This time of year isn’t when most people want to spend time in their garden. It’s cold, dark and dormant for the most part. If you’ve done all of your autumn tidying and pruning, then your garden can be left well alone until spring.
But just because you’re not in it, doesn’t mean that wildlife isn’t. In fact, during winter your garden is teaming with wildlife – it’s quieter and still full of nutrition. With a helping hand from you, and your Christmas leftovers, you can help ensure that the winter wildlife in your garden thrives.
If you’ve got small children, then these ideas are great for involving them and having some fun while you’re at it – you can always invest in a wildlife camera to keep an eye on what’s happening outside from the comfort of your home.
Birds can struggle in the winter to get everything they need once leaves have fallen and berries are sparse. Establishing a bird feeder for small birds like robins, tits and starlings can help them to cope during the colder months and also give you a garden full of action.
Choose your feeder carefully – squirrels and large birds like pigeons and magpies will also be interested in the food you put out. Gardener’s World has a great guide to Bird Feeders including which ones to buy and where to put them. One recommendation is to put bird feeders near roses as the birds will help to eat any insects on them.
Bags of seeds, bird cakes and fat balls are all great high-nutrition food for smaller birds who might struggle to maintain their food supply during the winter. But you can also use plenty of foods that you’ll have left after Christmas like cheese, un-cooked pastry scraps, suet and cold roast potatoes. Keep an eye on the salt content of anything you feed the birds, as salt is toxic to birds in high quantities.
These clever window bird feeders will keep young children enthralled as they can watch the birds through the window – winter wildlife up close and personal.
Looking after bees has become incredibly important after reports in recent years of rapidly declining numbers. And while you might not think of bees as winter wildlife, bees behaviour is changing along with global warming. No longer returning to hives, some bees are creating new nests and hibernating away from colonies of bees.
For these solitary bees you can help to sustain them through winter by providing them with a hotel to keep them warm and snug until spring arrives.
The Woodland Trust has handy instructions on how to make a bee hotel for your garden and while you might be a little late to see any bees this year, if you plant some highly-scented shrubs and flowers close by (lavender, catmint and honeysuckle are great for bees) then next year your garden will be a hive of activity.
We’re big fans of building hedgehog houses – we’ve covered them before in our blogs. Now is still a great time to put a shallow bowl of water out and provide a dry space for any stray hedgehogs to hibernate in.
If building a proper hedgehog house feels a little too intensive, then you can create a natural one using any pruned fruit tree branches (it’s still a good time for fruit tree pruning) or any other branches you have lying around. Use the branches to create a small wigwam shape and then cover with mud, moss, dry leaves and anything else you find lying around that will help to keep the hedgehogs dry.
Remember to leave an air hole and entry way big enough for the hedgehog to get through. The Natural History Museum has plenty of ideas on how to make a hedgehog house using garden and household items that you might have lying around.
You can also feed them with cat biscuits or wet dog or cat food. Hedgehogs tend to get most of their food from the wild, but putting a small bowl out is a great supplement to their diet.
Love them or hate them, squirrels are a key part of winter wildlife and often need a little helping hand during winter too. And feeding squirrels can be a great way to use up any leftover Christmas nuts and vegetables that you have.
Squirrels will eat hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts, walnuts and some fruit and vegetables too. It’s also possible to establish a nest box for squirrels, which is a fascinating watch for young children. The boxes need to be larger than normal bird boxes but you might be lucky enough to see baby squirrels if the nest becomes established.
Remember to regularly clean the feeding stations so that it stays free from disease – this applies to all animals you feed.
We hope these tips give you some fun in your garden over Christmas and New Year. Have a very Merry Christmas and we’ll be back in the New Year with more gardening tips and tricks.