Welcoming Wildlife Over Winter
As the cold weather of winter is finally upon us, days are shorter and food sources become scarce, the garden wildlife that are ever-present in the summer months search for a safe habitat for their annual hibernation. Unlike us humans, our small friends do not have the luxury of turning on the heating, putting on an extra jumper or enjoying a hot bowl of soup when the frosty conditions take their toll. The critters that visit our gardens face the task of finding a suitable resting place where conditions are perfect for an uninterrupted sleep.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of hibernation. Frequently associated with cold weather conditions, the purpose of hibernation is for wildlife to conserve energy throughout a period of time where food is unattainable. Resting for an extensive length of time may sound like a dream to you and I, but for garden wildlife, it’s a process that makes them vulnerable to predators, infections and starvation, as critters such as hedgehogs have been recorded to lose over a quarter of their body weight during hibernation.
So what can we do to help?
From now until spring, survival is the name of the game and creating a wildlife friendly garden could be the key to ensuring our beloved critters have an efficient habitat where they can safely reside. There are a number of ways that we can contribute to a wildlife friendly garden, some that require little effort and some that involve a few gardening tasks.
The most simple, effortless way to provide a safe habitat for wildlife is to actually do a little less gardening! Most gardeners are horrified at the thought, but there are ways to avoid your green space from transforming into a back-yard jungle. All we’re recommending is that you sacrifice a small area of your garden and allow it to overgrow naturally, as clearing every bit of foliage and cutting every inch of grass turns your garden into a hostile environment for wildlife to survive. Allowing a space to grow will provide the suitable conditions in which wildlife can forage and find sustainable shelter.
Become a landlord to wildlife by building your own habitat using natural resources, create your own or, if you’re short on time, buy a ready-made habitat online! To make your own, start by arranging the kinds of things you’d normally dispose of such as logs, leaves or branches into a pile. This simple creation will offer shelter and attract insects so critters such as toads and hedgehogs, won’t have to forage in the frosty conditions for food. Wildlife species such as hedgehogs may struggle in certain areas to find what they need to build their home naturally, reducing their chances of survival in the harsh conditions of winter. These habitats not only benefit an array of critters, they make a unique garden feature where you can witness the comings and goings of the variety of wildlife that will be truly grateful for your help.
It’s not unusual for critters to wake during hibernation as they may require a quick nutritious lift to get them through the remainder of the season. But, as food sources are in short supply and with limited time to forage in the cold before returning to their chosen habitat, the mission to find food could be deemed impossible. By providing sufficient food supplies, you’re giving wildlife a helping hand to gain the nutrients they need to survive.
With a carefully thought out garden design, a wildlife friendly garden should include plants that offer numerous benefits that will contribute to the survival of wildlife, especially at this time of year and will provide added interest throughout other seasons. Incorporating plants that flower, produce berries and have a dense structure into your garden design, will offer a haven for wildlife searching for a home this winter, such as the following:
- Crab Apple
- Honey Suckle
The characteristics of these hedge plants offer a sheltered habitat with accessible food sources that will certainly facilitate the survival of wildlife through the frosty season. For those plants that produce food, consider delaying pruning if it will remove seeds or fruit that will cater to birds and small mammals. Not only do these hedging plants help wildlife, but the splash of colours and attractive texture create a spectacular garden feature.
From November until April many of these species are available as bare root and root ball plants, and all are available pot grown year round. For those unfamiliar with the different root types we offer, our video will help explain the difference between potted, bare root and root ball hedging plants.
We’ve also created an instructional video with a running commentary on how to plant a bare root hedge.
For any other planting queries, our Planting Advice section will be able to assist you with the information you need, or head over to our YouTube channel which includes numerous, easy to follow videos on planting.
Why should we care for wildlife over winter?
For wildlife enthusiasts, establishing a wildlife friendly garden that succeeds in winter, will increase the chances of seeing your beloved critters return in spring. If there is nowhere for wildlife to seek shelter during winter, the likelihood of them of them revisiting the following season is slim. Creating a wildlife friendly garden has its advantages for gardeners as well. By accommodating critters in winter, you’ll receive many benefits such as free, natural pest control and pollination.
The decline in hedgehog numbers in the UK is tragic. Morgan from UpGardener has stressed the importance of helping these cute critters from our very own gardens. Morgan and the UpGardener team have created a guide on how to protect garden hedgehogs. Check it out here.