostile!
Winter hiding places
One of the most important things you can do in your wildlife garden this time of year is…nothing! Leave fallen leaves, seed heads and dying vegetation to do its thing, and let go of any urges to make your garden look tidy. Many species will be starting their hibernation this month if they haven’t already. All those cosy leaves and general garden debris can provide snug places for animals such as hedgehogs, toads and invertebrates to hibernate or shelter from the harsh winter.
You can buy hedgehog hibernation boxes, have a go at making one yourself or just provide a nice big pile of leaves, straw and wood in a quiet and sheltered area of your garden. Even if no hedgehogs hibernate there, it provides material for them to take and use as bedding in their chosen hibernation spot. If hedgehogs are still active in your garden, keep providing meaty cat or dog food or cat biscuits as well as fresh water to provide a final feast before hibernation. You can find out more about helping hedgehogs in our video.
You may start noticing more birds in your garden, not only because there is less natural food available, but also because the falling leaves make them easier to spot in increasingly bare trees. Keep your bird feeders well topped up: they will be a well needed supplement to any berries left on your trees and shrubs. Don’t be too quick to clear up any fallen fruit like apples either – these provide a tasty autumn snack for birds too. Find out more about feeding birds in our video.
Replace the water in your bird bath regularly and check for ice. Try putting a small plastic or rubber ball in there: this can help stop the ice forming as quickly as it bobs around.
Now is a good time to be putting up bird boxes ready for next year – birds are just like us and like to have a good look around potential homes well in advance before deciding whether to move in. If you already have a bird box that was used this year, now is a good time to clean it out ready for next year. If you want to have a go at making a bird box, have a look at our tutorial video here.
Check your bonfires for hedgehogs
Piles of wood, logs and leaves are perfect hibernation spots for hedgehogs. Because of this, hedgehogs may have been attracted to your bonfire pile so it’s very important to check it thoroughly before lighting it. At the very least have a really, really good poke around with a torch, whilst looking and listening for the snuffling of any hedgehogs. Better still, completely move all of the materials to another spot or only assemble your logs just before lighting.
It’s a good idea to have a clear out of the pond – dead leaves that are left in there quickly decompose resulting in water which is acidic and lacking in oxygen. Move the dead damp leaves to a pile by the side of the pond for a few days to allow any creatures which have been inadvertently scooped up to slide back in. You can then move the dead leaves to a quiet corner, where it will provide a habitat for invertebrates, or even a hibernation spot for toads.
Other things to do this month
- Plant trees, shrubs and hedges
- Plant spring bulbs if you haven’t already
- You can keep adding to your compost heap, but try not to disturb it too much in case there are any reptiles (such as slow worms) or amphibians (such as toads) resting in there
- Leave the pruning of ivy at least until flowering has finished as it is an important late provider of nectar for insects
- If you have fruit trees, leave some of your fruit to provide extra food for birds and other wildlife
- Clear fallen leaves from the lawn and paths if you like, but leave some under hedges and around shrubs to enrich the soil and to provide nesting material for hibernating animals. You can compost the rest or make leaf mould.