Welcome to autumn, the season of fruitfulness! How was your summer? I hope it was filled with wild adventures and wonderful experiences. Now the countryside is filled with signs of seasonal change as trees take on golden hues and flowers begin to fade. Our gardens are following this trend too, and it is easy to think that there is not a lot happening in our back yards after the colour and business of summer. In fact, autumn is a busy time for garden wildlife, and the wildlife gardener!
Here are my top 5 garden areas where you can make a difference to wildlife this autumn!
Season of fruitfulness
Autumn is the peak of harvest time, the culmination of a year of growth. Berries, fruits, nuts and seeds are in plentiful supply now, and as well as looking beautiful (and often tasty!) to us, they are all invaluable as food for wildlife. Some wildlife such as thrushes and finches or even badgers will gorge on this bounty now, others such as squirrels, mice, and jays will store away stashes that they can return to when winter closes in.
- Including at least one plant that produces berries in your garden is a brilliant way to attract wildlife and provide a natural food source for a wide range of creatures, particularly birds. Holly, hawthorn, ivy, honeysuckle and rowan are a few good choices.
- If you have a fruit tree in your garden you are likely to have a lot of windfalls – fruit that has been knocked or fallen from the tree and is too damaged to use. These will be welcomed by lots of wildlife, especially birds such as blackbirds and thrushes and mammals including foxes and badgers. Even butterflies like the red admiral enjoy the sweet juices of bruised apples and other fruit.
- With the bounty of autumn at its peak, there is an opportunity now to gather and save seeds from some of your favourite garden flowers or vegetables such as peas and beans. Saving seed now by collecting the seed when dry and making sure it is clean, then store in cool dry conditions in paper bags or envelopes, ideally in an airtight container. You can sow these seeds next spring for free plants, knowing exactly how they have been produced without fear of purchased seeds containing harmful pesticides.
The creative approach to storm damage
With the turbulent weather of autumn, it is very common for our gardens to be left looking rather worse for wear after particularly stormy and windy nights. We can turn this into a positive opportunity however for a spot of wildlife habitat creation. With a little creative thinking, storm damage can be utilised in many ways in the wildlife garden.
- Log piles provide the ideal home for a myriad of beasts and bugs. You might even find fungi popping up if the conditions are right. Many of the creatures that live in log piles are nature’s recyclers, clearing up dead wood and vegetation to return nutrients to the soil. Others are valuable garden pest controllers such as toads. Newts and slow worms will both hibernate under log piles. Use windblown branches and fallen timber to build a log pile in an undisturbed damp corner of your garden, under a shrub or hedge for example.
- Bug hotels are an ideal project for autumn half term if you need to entertain a family! Hands of all sizes can help with the construction. If you can get hold of some wooden pallets these are perfect for building the layers of a larger bug mansion. If you are sort of space, you can make min-bug hotels by tying bundles of sticks, hollow plant stems or sections of bamboo cane, and hanging these along fence-lines or tucked into the branches of bushes and climbing plants. Invertebrates such as lacewings and ladybirds will hide in the gaps and crevices to hibernate through the worst winter weather.
- Stag beetle castles are the ultimate log pile. Stag beetles bury into soft soil to lay their eggs into buried wood such as the base of a dead tree stump. To build a stag beetle castle, dig a hole and ‘plant’ a number of different lengths of log on end, so they stand upright with approximately 50cm below ground. A partly shaded spot is ideal so the log stack doesn’t completely dry out.
…hedgehogs on bonfire night! It is amazing the number of animals to which a big pile of leaves sticks and vegetation can look like the prefect home. Frogs, toads and newts, snakes and slow worms, and hedgehogs will all sometimes snuggle under a bonfire heap to rest or hibernate. Whether its an annual tidy up, or a November 5th celebration, always check before lighting bonfires, and try to only build a pile on the day of burning, or move it and re-stack just before the main event.
Look to your boundaries
What happens around the boundaries of your gardens and growing spaces is just as important as what we do inside them!
- Hedgehogs are having a really tough time travelling around our increasingly enclosed gardens. At this time of year they need to seek out lots of highly nutritious food in order to pile on the pounds ahead of hibernation. A small (13cm) gap under your garden gate or fence will allow hedgehogs to move around with easy. Encourage your neighbours to do the same and create a super hedgehog highway.
- Hedges and vertical gardening – if you happen to loose some of your fence to high winds this autumn, or are planning a new garden feature, consider planting a hedge. Autumn is the perfect time to source bare-root hedging plants, seek out a local nursery for advice. Native species are ideal, as they will grow in most UK conditions. You could plant a hedge of a single species, or include a mixture of deciduous evergreen, flowering and berry producing species for maximum wildlife benefit.
Alternatively you can enhance the nature potential of walls and fences by growing upwards. Climbing plants such as ivy, roses, honeysuckles, hydrangea and jasmines not only create structure and interest in the garden, sometimes including scented flowers and berries, but also offer shelter and refuge for invertebrates and birds.
Plant for the future
In autumn, soil temperatures are still relatively warm but moisture levels are increasing. Trees are also entering their dormant phase, shutting down for winter after the summer growing season. Both these factors make this season the perfect time to plant trees and shrubs. If you are thinking of planting a tree to be enjoyed long into future generations, consider choosing a fruit tree. Apples, pears, plums and cherries are available in a wide selection of varieties, and in different sizes to suit any space. In spring, beautiful blossom will attract pollinators, whilst gardeners and wildlife alike can enjoy the late summer or autumn fruit!
Autumn is my favourite season in the garden and there is plenty to do! I better get back to the allotment now and tackle my own to do list, keep an eye on social media for photos and updates. In the meantime have a wonderful golden season! As always I love to hear about your wildlife gardening activities and the nature you have encountered in your garden. Share your photos and stories with me on Facebook at The Really Wild Gardener