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Tidying up is one of the main gardening jobs for autumn, with many of us focusing on moving furniture indoors for winter and sheltering non-hardy plants from the cold weather. While these tasks are important, a biodiversity expert has urged gardeners to consider “making a mess” instead, to help wildlife “thrive” in the coming months. Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, he revealed the two most important things to do in the garden before the end of September.
Autumn is a slow time for gardening and can leave many green-fingered Britons wondering what to do with their outdoor space.
While there is a wide range of bulbs and vegetables to plant ahead of winter, there’s little to enjoy when it comes to colourful displays and floral interest.
However, according to Terry Smithson, lead ecologist at York-based biodiversity experts, BioScapes, September is full of opportunities to embrace the natural wonders of your garden.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, he said: “As plants start to look tired and others die back, at the end of September it’s tempting to cut back, trim and tidy, but wildlife often thrives in these untidy areas.
“The bright blooms, so vital for our bees, butterflies and other pollinators, may have gone, but the old seed heads can provide a bounty for seed-eating beetles and birds.
“And as leaves start to curl and dry out, they will create perfect little hiding places for creatures trying to escape from hunting birds.”
Whether you’re a fan of having nature run wild in your garden or not, there is no denying the importance of keeping species such as pollinators and pest-eating mammals populated here in the UK.
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He explained that holding back on cutting overgrown shrubs and woody stems is just one way to help wildlife, though you can also create piles of logs or brash if pruning is necessary.
Terry said: “These habitat piles attract a wide range of beneficial animals, and creating them in September ensures that invertebrates, amphibians, and hedgehogs can find them well before they go into hibernation.
“As these habitat piles and compost heaps break down through the autumn and winter, they will provide a rich feeding ground for robins, blackbirds, and hedgehogs.”
Sweeping fallen leaves into piles is another easy way to improve biodiversity in your winter garden and will help both animals and your plants.
Terry said: “The damper conditions and abundance of new food raining on the ground will feed a multitude of fungi and bacteria which, in turn, release nutrients back into the soil for new growth the following year.”
Understandably, you may be concerned about piles of woody growth making your garden look untidy, but it is easily solved.
Simply place the piles behind, or under existing shrubbery to keep it concealed while still being useful to wildlife.
Always keep them protected from sunlight to avoid materials drying out.
While rainwater is easy to come by in gardens across the UK during winter, it isn’t always a guarantee in autumn.
Terry said: “All life needs water of course, and if you can create a wildlife pond, no matter how small, this will quickly boost your garden ecosystem.
“September is a great time to add a pond as dispersing animals are more likely to encounter it and return in the spring.”
If you already have a pond, now is a useful time to do a little maintenance. This is because most species, including insects, will have finished breeding by late September, leaving froglets and toadlets to hunt elsewhere for food.
Aquatic and emergent plants will still be growing well too making it easier to spot areas where cutting back dominant plants will encourage more diversity.
Terry explained: “Carefully remove up to a third of the season’s growth to ensure that the plants and other pond life can come back strongly in the spring.
“Leaving cuttings at the edge of the pond for a few days will encourage critters to crawl back to the pond but do remember to clear this away or it’ll soon end up back in!”
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