It's time to make your garden a wildlife haven
PUBLISHED: 09:49 21 February 2018
You can turn your garden into a paradise for wildlife, says Emily Kench of the RSPB.
In the last two weeks, I have been basking in the evening sun (through the window). It may not stay light, long past the end of the working day, but these few extra hours of daylight feel eternal, and they do serious wonders to my mood.
It won’t be long until we truly start to feel the effects of spring. Evening walks, a change of wardrobe, and alfresco dining – making the most of the garden at its liveliest time of the year.
Already, male birds are starting to mark out their territories ready for mating and the nesting season; bumblebees are buzzing low around borders making a first-time appearance, hedgehogs are stretching their legs in the early mild weather.
As the days progress, these lonesome males will find themselves a partner, and there will be plenty of action in and around our nest boxes. Pond surfaces will grow thick with frogspawn. Buds will burst, flashing everything from petals to styles.
To create this perfect spring garden, teeming with wildlife, the time to start getting ready is now!
Even with March just days away, there is still time to plant trees, hedges and shrubs before they resume growing in the heart of spring. You can also plant bare-rooted fruit trees and soft fruits for both you and the wildlife to make the most of over the coming months.
Very early bulbs, including snowdrops, crocuses and some daffodils, are already coming through (if you want to plant some for next year, make a note in your diary now to buy and plant the bulbs in autumn), but as the season draws on, to make your well-established flower border fuller, at no extra cost, increase the amount of flowers by dividing perennials such as hardy geraniums and asters. These will have formed new growth under last year’s leaves. Dig them up carefully and split them in two, you can then replant both. Add a little compost to the ground first and they’ll excel.
If you love grasses, add species like Stipa calamagrostis to your borders. If you leave it after it’s flowered, its tawny seed-heads will look great in late frosty mornings. You can then cut it back in March or April when new leaves appear. Any seed-heads at this time of year will provide welcome food for birds.
Did you grow winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) for its bright yellow flowers through December and January? If so it’s now the right time to cut back flowered shoots to strong buds after flowering, and if you want to prepare for next year buy them now to plant against a wall or fence to provide some winter colour. Other shrubs you might like to try for winter flowers include: witch hazel (best in acid soils), Viburnum bodnantense and Daphne mezereum.
To support growing families this spring, now is the perfect time to put up nest boxes, ready for blue tits, house sparrows, and robins depending on the style you go for. It’s important to put the box in the best position. Unless there are trees or buildings which shade the box during the day, face the box between north and east, thus avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds. Make sure that the birds have a clear flight path to the nest without any clutter directly in front of the entrance. Tilt the box forward slightly so that any driving rain will hit the roof and bounce clear.
Hedgehogs will also be looking for help at this time in the year. Those that have come out of hibernation early will be particularly hungry, so making a hedgehog café full of lots of lovely treats will help see them through the end of the cold weather. In a quiet, sheltered and safe spot you can feed hedgehogs the following: sunflower hearts, dried mealworms, chopped nuts (unsalted), wet cat or dog food (not fish- or beef-based), crushed cat biscuits, cooked potatoes, and minced meat (of any variety). Water will also help hedgehogs, however never feed them milk or bread. They can’t digest them - it upsets their stomachs.
To find out more about giving nature a home in your garden
this spring, visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes