As winter approaches and the days grow shorter we are likely to spend much less time winter gardening – there aren’t so many tasks to be done, and staying warm and cosy indoors seems a much more attractive prospect. Similarly, the wildlife in a winter garden is searching out food and shelter to help survive the winter, and there’s a lot we can do to help them in their quest for survival.
As we want to become less active in the winter garden, our neglect helps to offer wildlife in the garden many desirable winter residences. There was once a time when no respectable gardener could retire indoors for the winter unless the herbaceous borders had been cleared, all the fallen leaves removed and the vegetable patch reduced to bare soil.
These days we realise that both aesthetically and environmentally, the winter garden is far more interesting and diverse if some plants are left untrimmed until the spring. Tufts of ornamental grasses have a haunting beauty, especially when back lit by the low winter sun, but they are also a valuable habitat for hibernating ladybugs.
Areas of leaf litter provide homes for many beneficial insect species and will protect delicate plants that may otherwise be killed by the cold weather and frosty nights. The stark angular outlines of berried shrubs and the seed heads of annual and perennial plants give a visual structure to the winter garden, and many will last long into the season, providing important food for birds and other wildlife in the garden who will work their way through all the seeds and berries during the cold months.
Additionally, stone walls, log heaps and untidy corners provide ideal homes in our winter garden s for all kinds of wild animals, from field mice to frogs, toads and hedgehogs.
There are also ways we can actively encourage wildlife in the garden, not only into the winter garden, but throughout the year. These days the domestic garden is an invaluable habitat and if we manage it well we will be rewarded with a wide variety of wildlife in the garden that will act as natural predators on our less welcome garden pests.
Feeding the birds is a top priority for pest control, but once you start, it is important to be reliable and continue as birds will waste energy visiting your winter garden bird feeder or table to no avail if no food is provided. In frosty weather they will also need water. This is a good time of year to fix new nesting boxes in place so the birds will have plenty of time to check them out before the spring comes.
Insects also need places to hide in the winter garden and while many will take up residence in existing nooks and crannies, it’s a good idea to provide some additional nesting places. These can be home made from simple materials such as a handful of straw or short lengths of cane in a flower pot, but you can also buy commercial versions.
So, why not spend some time making your winter garden welcoming and comfortable for your wildlife in winter? That way both you and they will be rested and ready for the lengthening days next spring.
By: Ellie Dixon
About the Author
Ellie Dixon lives in deepest rural Devon with her husband Mike and two large Newfoundland dogs. She is a keen gardener, and grows most of her own vegetables, as well as keeping chickens and ducks. Ellie recommends Self-Sufficient-Life.com which is a growing resource of books, articles and audio/visual sources around the subject of rural and country style living. Click Here to Learn More
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