Pat Ellingham Some preparation – but not too much – will keep wildlife happy all winter
Autumn is fast approaching and it's important to look ahead to the colder months and how we can help our garden wildlife. Birds will need a little extra help finding food, so why not use some scrap timber to make a simple bird-feeding station? Keep this topped up with fat for insect eaters, seed for greenfinches and cheese for robins. Another way to help feed birds is to leave seed heads on plants such as teasel, sunflowers and echinacea for an invaluable winter food supply. Also, put on your rubber gloves and give any established nest boxes a good clean out in case they harbour parasites or other insects such as bees.
The urge to tidy the garden in autumn will be strong, but resist it. Those piles of cuttings and branches can provide smaller garden inhabitants with an ideal winter home, which in turn may well provide an endless food supply for the birds. Go easy on pruning too, as many butterflies over-winter on garden climbers. As fruit ripens in autumn don't forget to share one tenth (the old tithe) with the birds. In return they'll eat the aphid on your roses and leather jackets in the lawn. Rotting fruit is also appreciated as a late food source for butterflies. If you don't have any fruit trees, why not celebrate Apple Day on October 21 by planting an apple tree?
Autumn is a good time to start planning a pond for your garden, but if you already have one prepare it for winter by clearing about a third of overgrown plants and ensure a "stairway of stones" is still in place for hibernating amphibians. Your garden soil will have been working hard all summer, so autumn is a crucial time for feeding and enriching it. Spread well-rotted leaf mulch around the garden before adding fresh supplies of this season's leaf fall to the leaf mulch bin. Break out and distribute as much compost as you can from your compost bin, and replace the compost in your growing containers.
At the same time you could plant climbers to grow on your fencing, walls or shed, which will provide places for birds to nest and roost, and be a haven for insects and small mammals. Choose plants like quince and honeysuckle which have nectar-rich flowers followed by fruit.
If you enjoy planning ahead, think about planting a herb garden next spring. Now hang up your tools and keep warm inside happy that your garden wildlife is well set up for winter.
Avon Wildlife Trust is your local wildlife charity dedicated to securing a strong future for the natural environment and to inspire everyone to enjoy it. Visit www.avonwildlifetrust.org.uk.