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
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.