Wildlife Garden Maintenance in October

With the weather ever more autumnal, there are many changes, both natural and unnatural, happening in the countryside and in gardens,.  ‘Tidying-up’ for winter may be a priority in parks, with removal of summer bedding and clipping of shrubs and hedges, but these activities can create disturbance for wildlife at a time when many mammals and insects are searching for safe wintering places.  In the garden, resist the urge to tidy too much.  Leaves that are starting to fall now will be broken down by many invertebrates, especially earthworms, to replenish soil nutrients. 

Some of our most useful beneficial insects can be assisted this month, by provision of artificial nest homes for them.  Ladybirds cluster together to spend the winter in dry frost-free places, and a bundle of hollow natural plant stems, bamboo canes or a purpose built wooden home will encourage them to stay around.  You can also provide them and other insects including lacewings, with an over-wintering place by leaving herbaceous vegetation uncut.  If conifer hedges are trimmed at this time, a pile of the clippings in a dry place will also be used by these insects.

If you have a small meadow or long grass that is too vigorous, you can sow the wildflower yellow rattle this month.  This annual meadow dweller is semi-parasitic, taking nutrients from the roots of grass and inhibiting its growth.  Yellow rattle can reduce the overall height of native grasses by up to a third once it is well established.  If your meadow or long grass was cut and raked last month, scatter the large seeds of yellow rattle over the area now, while the grass is short.  After the winter frosts have worked on it, the seed will germinate next spring.

October, rather than spring, is the best time of year to plant new perennials in gardens.  Add to next year’s nectar supply by choosing some cottage garden plants that are known wildlife attractants, and include some wildflowers in your borders too.  Check the lists elsewhere in this website for more information.  Planting now, with a mulch of home-made compost will save on watering new plants next spring.

A wildlife pond can become quite overgrown after several years, especially if native wildflowers are planted directly into soil over a butyl liner.  October is the best month to do a little gentle cleaning out as frogs, toads and newts will have left the water by now.  Dragonfly nymphs and other aquatic animals will still be in the vegetation and in the mud in the bottom of the pond, so this operation needs to be done with the greatest care.  All vegetation removed should be left on the pond side for a few days to enable aquatic creatures to find their way back into the water.  Aim to have at least half to two thirds of the water surface free of floating plants as this will attract dragonflies to your pond, but ensure that plenty of vegetation is left.  If the pond is very overgrown, take plants out of one third of the area over each of the next three years, to make sure that there is always plenty of cover left.

You can put up new nest boxes for tits, sparrows, robins and wrens now.  As well as checking them out as potential nest sites for next spring, some small birds will roost in them overnight. 

© Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017