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Is gardening just about plants that look good, or should we be thinking about creating a home for wildlife in our gardens? The answer is simple. Absolutely!
This is where bug hotels are a brilliant idea. You can buy kits online or make your own from a gravel board and materials found around the garden, such as leaves, twigs, bamboo canes, pine cones, broken pots, and roof tiles, shredded paper, rolled-up paper, and toilet roll inner tubes.
Bits of wood are great for ants; pine cones are great for ladybugs and green lacewings; round stems are good for beetles; leaves, wood chippings, bark, and shredded paper are good for earwigs.
Beetles and centipedes love woodpiles. Fungi will grow on the wood which will attract more beetles and invertebrates which in return will eat slugs and slug eggs and use the pile as somewhere to raise their young and to shelter from bad weather.
Log piles are also great for amphibians and lizards as the deadwood attracts insects they feed on. Allow vegetation to grow around and through the log pile to provide more shelter and increase the variety of insects.
Simple piles of leaves are amazing for wildlife but ensure you keep your lawns and paths clear of leaves, so collect some in a corner of the garden.
They provide shelter and a great nesting spot for hibernating animals such as hedgehogs, frogs, and insects.
Birds will also peck through leaf piles looking for a tasty meal of insects and worms.
A bee hotel or hollow pipes, such as bamboo canes are brilliant for solitary bees. Honeybees live in hives and will huddle together when the temperature drops outside, but solitary female bees make nests on their own and lay their eggs in tunnels, such as dead wood, hard soil or bamboo canes and leave a food source of pollen and nectar.
They will also use mud to create a cell wall along the tube which protects the young from the damp. Newly mated female bumblebees will hibernate through winter and burrow into soft earth or log piles.
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As soon as the temperatures rise the bees will need feeding and this is where early blossom is essential.
So, where possible, plant hawthorn, blackthorn or fruiting trees such as apples, plums, pears and crabapples.
If you have a bee hotel then move it somewhere cool and dry over winter for some extra protection.
When it comes to flowers, open-cupped flowers work best, for easy pollination and easy access to nectar, such as primroses, primulas, polyanthus, daffodils, anemones and snowflakes. Small clusters of flowers on plants such as Skimmia japonica are great for pollinators, such as bees and hoverflies.
Early species tulips such as Tulip Odalisque open to reveal the stamens and pollen, and the petals provide shelter for the bees. Sarcococca confusa or the Christmas box is a great small shrub with small insignificant flowers but with an incredible scent, perfect for pollinators and moths.
So, to encourage wildlife into your garden you need to create the habitats they require. Put up bird boxes, feed the birds with a high-energy feed, not filled with wheat flakes, but rich in calcium, suet pellets, dried mealworms, niger seed, sunflower seeds (without husk), kibbled peanuts, oat hearts, red dari, hemp seed, biotin, red millet, vitamins A, C, D, E.
Create butterfly homes which look like bird boxes, but rather than a hole you use a slit, and generally leave the garden a little messy in areas.
If you don’t have a garden, you can get bird feeders that stick to the window using a suction pad; if you can get a hook in a wall outside a window then you can put up a bug hotel, bird box or butterfly box.
Hanging baskets, window boxes will have organisms in the soil, woodlice, ants, which birds can feed on. If you have a window ledge add some bird seed to it – you might just get pigeons, but you never know.
Finally, lawns look wonderful when mowed, but why not embrace nature, rewild your garden and look at weeds in a different way. Dandelions are brilliant for bees. The bright yellow flowers start appearing in early spring, and continue right through to autumn, so are a readily available year-round source of nectar. Butterflies and hoverflies like them too, and goldfinches feed on the seeds. Daisies, buttercups and clover also attract bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Long grass is an excellent habitat for nesting bumblebees, while a nettle patch can support over 40 species of insects, and the plants provide food for caterpillars so are particularly good for butterflies, especially small tortoiseshells and peacocks.
If you like a well-kept garden, then why not consider a corner of the garden perhaps hidden from view by a trellis or screen where weeds can grow. Many weeds are also edible, but please check before eating. Dandelions are high in anti-oxidants and act as a diuretic, they’re rich in vitamins, calcium, potassium and iron.
The leaves can also be eaten in salads. Nettles are edible too, with the same nutritional value as spinach, and are high in iron, magnesium and calcium. And, don’t worry as the sting is lost when it’s cooked.
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