Wildlife Garden Maintenance in January

Throughout the country we are likely to be experiencing very cold weather now, with snow on high ground, widespread frosts and sometimes very wet and windy conditions especially in coastal areas.  Natural food supplies for all wildlife are now very scarce, bringing birds in large numbers to gardens and parks where urban temperatures may be significantly higher than in the surrounding countryside.  However our winters do seem to be becoming milder, and wildlife is responding to these changes.

Prolonged cold weather can cause ponds to freeze up.  This can create problems, not just because there is no available water for birds and foxes to drink, but a covering of ice may trap beneath the surface gasses, created by the decomposition of decaying plants and leaves.  If the ice has not melted by the afternoon, thaw it by resting the bottom of a saucepan of boiling water on the surface, allowing the heat to gently melt a hole.  Make sure than bird baths and drinking saucers are emptied of their ice every morning and topped up with fresh water.  Birds need to bathe even in cold weather.  Keeping their feathers in good condition allows them to retain body heat when temperatures are at their lowest at night.

The concentration of birds feeding and drinking in your garden this month may mean more visits by your local sparrowhawk.  These handsome predators often take the same approach route though the garden so if you wish, you can give the birds a sporting chance by placing a few tall bamboo canes around the bird table or feeders.   Make sure there are shrubs or shelter of some sort within a metre of your bird feeding area, allowing small birds to dive for cover if a predator approaches.

January is a good month to plan for the spring.  In a small garden, in a window box or on a balcony, containers can accommodate a wide range of wildlife friendly plants including herbs, annuals, climbers and small shrubs.  If you are ordering seeds now use the information elsewhere on this website to choose annuals with nectar and pollen to attract butterflies, bees and hoverflies, or try herbs and wildflowers with seeds for birds.

If you intend to grow some wildflowers from seed this spring, you may have to think ahead a bit.  Many seeds, especially those of some of our most attractive wildflowers require a period of cold before they will germinate.  Cowslips, primroses and oxlips in particular will wait stubbornly for a whole year if sown in April, and will only germinate after the next winterís frosty weather.  The trick is to sow them in pots now, and leave them outside where the weather can work on them.  Meadow cranesbill, green hellebore, tufted vetch and birdís foot trefoil also all benefit from this treatment.

If you still have some gentle pruning or cutting back of shrubs or hedges to do, try to complete it by the end of the month.  Several common garden birds, especially blackbirds and thrushes may be thinking about nest building next month.


© Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017