Updated: Sep 16
By now most people know that biodiversity is in crisis. Pollinators and insects are in decline due to pesticides and loss of habitat, this decline move up the food chain to birds, amphibians and small mammals.
We as gardeners can play important role in halting and reversing this decline by creating wildlife heaven in our gardens, big or small. Here are 7 steps how to achieve your wildlife sanctuary in garden:
1. Grow organic
By growing organic you are promoting healthy soil and attracting wildlife to your garden. Its nothing worse that planting pollinator friendly flowers and then spraying chemicals around that will kill them. So put toxins away and learn to work with nature. Increased biodiversity means healthier garden and good pest-predator balance. You can find more on how to garden organically here.
2 Plant for wildlife
Most if not all plants have some relationship with wildlife. Flowers attract insect for pollination and birds to spread seeds, hazel and oak attract squirrels that collect acorns and nuts that germinate under ground. Planting for biodiversity starts with native trees, bushes and flowers but many imported and exotic plants can serve many species just as well. Try to look for flowers with open habit (single flowers) as oppose to full flowers that are inaccessible for pollinators. Here are just few examples of many plants available:
Trees: Hawthorn, Oak, Birch, any fruit trees, Blackthorn, Rowan, Holly
Shrubs: Buddleia, Hazel, Bottle brush, Dogwood, Berberis, any soft fruit bushes, Forsythia, Hebe, English lavender, Honeysuckle, Elder, Heather, St John’s Wort, Perowskia, Hydrangea (lacecap), Roses
Climbers: Honeysuckle, Climbing Hydrangea, Jasmin, Roses, Clematis
Perennials: Sedum, Achillea, Helenium, Anemone, Rudbeckia, Hardy Geranium, Geum, Red hot pokers, Borage, Herbs (mint, oregano, chives, thyme, sage, rosemary), Verbena bonariensis, Agapanthus, Eryngium, Salvia,
Annuals/Biennials: Poppy, Cosmos, Zinnias, Alyssum, Cornflower, Calendula, Foxglove, Echium, Tithonia, Sunflower
3. Wildflower meadow
Wild flower meadow is very simple, low cost, low maintenance and very effective way to attract many insects. It does not need to be large, even a few square meters or small patch will greatly improve biodiversity. Even reduced mowing and leaving long patch of grass is better than tightly mowed lawn.
Flower mixes can be bought for few euros and meadow only needs to be cut once or twice a year usually around August. But only use native wildflowers that are adapted to local climate and evolved with pollinators that often lay eggs on the leaves. Imported mixes are cheap but often fail due to different climate, can be toxic for caterpillars, or might contain some invasive species.
You can extend interest by planting spring bulbs like crocuses, daffodils and tulips.
Small or large, water in the garden is best way to attract wide variety wildlife. Planted with marginal and water plants pond increase interest and attractiveness of the garden.
First arrives insects and pond snails, then predators like frogs and newts, birds, hedge hogs and foxes also will be attracted by the water.
We have small garden but have a pond used from old whiskey barrel with plastic tube insert. If the pond is raised as ours, build bank from logs and rocks on one side so animals can get in and out.
Previously we have even used old bathtub but any watertight container can be converted to small pond. For natural looking pond dig a hole and use pond liner or prefabricated ponds of different shapes and sizes.
Find half sunny spot and aim to cover over 60% of water surface with plants. Rain water is preferable but tap water is fine and you can use aquatic treatment to neutralize chemicals. This will help to prevent algae bloom.
When you have garden that attract wildlife provide some spaces where they can stay. You can purchase them off the shelf or build your own.
Bug hotels can be build from old pellets, filled with various materials like bricks, old logs, rocks, straw, pine cones etc. Place them in shady corner away from full sun.
However Bee hotels are different. Never place them together with bug hotel as spiders are predators of small solitary bees and insect. Bee hotel is better raised off ground 1-1.5m and faced south-east. Fill with logs and timber with drilled holes from 3-10mm. Make sure you don't drill through the back of the wood.
Bird nesting boxes come in various shapes and sizes. For small bird like blue or grey tits 25mm hole, house sparrows and great tits 28-30 mm. Then there are open and larger nesting boxes for larger birds. Do some research where to properly place them depending on species of birds you want to attract.
Bat boxes are less common however bats are also under threat from habitat loss. Its amazing to watch them catching insect at dawn. Bat boxes need landing space from below and best placed on raised pole around 3-4m high, house side wall or high up tree trunk with no branches obscuring the landing.
6. Supplement feed
I always promote planting that provide natural food to insect and birds first. But as natural food get scarce especially in autumn and winter its good idea to supplement food. Birds will need high fat and energy feed in winter months. Peanuts, wild bird seed mixes, suet pellets and fat balls all provide great food source for birds. Try to avoid cheap mixes that are filled with wheat as that often get thrown away and good only for pigeons and rats. High quality feed cost little extra but is much more nutritious and will attract wider variety of birds.
7. Don't be super tidy
It is often appealing to most gardeners to have super tidy garden, but dead plant material is great food source and provide hiding place for lots of wildlife. Hedgehogs and frogs will hibernate in leaf and stick piles, dead stems and seed heads provide additional food for birds and hollow stems are great for insect to overwinter. So tidy them in spring rather than in autumn and have a corner in your garden dedicated to twigs, leaves and dead plants. The wildlife will greatly appreciate it.
Follow us on
Grow It Bio page
Organic Gardening Ireland chat group