Planting a wildlife garden

Planting a wildlife garden

A wildlife garden can look attractive all year round, although the name might give images of a wild, overgrown garden it doesn’t need to be this way to attract a wealth of wildlife to your creation. Growing a variety of plants in whatever space you can give to your wildlife garden will offer food and shelter to all sorts of wildlife.

The plant choice for your wildlife garden will largely be influenced by the amount of space you have available. Try to include as much variety of plants that you can fit into your space, evergreens, fruit trees, colourful cottage garden plants, annuals and wildflowers will prolong flowering and fruiting times and give a year round food resource for the wildlife you attract.

 Going wild

Having too tidy a garden is not great for wildlife, but that also doesn’t mean you have to have a completely wild and untidy garden. Some maintenance, such as regular pruning, is necessary to enhance the benefits a garden brings to wildlife.

Take care with any maintenance you plan for your wildlife garden. For example, if you tidy up and trim immediately after plants have flowered, birds can’t use the seeds, so think about letting plants die back naturally and tidying them up later when the wildlife has had a chance to make full use of the natural plant cycle.

Other ideas include allowing ivy to scramble up a fence at the end of the garden, leaving piles of leaves and fallen fruit, and letting a patch of flowers go to seed.

You’ll find you soon create the kind of habitats to attract wildlife.

Preparing the ground

  • Prepare new beds and borders during late summer and early autumn, ready to plant at the end of the year. You can plant through the winter, except when the ground is frozen or too wet.
  • Before planting, prepare the ground. Mark out the area with pegs and string, or use a trickle of sand, then clear grass and weeds.
  • Skim off turf with a spade or shovel and pile in a corner to rot down to form loam. Digging removes the roots of persistent weeds from the soil. Alternatively, dig two spades depths and bury the turf upside down in the trench before covering over. This is quite a lengthy and labour-intensive process, but will introduce organic matter into the soil.
  • Consider covering the proposed borders with black sheeting during the summer to suppress and kill any grass or weeds before digging.
  • Clay soils are the hardest to dig, but you have the consolation of knowing they will remain fertile once you have improved the structure by digging in well-rotted manure or organic compost.
  • All soils will benefit from the addition of compost. Try to find organically produced products, and avoid peat.
  • For very large borders or shrub beds, or in new developments with no prior landscaping, it may be practical to hire a rotovator.
  • A rotovator can be used to cultivate all of a new garden, ready for planting and laying a lawn. You might be able to spread the hire cost with your neighbours and do several gardens at once.

Tools for the job

  • Pegs and string or sand – to mark the shape of the border
  • Plastic sheeting – to lay over vegetation to kill it
  • Spade – to cut and lift turf
  • Shovel – for lifting turf
  • Wheelbarrow – to take away turf
  • Fork – to dig over the soil
  • Rotovator – for cultivating very large areas