Wildlife Garden Maintenance in September

As summer starts to come to a close, the wildlife in your garden is already beginning to prepare for the winter ahead. The weather may still be warm, especially in the south, and there may still be lots of butterflies about in particular red admirals, small tortoiseshells and painted ladies, but if you have a look around the garden you will see the signs of autumn everywhere.  Bumblebees are scarce, swallows may have already migrated and greenfinches, house sparrows, starlings and other garden birds will be feeding hungrily at the bird table. There may also be fewer flowers in bloom which means less pollen and nectar for the insects that are still feeding.  As autumn approaches there are many useful things you can do to help garden wildlife through the cooler weather ahead.

Birds will have finished nesting now so you can clean out nest boxes without fear of disturbing them.  A clean nest box will also provide a roosting place for smaller birds such as wrens on colder nights if you line it with a bundle of dried grasses or moss. 

Look out for signs of mammals now, in your garden, allotment or in the local park.  Any very small hedgehogs may not survive the winter if their fat stores are insufficient, so keep an eye on them and take action to feed them if necessary, using a ‘hedgehog mix’ from a bird food supplier.  Wood mice may be living unseen amongst shrubs and bushes.  They particularly like rose hips and hazel nuts and will be collecting them now to store as winter food, tucking them away in a log pile or even in a bird nest box or roosting pocket. 

If you have a meadow area or long grass somewhere in the garden, September is the month to give it an annual cut if you haven't already done so.  This important task helps to reduce the fertility of the soil by removing vegetation on a yearly basis.  It also means that the wildflowers have space to grow and seed, and the grass will not take over completely.  Try to leave at least one small area uncut until the spring.  This will provide a place for many creatures to spend the winter in safety.  Even a hedgehog might use this, creating a hibernation nest from fallen leaves.  Cut this patch in April when your garden wildlife is on the move again. 

If you have flowery areas or containers in your garden you can plant new bulbs in them this month, providing pollen for bumblebees and honeybees when they are first searching for food in the spring.  Choose plants that our native insects find attractive, such as crocuses or daffodils.  Wild bulbs including snakeshead fritillaries, the wild native daffodil and native bluebells can be planted into meadows or grassy areas after cutting this month.  Ensure your bulbs come from a reputable grower and have not been taken from a wild habitat. 

You can plan for colour in the garden next year by sowing an area of cornfield wildflowers this month.  This contains a mixture of annuals we don’t often see in the countryside now, including poppies, cornflowers, corn marigold and corn chamomile.  Sown into bare soil in a sunny spot, these will flower from May to July next summer and provide nectar and pollen for insects and seeds for birds.  These annuals can even be grown in a container, as long as you don’t use rich soil or compost.

© Text and photographs Jenny Steel 2017