Friday, 28 December 2012

Prepare Your Winter Wildlife Garden

Prepare Your Winter Wildlife Garden

By Geoff Wakeling

There are an astronomical number of tasks in the garden as winter approaches. As the growing season nears its end it's time to harvest in the vegetable garden and allotment, clear beds out of their summer growth, and pile on the manure for the following season. There's even a bit of sowing to be done, and you can start popping in broad beans, onions and garlic at this time of the year. Meanwhile, in my own ornamental garden life is in full swing and there's still plenty of flowers. However, with cold weather looming and leaves starting to pile up, it's vital to get out and do a garden cleanup. But, whilst we're chopping and trimming and composting, try and remember that wildlife also need a little help during this season.

Composting is an important part of my garden, and most of the life force for plants comes from recycled plant waste and sporadic lashings of chicken manure. Digging and spreading out your heap is a great winter job, not only because your time isn't taken up with plants but also that the winter frosts help get into the compost and manure and break it down, leaching nutrients down into the soil. Whilst you should wait until the depths of winter to spread muck, it's a good idea to dig out your compost heap before the cold weather starts. Millions of bugs, along with hedgehogs and amphibians may well use your warm compost heap as a hibernation spot, and the last thing you want to do is disturb them when bitter temperatures are in the air - something which could kill them. So, if you're digging out composts, do it now. Even if you don't want to spread yet, you can keep garden ready compost in bins whilst restacking your heap as a hibernation home.

Seeds are predominant at this time of year, and though much garden foliage is dead and looking as if it needs to be cut back, certain seed pods are perfect for birds. As you're cutting back herbaceous plants think of the birds, and leave certain species until the spring. Japanese anemones and golden rod are just two plants which create thousands of seeds which may be enjoyed by finches throughout the bitter months. Meanwhile, though berries may be everywhere, it's often tempting to have a good cut back of bushes and shrubs to trim them into shape. Hold off if you can, allow birds to first strip the plants of berries and get all the goodness they can before you start hacking.

Pond clearing and covering is also a job which is often done as the winter draw nears. As leaves fall it's vital to stop them turning a beautiful, transparent pond into a dank and stagnant leaf filled tip. However, if you're covering ponds over which you know are often utilised by local wildlife as a water source, provide an alternative place for them to quench their thirst by offering a saucer of water.

Leaves are one of autumn's most iconic features, with deciduous trees losing their foliage in a fluffy of crimson and fiery tones. For OCD-ridden gardeners, clearing every single one away into compost heaps or plastic bags for leaf mulch is the challenge, but give a thought to the wildlife. Whilst you shouldn't let leaves suffocate in borders and on lawns, a few leaves do not do any harm and you'll find worms pulling them down into the ground. Meanwhile, a fine layer of leaves are the perfect protection of small animals scurrying around at the back of flower beds.

So, as you go about your gardening, keep in mind that creatures over the coming months will need a helping hand if they are to survive one of the toughest times of years. And by not being quite as tidy, and by changing our routine, we'll provide the perfect garden larder and winter retreat for our wildlife friends.

If you want to learn more about becoming a green fingered horticulturist and enjoying your own garden and allotment head over to http://www.theguidetogaygardening.com for more information.

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